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What is Psychodrama?

Psychodrama is an interactive, experimental form of psychotherapy that relies on dramatic role-playing as a means of healing patients. It was also the first form of group therapy ever created. Some of its techniques and elements are also used in other forms of psychotherapy. It was first developed by a psychiatrist named Dr. Jacob Levy Moreno, but his wife Zerka Moreno furthered its development, especially after her husband died. Dr. Moreno had interests in group interactions, working with children, mysticism, philosophy, and theatre. The American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama was founded in 1942. Although Moreno was originally from Europe, psychodrama did not develop there until the 1970s. Today psychodrama is a popular form of psychotherapy in over 100 countries, including four psychodrama centers in the UK.

Goals of Psychodrama

Psychodrama uses action techniques as a means of accessing thoughts and feelings in real time. Participants are asked to reenact moments of their life in the past, present, and what they hope for in the future. This is an alternative to simply talking out the problems because the patient is utilizing body and mind. There is a sense of physically doing something instead of only talking about it. The goals of psychotherapy are to allow the client to express their feelings as a means of overcoming their problems, restoring their confidence, improving their relationships and communication, and helping them develop new ways of looking at their lives. Patients can often envision what they are like as recovered versions of themselves with the aid of a counselor, which helps speed up the process.

When is Psychodrama Used?

Psychodrama can technically be used by just about anyone of any age who is interested in the experience of action-based group therapy no matter what problems, if any, they bring to it. It can be a beneficial eye-opening experience for everyone involved, and people tend to have fun with it since it involves a lot of self-expression. Specifically, psychodrama has helped those with eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma, phobias, stress, self-harm, bereavement, addiction, substance abuse, acculturation, parental problems, adoption and attachment problems, abuse and neglect, and autism.

How Psychodrama Works

Action techniques are used to explore the client’s past, present, and future. Issues are reenacted as well as possible solutions to those issues. This form of psychotherapy is different from most and also uses different lingo compared to other therapies. The group leader or therapist is usually called a director due to the theatrical approach. Their job is to turn cues from the client into dramatic action. The client who is experiencing the drama that is to be acted out is known as the protagonist rather than the main client. The reenactments made by group members take place on a figurative “stage”. Not everyone in the group necessarily plays a role on stage. Those who do are called Auxiliary Egos and those who don’t are simply known as The Audience, although everyone gets to contribute their thoughts and feelings on the situation regardless.

Generally in these group sessions, there are only three stages during each psychotherapy session. The warm-up stage involves the protagonist exploring their issues and expressing their feelings, which will later be represented onstage. The bulk of the session is on the role-playing stage, where reenactments take place. This may involve many different techniques. The closure stage involves discussion of feelings between group members about the roles they just enacted (or watched being interacted) in a supportive, non-judgmental way.

The multiple-parts-of-self technique in psychodrama involves working with the different psychological parts of the protagonist’s psyche. These different psychological components can then interact onstage. Another psychodrama technique, Soliloquy, occurs when group members speak their minds in real time during reenactments. Sometimes psychodrama might involve Role Reversal, where the protagonist switches roles with an auxiliary ego member. Sometimes the director might express what he/she imagines the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings to be; this is known as Doubling.

Role-playing the scenes in our lives can help to see how we respond to certain situations from a third party perspective. Having the problem brought to life before our eyes gives us insight into our own behaviors. This can also stimulate personal growth and creativity as we form new roles to take on.

Criticisms of Psychodrama

Many people believe that psychodrama has the potential to re-traumatize individuals by acting out painful scenes of their lives. It has also been said that psychodrama is too focused on expressing feelings instead of working to change client behavior.


Moreno, J. L. Psychodrama without words.

Moreno, J. L. (1946). Psychodrama, first volume. (pp. 216-219). New York, NY, US: Beacon House, 428 pp. doi: 10.1037/11506-043

Yablonsky, L. (1976). Psychodrama: Resolving emotional problems through role-playing. Basic Books, New York. Book (ISBN 0465066399 )

Greenberg, I.A. (1974). Psychodrama: Theory and therapy. Behavioral Publications, New York. 496 pp. Book (ISBN 0877051100)

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