Psychodrama is an active, experiential type of therapy that involves role play among a group of participants. Each person plays a role in the drama, typically as the protagonist (the main character whose situation is the focus of the scene), a supporting character or an audience member. The therapist acts as director, allowing events to unfold spontaneously in the moment.
Why Psychodrama Is Effective
Psychodrama allows clients to act out past events, explore current challenges or anticipate possible interactions in the future with a goal of gaining new insights and perspectives. Clients are able step outside of themselves and into other roles to understand how others may see a situation differently, work through difficult feelings, or identify the source of challenges or misunderstandings in their lives. Because it is an active, hands-on approach, it can be powerfully moving and memorable.
What to Expect in a Psychodrama Session
A specially trained therapist guides the process and helps draw out new insights and ways of thinking about certain situations or relationships. In a safe, professionally facilitated setting, clients can “try on” new ways of communicating or thinking, discover solutions to problems, and practice new skills with fellow group members before those skills are called upon in daily life with family and friends.
Often, psychodrama sessions are held weekly with a small group of participants, ranging from 4 to 12. Sessions typically last one to two hours and consist of three main phases:
- Warm-Up: Establish trust, familiarity and a sense of safety among group members so all can contribute openly
- Action: The therapist works with the protagonist to develop a scene based on their life and therapeutic needs, with other members act out auxiliary roles (for example, other aspects of the protagonist’s self or other people in their life)
- Sharing: The therapist helps the group process the experience by discussing new insights and asking questions.
Some of the techniques commonly used in psychodrama include:
- Mirroring: Other group members step into the protagonist’s role while the protagonist observes.
- Soliloquy: The protagonist speaks to the audience or a double to express their feelings.
- Role Reversal: The protagonist steps into someone else’s shoes so they can better understand that person’s role and explore the dynamics of the relationship through a different lens
- Doubling: A group member interprets the protagonist’s thoughts and feelings by adopting their behaviors and movements so the protagonist builds self-compassion or is challenged to see their actions in a new light.
Developed by psychiatrist Jacob Moreno in the early 1900s, psychodrama is now used to treat a wide variety of mental health disorders including addiction, trauma, eating disorders and personality disorders, as well as relationship problems, grief/loss and poor body image. It is often used in combination with cognitive behavioral therapy and other traditional approaches.