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Psychodrama: Theater of the Soul

So What Exactly is Psychodrama?

Psychodrama is an action method that has the potential to help you quickly address hidden issues, feelings and patterns that would take months or even years to address in conventional talk therapy.

Locked within all of us are emotions we dare not express, secrets we dare not whisper and experiences we dare not remember. We have pushed so many pieces of ourselves into that deep, dark space inside, that we have forgotten who we really are. Along with the bad memories we have lost the good. The spontaneity that makes life shimmer with joy is lost to dullness and a gnawing sense that we are merely pushing through the pain of daily existence.

Psychodrama brings those long-buried emotions and experiences to the surface. Through role-playing we are able to tap into those lost feelings and at long last relieve the emotional pressure building inside us. It's like a good cry; afterwards we feel better.

But psychodrama goes far beyond the relief of a good cry. It helps us heal in ways that words alone can never do. Psychodrama allows our hearts to speak instead of our heads.

Psychodrama has been defined as a way practicing living without being punished for making mistakes. It's a way of doing, undoing, and doing again differently. It shines light on the past, so participants don't just remember what happened, they feel it. Only this time, the experience is felt within the safety of the group and the loving support of its members.

As noted by author and psychodramatist Tian Dayton, psychodrama is a useful method for resolving trauma-related issues in the following manner:

  • It reempowers the client by allowing him to be at the center of his own experience with clinical supervision and support. It allows him to view this material again in the light of today.

  • It provides a method through which emotional triggering can occur in a clinically safe environment so that powerful reactions can be worked through toward resolution. Feelings that were fused can be reexamined and untangled.

  • Scenes can be played out in their concrete form where distorted reasoning becomes evident as personal meaning that was made at the time of the trauma can be clarified and reframed, and understood in the light of today.

  • Psychodrama allows the protagonist (client) to learn to take in support from the group through identification and sharing.

  • It provides a therapeutic alliance with the director, double, and group that allows the client to explore repressed and threatening material with support, so that psychological defenses that the client used in childhood can be identified and understood.

  • It slowly breaks down emotional constriction through spontaneous role-play.

  • It releases and externalizes pain and anger that can cause depression.

  • It slowly reduces anxiety as protagonists confront and work through situations that they fear.

  • It provides a therapeutic alternative to self-medicating emotional pain, allowing pain to be felt in an atmosphere of support and understanding.

  • It restores relationship bonds through positive group dynamics and examines the source of traumatic bonds and the transference dynamics that are part of them.

  • It explores reenactments of dysfunctional relationship dynamics through role play so that their origins can be understood clearly.

  • It reduces hypervigilance by working through the source trauma issues and increasing tolerance for sitting with threatening material within the self and the group and slowly moves toward modulating emotions.

  • It elevates the immune system through the release of repressed material and examines somatized material through role-play, which can help to clear up psychosomatic symptoms.

  • Having internalized this restorative relationship experience, the client begins to restore a sense of trust and faith in self, other, community and spirituality or universal order.

Guidelines for Psychodrama

The need to feel safe and protected in a group is a requirement for group functioning. In a group, we participate at the level that is comfortable. We are even willing to stretch our comfort level at times to take reasonable risks. We can remember that our level of comfort may change in the group, even in the same group on the same day. At the conclusion of the psychodrama we share from our point of view, allowing ourselves to validate our experiences. All roles are valuable, and we can learn and grow from all the ways of being.

Right to Choice
We may have been in situations as children or adults where we did not have — or believed we did not have — the right to choice. Group members have the right to say "no" as well as "yes" to activities, roles and opportunities to share.

All Feelings are Honored
We honor our own and others' feelings even when we don't understand them, when we are uncomfortable with them or have different feelings. We need not act on our feelings — and often should not — but we need to recognize and honor them for being a part of us.

The right to tell our own story is our right. Confidentiality provides safety so that members may address sensitive issues if they wish. It also provides dignity in giving each the choice of what to reveal outside the group. Group members should not discuss others' identities (by name or specific description) with others outside the group nor should they reveal the content of others' psychodramas since it is not theirs to share.

How Does Psychodrama Work?

Psychodrama groups are built on a foundation of safety and trust. A psychotherapist, who creates a sense of safety so participants feel free to trust each other, leads the group. No one is ever pressured to do work that they are not ready for or do not want to do.

During psychodrama the stage is where the role-playing takes place. This is not a stage in the technical sense but merely the area where the action occurs.

The stage has been called the womb from which a person is born again. It makes the invisible, visible and easy for the participants to see, often for the first time. The stage is a powerful vehicle for change.

Just like in a theatrical performance, there is a protagonist or central character of the psychodrama. But in this theater of the soul, the plot is based on real events and tucked away emotions. The action starts when the protagonist states the aspect of their life they want to work on. This can be anything from their relationship with their father to their fear of getting fired from their job to the loss of a loved one.

