Using Experiential Therapy
~ by Tian Dayton, Ph.D.
Part of the process of therapy is to make the unconscious conscious, but what happens after that? When memories that have been repressed or suppressed out of consciousness rise to the surface of the mind, the process has begun, clusters of brain cells come into view. The therapeutic task is to work through the repressed material consciously so that the material can be reintegrated into the unconscious in a reworked or processed state.
Learning is a process of paring down and building up brain cells. When a memory becomes conscious, another piece of the puzzle is coming into our inner vision. We see more of our selves and begin to make associations that make sense, that is, we get a bigger picture. Then we can begin to reconstruct.
In psychodrama, when clients have brought scenes or circumstances out from the depths of their minds, onto the stage, they have the opportunity to see themselves in action, not only to talk about but to talk to the people (played by surrogates) who live within their psyche, to interact with them, to speak the words that have been locked long within their minds and hearts waiting to be spoken, to do that which cries out to be done.
Part of the road to healing is to express and give back pain, to scream and rant and rid the self-system of the debris that has weighed it down, blocked its breath, stunted its growth. But then it becomes necessary not only to release but to receive, to tolerate the pain not only of loss but also of regaining. To live through the anxiety of feeling good with all its fear of loss.
In experiential therapy we can structure the process so that the client has the opportunity not only to expel but also to take in. First to deal with a person as they were and then have the opportunity to experience them in a reformed state. This provides the client an opportunity not only to heal but also to grow, to learn by reconstructed experience, to role-train.
The beauty of incorporating experiential techniques into group work is that the role training can occur just as it is needed and can be tailored to the specific requirements of the client. For example, if a woman has had a painful relationship with her father and tends to choose men who do not fully choose her, she may first encounter the father as he was, say what she could never say, and regain a sense of power in the relationship by altering her invisible and passive position and taking a more assertive active one. She may then wish to have her father in a reformed state so that she can learn how it would have felt to have her father see her and choose her. She may interact with him and learn by doing.
Role is a basic concept of psychodrama. Through exploration of the feelings surrounding a given role at a given time in one's life, it is possible to see and explore a variety of aspects of the self. The basic roles in a psychodrama are the protagonist, the person whose story is being enacted; the double, the inner voice of the protagonist; the director, the person directing the psychodramatic action; and the auxiliary egos, the people playing the other characters in the psychodrama. The use of role reversal allows the protagonist to play any role in the drama, including his own double, to both see the self from the outside and experience the role in the position of the "other."
Psychodrama allows an interior problem to surface, to be reconstructed on the exterior and be played out in the present moment. As human beings we live in space, time and circumstance. There are all dynamic principles integral to our very existence. We take in information through all five senses simultaneously. Early childhood traumas happened in a gestalt. They were painful situations that we took in through hearing, sensing, touching, feeling and seeing.
Many traumas are pre-verbal. It is difficult to reach these wordless places and reflect upon them exclusively through the use of language. The body need to be engaged so that, when words fail us, we can move through the memory and act out or show what happened for us with the sounds and movement, and reconstruct an event or the metaphor of an event in space. In this way, psychodrama is inherently corrective because it creates an opportunity to do and say in the "here and now" what we could not do and say when it was too threatening or dangerous, and allows for a release of the feelings held on both the psychic and cellular or body levels.
As children we may have been victims of our size, strength or position in the family constellation, but as adults in psychodrama, we regain our autonomy and power by finally giving back the internalized pain. We can release the voiceless victim that lives within by allowing it to speak in place, time and space. We can have the situation as we wish we could have it to begin with, say what we wish we had said, and do what we wish we had done. Our brain in this sense is impartial and seems willing to accept the psycho dramatic enactment as a true corrective for the original experience.
We "suspend our disbelief" in a psychodrama, we are doing more than entering a world of our own creation. We are opening a door into our unconsciousness through which we can pass in either direction. We can reach out and make friends with the terrified child, the innocent baby, the playmate, the victim or the enemy within. By bringing these introjected figures out into the open, they lose the hold on us that they had in silence.
For more information, contact Mark Felber.
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