FAMILY COUNSELLING through Individual & Group Sessions using Family Constellations and Psychodrama Groups
What is Psychodrama?
Psychodrama is an action method, often used as a psychotherapy, in which clients use spontaneous dramatization, role playing, and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives.
Developed by Jacob L. Moreno, psychodrama includes elements of theater, often conducted on a stage, or a space that serves as a stage area, where props can be used. A psychodrama therapy group, under the direction of a licensed psychodramatist, reenacts real-life, past situations (or inner mental processes), acting them out in present time. Participants then have the opportunity to evaluate their behavior, reflect on how the past incident is getting played out in the present and more deeply understand particular situations in their lives.
Psychodrama offers a creative way for an individual or group to explore and solve personal problems. It may be used in a variety of clinical and community-based settings in which other group members (audience) are invited to become therapeutic agents (stand-ins) to populate the scene of one client.
Besides benefits to the designated client, “side-benefits” may accrue to other group members, as they make relevant connections and insights to their own lives from the psychodrama of another.
A psychodrama is best conducted and produced by a person trained in the method, called a psychodrama director.
In a session of psychodrama, one client of the group becomes the protagonist, and focuses on a particular, personal, emotionally problematic situation to enact on stage. A variety of scenes may be enacted, depicting, for example, memories of specific happenings in the client’s past, unfinished situations, inner dramas, fantasies, dreams, preparations for future risk-taking situations, or unrehearsed expressions of mental states in the here and now. These scenes either approximate real-life situations or are externalizations of inner mental processes. Other members of the group may become auxiliaries and support the protagonist by playing other significant roles in the scene, or they may step in as a “double” who plays the role of the protagonist.
A core tenet of psychodrama is Moreno’s theory of “spontaneity-creativity”. Moreno believed that the best way for an individual to respond creatively to a situation is through spontaneity, that is, through a readiness to improvise and respond in the moment. By encouraging an individual to address a problem in a creative way, reacting spontaneously and based on impulse, they may begin to discover new solutions to problems in their lives and learn new roles they can inhabit within it. Moreno’s focus on spontaneous action within the psychodrama was developed in his Theatre of Spontaneity, which he directed in Vienna in the early 1920s. Disenchanted with the stagnancy he observed in conventional, scripted theatre, he found himself interested in the spontaneity required in improvisational work. He founded an improvisational troupe in the 1920s. This work in the theatre impacted the development of his psychodramatic theory.
In psychodrama, participants explore internal conflicts by acting out their emotions and interpersonal interactions on stage. A psychodrama session (typically 90 minutes to 2 hours) focuses principally on a single participant, known as the protagonist. Protagonists examine their relationships by interacting with the other actors and the leader, known as the director. This is done using specific techniques, including mirroring, doubling, soliloquy, and role reversal. The session is often broken up into three phases – the warm-up, the action, and the post-discussion.
During a typical psychodrama session, a number of clients gather together. One of these clients is chosen by the group as the protagonist, and the director calls on the other clients to assist the protagonist’s “performance,” either by portraying other characters, or by utilizing mirroring, doubling, or role reversal. The clients act out a number of scenes in order to allow the protagonist to work through certain scenarios. This is obviously beneficial for the protagonist, but also is helpful to the other group members, allowing them to assume the role of another person and apply that experience to their own life. The focus during the session is on the acting out of different scenarios, rather than simply talking through them. All of the different elements of the session (stage, props, lighting, etc.) are used to heighten the reality of the scene.
The three sections of a typical session are the warm-up, the action, and the sharing. During the warm-up, the actors are encouraged to enter into a state of mind where they can be present in and aware of the current moment and are free to be creative. This is done through the use of different ice-breaker games and activities. Next, the action section of the psychodrama session is the time in which the actual scenes themselves take place. Finally, in the post-discussion, the different actors are able to comment on the action, coming from their personal point of view, not as a critique, sharing their empathy and experiences with the protagonist of the scene.
The following are core psychodramatic techniques:
Mirroring: The protagonist is first asked to act out an experience. After this, the client steps out of the scene and watches as another actor steps into their role and portrays them in the scene.
Doubling: The job of the “double” is to make conscious any thoughts or feelings that another person is unable to express whether it is because of shyness, guilt, inhibition, politeness, fear, anger, etc. In many cases the person is unaware of these thoughts or at least is unable to form the words to express how they are feeling. Therefore, the “Double” attempts to make conscious and give form to the unconscious and/or under expressed material. The person being doubled has the full right to disown any of the “Double’s” statements and to correct them as necessary. In this way, doubling itself can never be wrong.
Role playing: The client portrays a person or object that is problematic to him or her.
Soliloquy: The client speaks his or her thoughts aloud in order to build self-knowledge.
Role reversal: The client is asked to portray another person while a second actor portrays the client in the particular scene. This not only prompts the client to think as the other person, but also has some of the benefits of mirroring, as the client sees him- or herself as portrayed by the second actor.