The protagonist experiences what happened to them through role-playing But she or he also experiences how others experienced the situation as well. Emotions surface as they were originally felt, before the protagonist had a chance to edit them.

To better understand this, let's look as what happens when someone experiences trauma, When a traumatic event takes place early in one's life, the child tends to mentally freeze as a way to escape or as means of survival. The moment is frozen in time, forgotten and lost to the subconscious. Years later when that experience is somehow triggered, that frozen memory does not come back. It's frozen after all.

But what does return is the unresolved emotions surrounding it. Psychodrama provides a safe place for the trauma of the past, those frozen moments, to resurface so we can feel them, understand them and then make them a part of our lives in a healthy way.

During a psychodrama group, participants can look at their lives with new eyes. It is a powerful image of themselves they discover.

Psychodrama is a method of psychotherapy where group members enact relevant events in their lives instead of simply talking about them.

A psychodrama group will lead you on a healing journey that can:

  • Teach you how the emotional, physical and sexual abuse you experienced in the past is connected to the way you feel and act now.

  • Help you understand that your current symptoms are ways of trying to cope with the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional family.

  • Introduce you to effective problem solving strategies to replace old destructive ones.

  • Help you develop skills in assertiveness, self advocacy, self-management and successful relationship building.

  • Discover and connect you with past experiences, feelings and insights.

  • Give you the opportunity to experience a sense of adequacy and resolution as your face difficult issues from the past, learn to trust your own perceptions about reality and understand the validity of these perceptions.

So Who Created Psychodrama?

The father of psychodrama is Jacob Levy Moreno who was born in 1890 and grew up to become a psychiatrist in Vienna. In 1921 he introduced psychodrama, based on his observations and work with his patients. Moreno believed that if patients were allowed to play out the roles and scenes that were relevant to their lives, the experience would lead to healing.

He theorized that in the controlled environment of a psychodrama group, participants would feel safe enough to discharge their deepest emotions. Experiencing these emotions was far more powerful than merely talking about them, he theorized.

Moreno also believed that spontaneity and creativity were the cornerstones of human existence. He dedicated his life to developing a type of therapy that restored this lost spontaneity so people could live fully and with joy.

Who Does Psychodrama Help?

Psychodrama is for anyone who wants to explore their past as a means to understanding their present feelings and behaviors.

While anyone can benefit from this, psychodrama is an especially effective tool for those struggling with addictions or childhood traumas. It is also effective for adults who grew up in dysfunctional families. For those who tend to rationalize, deny and intellectualize experiences and behaviors, psychodrama provides the means for focusing on what is real so they speak from the heart instead of their brains.

Psychodrama also chips away at the armor we all wear so we can once again experience the spontaneity and joy lost so long ago. By acting out pieces of the past we find a way to the present.

For anyone who has longed to live life more fully or who has dreamt of being free of the unconscious shackles of the past, psychodrama is more than a therapeutic tool. It is a means to discover your true self.

Using Psychodrama in Individual Therapy

Psychodrama paves the way to our past; making experiences we have long forgotten, accessible. It helps participants turn their personal, painful life stories from the past into tolerable experiences in the present so that they can move forward. At long last, we can tap into emotions tucked deep inside and start to heal so we can enjoy life's richest gifts.

It seems magical, almost too good to be true. But psychodrama is grounded in sound therapeutic principles and blends together aspects of family therapy and experiential methods with models like role-playing. It helps participants reenact emotional experiences from their childhood or from current relationships and rehearse solutions in a new way. By re-experiencing painful emotions surrounding events and relationships, participants are able to release feelings that have been repressed or blocked. When the shame, hurt, guilt and fear of the past are finally released there is room for new feelings of love, hope and inner peace.

What Can Psychodrama Do For Me?

Psychodrama is a method of psychotherapy where group members enact relevant events in their lives instead of simply talking about them.

  • It allows participants to see and feel the truth without the chance to deny, rationalize, excuse or intellectualize their experiences. For those struggling with addictions or childhood traumas, it presents a rare opportunity to break down the wall of denial and explore their blocks to growth.
  • It siphons off the most intense feelings that people struggle with.
  • It provides a safe and therapeutic place to heal, taking into account the inner pain surrounding traumatic past experiences. Participants work on their issues when they are ready, without ever being forced or prodded.
  • It clarifies issues, increases emotional well-being and enhances life itself.
  • It helps participants unravel those negative tapes that they often unknowingly play inside their head.
  • It leads participants to a greater understanding of hidden motivations and triggers so they can discover why they behave a certain way.
  • It can enhance spontaneity so participants feel more free and in touch with themselves.
  • It also helps people understand the roles others play in their lives.

For anyone who has longed to discover who they really are — behind the masks, away from the routines we use to get through each day — a psychodrama group is waiting. It is waiting and ready to escort you to your true self.

For more information, contact Mark Felber.

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