Psychodrama: staging behaviors

The Viennese psychiatrist Jakob Levy Moreno is the founder of the psychodrama: a therapeutic method in which life situations or fantasies are presented in a scenic manner in order to relive them and free themselves from deadlocked role structures.

The psychodrama

The group leaders of cancer self-help groups attend a training seminar. Your concern: You want to treat the seriously and deathly ill appropriately. Even if they know the disease from their own experience, they sometimes feel helpless, sometimes overwhelmed when dealing with the patients.

The seminar leader asks her to reenact scenes with the patients. Immediately a certain role scheme becomes recognizable, namely a tireless way of encouraging new patients to take courage again and again.

Now the seminar leader asks for a role reversal. The (ill) participants are now experiencing the effects of well-intentioned behavior: an avalanche of encouragement and affirmation of life that barely leaves room to talk about their fears. It is also important for them to have listeners and to gain understanding - something that the group leaders originally felt to be healing.

After this role reversal, almost all group leaders were able to change their behavior fundamentally and respond more sensitively. (cited after: The Psychodrama by Martina Rosenbaum and Ulrike Kroneck, Stuttgart, 2007).

"Action is more healing than talking"

Put in a nutshell, psychodrama means to stage behaviors. A framework agreed with the participants is about testing, observing and comparing actions and experiencing their effects both from their own role and the counter-role. In psychodrama, the psyche stages itself and its problems on stage.

The terms are similar to those in the theater - there are protagonists, antagonists, spectators and a game master - the therapist, a script or script, however, do not give it. The aim of psychodrama is the activation and integration of spontaneity and creativity. "Constructive spontaneous action has come about when the protagonist finds a new and appropriate response to a new or already known situation." (from: JL Moreno, group psychotherapy and psychodrama, 1959).

Change of behavior through speech and listening

Many methods of psychotherapy are based on talking. Jakob Levy Moreno (1890-1974), on the other hand, developed his ideas and concepts in the observation of playing children. "My practical beginnings go back to the year 1910. In the gardens of Vienna, between the years 1910 and 1914, I began to form groups of children, to play with them on the spot and thus to plant the germ of group psychotherapy and psychodrama." From this he has organized role-playing games for adults and dealt with the effects of spontaneous play.

Moreno's motto is "Acting is more healing than talking" or "To explore the truth of the soul through action." Role-playing or other productions are well suited to make conflict situations visible, edit and even play new strategies for conflict resolution The scenic and playful presentation allows to expand the available role repertoire and to test behaviors.

And here is a factor very crucial: by the players, the protagonists and antagonists do something actively, they become aware of their actions. The experience is an action experience that, while played, is still a real, even physical experience. Ideally, a behavioral change occurs immediately - as in the example of group leaders, who learned to listen better and became more empathetic.

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