Articles & Book Reviews
What is good therapy?
The technology of applying imagination,
spontaneity and creativity in our lives,
the lives of others and our world.
by Peter Howie
Psychodrama? What's that? Well reflect for a moment with me,
will you? Do you enjoy watching a sport? Do you have a favourite
sport? If you don't please imagine being someone who does. Imagine
going to a live football game and it is the grand final. It is 3
seconds before the time runs out; the teams are level; silence reigns
as we await an umpire's decision about an infringement that will lead
to a free kick; the swirls are coming onto the giant video screen; we
are all about to see the decisionů Can you feel that sense of
expectation and elements of being there? That's psychodrama.
Reflect a bit more with me. You love music and always have, or can
imagine being someone who does. You are maybe a bit of a head banger.
You have tickets to your favourite group which has finally come to
Australia; they are playing a venue where you can get to; they have
been playing for some time and you are in the zone; you can feel the
pulse of the music; you are highly stimulated; they are playing THE
SONG; your most favourite song; the one where you can let go; you look
on expectantly your heart and mind ready; awaiting the glorious guitar
riff or guttural roar that always comes at the crescendo. Can you sense
this creativity in you arising? This is psychodrama.
Imagine you are in a family gathering that for all intents and
purposes is going nowhere like it always does. You know this; you
assume everyone else knows this. You sit there and really wish you
could do something about it without getting up to any life limiting
moves. You know your stuff and you can clearly see the dead elephant in
the room rotting quietly. You know what you "should" say "What about
this stinking dead elephant!" But even after knowing this you hold
back. Being able to practice this situation without there being any
family or life limiting aspects is psychodrama.
Again: you are working with a client. They are in trouble and the
session is troubling. But because you expected this trouble you are
ready for it, or so you thought. However the trouble comes from sources
unexpected. Trouble comes in ways that you didn't expect. You are
really surprised. You wish you could have foreseen some of these
issues. Being able to actively step into other shoes and actively work
with their worldview to make an accurate analysis of their motives and
concerns. To try life out before life overtakes you, this is
This question often arises - what is psychodrama?
Well you already know that so much training and self-development is
shallow and simplistic: 'Learn this and you will be able to do that'.
But human beings don't work this way, because real life is complex and
unpredictable. Knowing what to do is very different from being able to
do it. Psychodrama is a profound way to look at life in all its
complexity and chaos. And to do this in a teachable, straightforward
manner. This way you can face life with confidence and spontaneity.
'Psyche' relates to the spirit or mind, while 'drama' relates to the
stories acted out in life every day. By combining mind, action and
imagination, psychodrama gets to the reality beneath the surface. It
teaches you to 'feel colours' or 'see smells', as it were. It may sound
a bit 'airy fairy' but it's not. Once you get below the surface you can
learn things about yourself and the roles you play that will help you
make a real difference to your life and the lives of people around you.
How does psychodrama work in practice?
In a typical session, a small group of enthusiastic people work
cooperatively to do their personal or professional psychodramas and are
led by an experienced practitioner. The director will invite someone to
get up and act out some of their deepest personal or communal concerns,
such as being bullied in the workplace, being isolated in life or
working with the plight of the homeless in society. Others in the group
will join in, acting the extra roles in the person's drama. The session
develops spontaneously as each person in turn takes the lead role in
their own drama or support roles in other people's dramas under the
careful guidance of the experienced practitioner.
In this open-ended way, people find ideas and solutions they didn't
know they had, and which they would never have found using conventional
training or self-discovery methods. Instead of passively absorbing 'the
answers' they actively find their own answers and help other people
find theirs. The whole thing is spontaneous and fluid, not didactic and
As a participant in a psychodrama session you can explore the life
situations that are of interest and concern to you through this type of
dramatic enactment. In the course of the enactment you can express,
refine and integrate new ways of being and doing. Psychodrama works for
people of all ages and cultures with a wide range of life experiences.
It strengthens your sense of self. It also strengthens your
relationships with others and your effectiveness in groups. It doesn't
require acting ability simply living ability which we all have in some
Why does psychodrama work?
Psychodrama works through actively engaging imagination and spirit.
Psychodrama works with those deep and important pictures of life, those
moments of life where you need a return visit. Psychodrama has us
looking at life, engaging with life, taking life apart and gently and
with great care putting it back together again. Contrary to the rhyme,
Humpty Dumpty can be put back together and put back together any way
that works for you, painted, ennobled, enabled, wiser or friendlier or
even scrambled if you prefer.
Psychodrama is a technology for creativity. It pumps life into tired
old bones enabling them to dance and sing with the power of life.
Psychodrama sets up an authentic and sustainable life. It does this by
tapping into each person's natural spontaneity that lies at the core of
their being. That spontaneity allows people to do remarkable things,
truly remarkable things.
Psychodrama is taught experientially. Practitioners and practitioner
training are accredited through the Australian and New Zealand
Psychodrama Association Inc (ANZPA). The training is highly
experiential and interactive, involving you with working with yourself,
your life, the life of others and the development of the group. This
method of teaching provides a form of deep learning that grounds the
learning in your identity not just a series of ideas.
Peter Howie is a Founding Director of The Moreno Collegium for Human Centred Learning Research and Development in Brisbane.