Psychodrama was pioneered by J.L. Moreno, who got his ideas from watching children playing in the park in Vienna. "Psychodrama is a method of psychotherapy in which clients are encouraged to continue and complete their actions through dramatisation, role playing, and dramatic self-presentation, both verbal and nonverbal communications are utilised...Many techniques are employed, such as role reversal, doubling, mirroring, concreting, maximising, and soliloquy. Usually the phases of warm up, action, working through, closure and sharing can be identified.
Drama Therapy, on the other hand, is generally considered to be a subset of Psychodrama. It generally refers to the more "generic" (and this is not meant in a negative way) group dramatic scenarios, such as the "Family dinner." Where psychodrama creates and presents dramas that are shaped by an individual's unique experience, drama therapy shows how within an archetypal scene, we each come with our own stories, our own beliefs, our own desires.
Drama therapy is defined by the National Association for Drama Therapy as "the systematic and intentional use of drama/theatre processes, products, and associations to achieve the therapeutic goals of symptom relief, emotional and physical integration and personal growth." Drama therapy is an active approach that helps the client tell his or her story to solve a problem, achieve a catharsis, extend the depth and breadth of inner experience, understand the meaning of images, and strengthen the ability to observe personal roles while increasing flexibility between roles.
Drama Therapy is also useful in social skills training for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Psychodrama, as a method is frequently used in treatment settings. Role playing can aid in releasing strong emotions, transport us into altered realities and promote deep healing well beyond the scope of talk therapy. But it is essential that this power is used carefully, competently and responsibly. Without ethical use, there are risks of re-traumatising the client and contaminating group dynamics and trust.
Helpers using psychodramatic techniques should have training that provides the knowledge of the history of action methods as well as sociometry, role theory and the warm-up process. It is also important to know the human developmental stages and the clinical knowledge of the problems they want to address in the use of a particular technique or directive.
People who have suffered trauma are especially vulnerable to re-dramatisation by ill-used techniques. Without skillful use and knowledge of the theory behind the techniques, these techniques can awaken body memories, forgotten experiences and dissociated trauma that the person has buried in the unconscious.
These points are essential to keep in mind:
- Never force, shame or manipulate a protagonist with experiential work. The protagonist and the therapist should be partners at every step of the work, with the therapist being vigilant to any scenes or exercises that may not be in the protagonist's best interest or that may harm the group at large. Offer group members the right to choice: to pass in taking a role, to observe as a group member rather than taking an active part in the drama and how much to reveal about themselves.
- Know your clinical goal. We may be tempted to employ a particular exercise because it may seem dramatic, interesting or unusual. Pacing, the topic addressed, the use of role play in general or the kinds of dramas in particular are clinical decisions that should be made according to clients' needs. Doubling, role reversal or mirroring should be chosen according to various clinical goals and levels of psychological development.
- Never force an outcome. Of course you desire growth and healing for your clients. However, forcing a particular outcome to make person "see" a new insight or "do" a particular action puts the client at risk. If the protagonist appears hesitant, explore the hesitation and provide gentle support to move ahead. If the protagonist does not want to go in a particular direction during a vignette or exercise, it is best to provide other options.
- Warm-up is essential. Follow the three stages of warm-up, action and sharing rather than emphasis on action only. All segments are designed to work together for safety and effectiveness. Warming-up exercises before a dramatic vignette - as well educational presentations - will increase the involvement of group members. Sharing from personal experience, rather than judgement or advice, at the conclusion of the drama will allow the resolution of feelings, memories and awareness that may have been stirred during the session.
- Survivors of trauma need special attention to safety. Helpers working with traumatised people (abuse, war combat, incarceration, torture, natural disasters) should make efforts to learn how to build safety at every level of experiential work. This is true not only in therapy settings, but also in public presentations, lectures and training sessions with action methods.
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