Psychodrama is a form of psychotherapy in which patients act out events from their past. The combination of ‘mind’ and ‘action’ enables participants to get under the skin of their lives and strengthen their sense of self and the relationships that are important to them. For a first hand insight into the practice ntpages caught up with Peter Howie from The Moreno Collegium for Human Centred Learning, a collective of highly qualified trainers, educators and practitioners.
For those of us who don’t know what psychodrama is, kindly enlighten us?
“As a psychotherapy modality, psychodrama is a form of group psychotherapy. It is typically used as a form of self development and self training for a wide range of dilemmas. From life dilemmas, such as “What am I doing here?” or “How can I develop better a relationship with my children/parents/ partner?” to mental illnesses such as depression, panic, and other debilitating states of mind. Psychodrama is a profound way to look at life in all its complexity and chaos - and, to do this in a straightforward manner. This way a person can face life with greater confidence and spontaneity.”
What are its origins?
“Psychodrama was developed early last century by a chap called Moreno who trained as a doctor and psychiatrist. He began to develop his ideas about the value of drama, and dramatic methods as therapeutic technique. At that time he used street theatre and other methods to promote social justice in Vienna. By all accounts he was a complete madman. In Australian terms, we would have loved him. He worked with street prostitutes, for free. He organised them to meet together in groups for mutual support and to learn from each other, and to get free medical attention from him. During these times he found out how people in the group could heal each other irrespective of their education, though being companionable and caring, through listening and showing understanding.”
Why would anyone need to attend a psychodrama group?
“Psychodrama suits participation of individuals or couples who need to be able to:
- re-examine their current life situations, their past, their social networks or cultural context.
- generate new perspectives on particular events or situations.
- develop fresh responses to entrenched relationship dynamics either from the past, the present or the theoretical future.
- prepare for future situations in which they wish to function with a greater degree of flexibility, vitality and immediacy than they have in the past.
- bring together action, insight and ‘here and now' experience as they engage with life.
- enlarge perceptions of themselves and others.
Describe a typical session?
“In a typical session, a small group of enthusiastic people work cooperatively to do their personal psychodramas and are led by an experienced qualified practitioner. The practitioner will work with the group to develop some common themes of what they want to work on. The practitioner will then ask someone to get up and act out some of their deepest personal or communal concerns, such as being bullied in the workplace, or the plight of the homeless in society, or their isolation and lack of joy. Others in the group will join in, acting the extra roles in the person's drama. The session develops spontaneously as each person in turn takes the lead role in their own drama or support roles in other people's dramas. The qualified practitioner has a very wide variety of techniques that can be applied to support all the group members irrespective of their level of experience.”
What size are your groups?
“Typically group sizes are 4 – 12. For any larger groups the work is usually more related to social concerns than personal concerns.”
Who runs the sessions and what background do they have?
“Sessions are typically run by a qualified practitioner who has a recognised first degree and has studied psychodrama as a post graduate field of study at a recognised training institute, over many years. This training takes at least 3 years and usually a few more. It consists of experiential training sessions, supervised practice, writing, a thesis as well as a practical exam. There are at least 800 hours of face to face training required. Institutes, both here and overseas, are typically oversighted by an association with a Board of Examiners, to maintain standards. In Australia and New Zealand there is the Australian and Aotearoa New Zealand Psychodrama Association. This association has been operating for nearly 30 years. Practitioners come from many backgrounds, including teaching, medicine, psychology, counselling, social work, nursing, education, psychiatry, organisational development, training, facilitating, management, pastoral care, drama, theatre and many others.”
What is the benefit of a group setting?
“The group setting has a number of benefits not achievable in the one on one counselling or therapy session structure. These benefits are true for most forms of group psychotherapy and to a lesser extent many other group activities. For a start the resources in a group are very extensive. The more diverse a group the more resources and lived experiences the group members bring with them to the group, from which they can all benefit from. This is true if the group leader is aware and trained in bringing this about. Psychodrama can definitely be done in a one on one setting, but with a group, the action and dramatic elements are fantastic.”
What can psychodrama assist an individual with?
“Psychodrama can assist individuals to do many things that fall within a person’s need or desire to expand their functioning in life. For instance, rather than say it helps with depression, I would say it helps a person who feels depressed to appreciate themselves more, to understand the forces at play in their individual context (both past and present) and to experience themselves as more than a title of ‘depressed’. Psychodrama may not cure cancer, but it will assist a person with cancer to live as good a life as they can. It may not solve a difficult situation but it will assist a person to appreciate just how hard their situation is and to not beat themselves up about not getting it right. In essence, psychodrama can assist an individual to develop new solutions to old problems and adequate solutions to new ones.”
How long are your programs?
“The groups are designed to run in different ways. Some groups are run over a single weekend. So participants might come on Saturday and Sunday during the day and work together. Some groups might run for 3, 4, or 5 days and be residential and run late in the day or include evening sessions. Some groups will run on a night during the week over a period of time. We also run single evening events with a specific theme that is usually focused on demonstrating the methods for those either interested in the method for their own development or training in the method.”
Is psychodrama suitable for children?
“Psychodrama is suitable for children, within limits. This is generally a specialised area of psychodrama and done by practitioners who already have experience and training in working with children and their families.”