What Is Psychodrama?

Group psychotherapy

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What Is Psychodrama?

Psychodrama is a type of experiential, action-based therapy in which people explore issues by acting out events from their past. This type of therapy incorporates aspects of role-playing, dramatic self-presentation, and group dynamics to help people gain greater understanding and insight into their lives and experiences.

While it functions as individual therapy, it utilizes a group format. It is rooted in psychology, but it also incorporates elements of theater and sociology.

Techniques

Sessions are usually performed once a week in a group made up of around eight to 12 people. A session typically lasts around two hours. 

Each session is usually focused on one individual within the group. Other members of the group will then take on supporting roles during the session as they are needed. 

There are three basic components of a psychodrama session:

  • The Warm-Up Phase
  • The Action Phase
  • The Sharing Phase

The Warm-Up Phase

The warm-up phase is a period in which members of the group introduce themselves, work on establishing trust, and create a sense of group cohesiveness.

The Action Phase

The action phase involves creating and acting out a scene from the individual's life. The therapist acts as a director to guide the individual, known as the protagonist, and others in the group through the scene using various techniques including:

  • Doubling: This involves a member of the group acting out the protagonist’s emotions and behaviors. The actor will say what they believe the protagonist thinks or what they seem to be withholding. The activity creates a link between the protagonist’s internal reality and the reality of the external world.
  • Mirroring: The individual observes others as they act out scenes, events, and conversations so that the individual can watch. This technique can be useful for helping people gain perspective or when someone needs to have some emotional distance in order to better understand their emotions.
  • Role-playing: This technique involves the individual portraying something, often a particular person or object, that is a source of stress or conflict in their life.
  • Role reversal: This technique involves the protagonist acting out the role of another person in their life while another actor plays the part of the protagonist. This can help improve empathy and understanding of another person’s perspective.
  • Soliloquy: In this technique, the protagonist describes their inner thoughts and feelings to an audience. The goal of this is to help the individual gain greater insight into their inner feelings and thoughts and to help promote catharsis.

The Sharing Phase

The sharing phase then involves the therapist helping the individual process and understand the emotions and thoughts that have come to the surface. The hope is that this will lead to insight and transformation.

This phase also involves having others in the group provide their insights that might help the protagonist gain a better understanding of their own experiences.

What Psychodrama Can Help With

Psychodrama may be helpful for a number of different conditions. It may be helpful for people who have conditions that affect self-image, emotions, and moods. Some conditions or issues it might help include:

  • Eating disorders
  • Grief
  • Identity issues
  • Mood disorders
  • Negative self-image
  • Personality disorders
  • Relationship problems
  • Trauma

Psychodrama has also been used in the treatment of conditions such as schizophrenia and substance use disorder.

Benefits of Psychodrama

Research suggests that psychodrama may produce a number of potential benefits:

  • Research suggests that this type of therapy may lead to an increased sense of competence and self-efficacy. It may contribute to a better understanding and resolution of trauma.
  • Another benefit is that psychodrama has a wide variety of applications. It is adaptable depending on the individual's needs and situation. In addition to being used to help individuals, it has also been utilized in a variety of settings including business, teaching, management, training, and religion.
  • Psychodrama can also be integrated with other psychotherapy approaches. Some researchers have suggested that it can be utilized alongside psychoanalysis, behavioral therapy, play therapy, hypnotherapy, family therapy, group therapy, and Gestalt therapy.

While it is often used over the course of a number of sessions, some research also suggests that psychodrama may offer benefits as a one-session brief intervention.

Effectiveness

While more research is needed, some evidence supports the usefulness of psychodrama. Some of the research supporting its efficacy includes:

  • One study looking at adolescents who had experienced trauma found that the use of psychodrama was helpful for improving feelings of safety, self-image, and coping skills.
  • Another study looking at the use of psychodrama in the treatment of eating disorders found that this approach to therapy helped people integrate the emotional, cognitive, and behavioral aspects of their personal experiences. The researchers concluded that psychodrama was a valuable therapeutic modality in the treatment of eating disorders.
  • A 2020 study found that the use of psychodrama with adolescents led to significant improvements in social skills and life satisfaction.
  • Another 2020 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology suggested that trauma-focused psychodrama may be helpful in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Those who received psychodrama therapy showed a 25% reduction in PTSD symptoms.

Things to Consider

It is important to be aware that while psychodrama has grown in popularity, there is not a great deal of research demonstrating the impact it has. More research is needed to determine its potential benefits and uses.

It is also important to consider the importance of trust and confidentiality within the group of people who are participating in the psychodrama sessions. Screening and selecting people who are suited to the experience is essential, but this can be both costly and time-consuming.

Psychodrama sessions can also be emotionally challenging and some may find the format distressing or triggering. Acting out difficult scenes from a person's past can resurface intense or difficult emotions, so some people may find that they feel worse before they begin to feel better.

How to Get Started

If you are interested in trying psychodrama, it can be helpful to know what you can expect during your first session. During your session, expect your therapist to start with warm-up exercises that are designed to help build trust and cohesion within the group. 

Depending on whether you are the protagonist or a participant, you may be acting out scenes from your own life or from the lives of others in your group. You may be asked to share your own thoughts about the experience once the reenactment is complete.

In order to find a therapist who practices psychodrama, consider searching an online therapist directory to find a professional in your area.

You can also search for a psychodrama therapist by searching the directory offered by the North American Drama Therapy Association. Look for a professional who is certified by the American Board of Examiners in Psychodrama, Sociometry, and Group Psychotherapy. 

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