Psychodrama and Humpty Dumpty

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 decision… 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 psychodrama.

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 rigid.

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 measure.

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.

Posted on 19 January 2010 in - Library - Therapy

Peter Howie

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