Psychodrama can be used in both non-clinical and clinical arenas. In the non-clinical field, psychodrama is used in business, education, and professional training. In the clinical field, psychodrama may be used to alleviate the effects of emotional trauma and PTSD. One specific application in clinical situations is for people suffering from dysfunctional attachments. For this reason, it is often utilized in the treatment of children who have suffered emotional trauma and abuse. Using role-play and story telling, children may be able to express themselves emotionally and reveal truths about their experience they are not able to openly discuss with their therapist, and rehearse new ways of behavior. Moreno’s theory of child development offers further insight into psychodrama and children. Moreno suggested that child development is divided into three stages: finding personal identity, recognizing oneself (the mirror stage), and recognizing the other person (the role-reversal stage). Mirroring, role-playing and other psychodramatic techniques are based on these stages. Moreno believed that psychodrama could be used to help individuals continue their emotional development through the use of these techniques.
Moreno’s term sociometry is often used in relation to psychodrama. By definition, sociometry is the study of social relations between individuals—interpersonal relationships. It is, more broadly, a set of ideas and practices that are focused on promoting spontaneity in human relations. Classically, sociometry involves techniques for identifying, organizing, and giving feedback on specific interpersonal preferences an individual has. For example, in a psychodrama session, allowing the group to decide whom the protagonist shall be employs sociometry.
Moreno is also credited for founding sociodrama. Though sociodrama, like psychodrama, utilizes the theatrical form as means of therapy, the terms are not synonymous. While psychodrama focuses on one patient within the group unit, sociodrama addresses the group as a whole. The goal is to explore social events, collective ideologies, and community patterns within a group in order to bring about positive change or transformation within the group dynamic. Moreno also believed that sociodrama could be used as a form of micro-sociology—that by examining the dynamic of a small group of individuals, patterns could be discovered that manifest themselves within the society as a whole, such as in Alcoholics Anonymous. Sociodrama can be divided into three main categories: crisis sociodrama, which deals with group responses after a catastrophic event, political sociodrama, which attempts to address stratification and inequality issues within a society, and diversity sociodrama, which considers conflicts based on prejudice, racism or stigmatization.
The other creative arts therapies modality drama therapy, which was established and developed in the second half of the past century, shows multiple similarities in its approach to psychodrama, as to using theatre methods to achieve therapeutic goals. Both concepts however, describe different modalities. Drama therapy lets the patient explore fictional stories, such as fairytales, myths or improvised scenes, whereas psychodrama is focused on the patient’s real-life experience to practice “new and more effective roles and behaviors” (ASGPP).
Jacob L. Moreno (1889–1974) is the founder of psychodrama and sociometry, and one of the forerunners of the group psychotherapy movement. Around 1910, he developed the Theater of Spontaneity, which is based on the acting out of improvisational impulses. The focus of this exercise was not originally on the therapeutic effects of psychodrama; these were seen by Moreno to simply be positive side-effects.
A poem by Moreno reveals ideas central to the practice of psychodrama, and describes the purpose of mirroring:
- ” A meeting of two: eye to eye, face to face.
- And when you are near I will tear your eyes out
- and place them instead of mine,
- and you will tear my eyes out
- and will place them instead of yours,
- then I will look at me with mine.”
In 1912, Moreno attended one of Sigmund Freud‘s lectures. In his autobiography, he recalled the experience: “As the students filed out, he singled me out from the crowd and asked me what I was doing. I responded, ‘Well, Dr. Freud, I start where you leave off. You meet people in the artificial setting of your office. I meet them on the street and in their homes, in their natural surroundings. You analyze their dreams. I give them the courage to dream again. You analyze and tear them apart. I let them act out their conflicting roles and help them to put the parts back together again.'”
While a student at the University of Vienna in 1913-14, Moreno gathered a group of prostitutes as a way of discussing the social stigma and other problems they faced, starting what might be called the first “support group“. From experiences like that, and as inspired by psychoanalysts such as Wilhelm Reich and Freud, Moreno began to develop psychodrama. After moving to the United States in 1925, Moreno introduced his work with psychodrama to American psychologists. He began this work with children, and then eventually moved on to large group psychodrama sessions that he held at Impromptu Group Theatre at Carnegie Hall. These sessions established Moreno’s name, not only in psychological circles, but also among non-psychologists. Moreno continued to teach his method of psychodrama, leading sessions until his death in 1974.
Another important practitioner in the field of psychodrama is Carl Hollander. Hollander was the 37th director certified by Moreno in psychodrama. He is known primarily for his creation of the Hollander Psychodrama Curve, which may be utilized as a way to understand how a psychodrama session is structured. Hollander uses the image of a curve to explain the three parts of a psychodrama session: the warm-up, the activity, and the integration. The warm-up exists to put patients into a place of spontaneity and creativity in order to be open in the act of psychodrama. The “activity” is the actual enactment of the psychodrama process. Finally, the “curve” moves to integration. It serves as closure and discussion of the session, and considers how the session can be brought into real life – a sort of debriefing.
Although psychodrama is not widely practiced, the work done by practitioners of psychodrama has opened the doors to research possibilities for other psychological concepts such as group therapy and expansion of the work of Sigmund Freud. The growing field of drama therapy utilizes psychodrama as one of its main elements. The methods of psychodrama are also used by group therapy organizations and also find a place in other types of therapy, such as post-divorce counseling for children.[23
Are you seeking resolution for conflicts within your family? Do you have conflicts with your adult children, siblings or parents? We can help your family resolve conflicts, heal hurt feelings and restore harmony.
What you can expect from family counselling with us:
Much of the work of counselling families requires preparation and an agreement among family members to follow some simple ground rules.
Before we meet with you, as a family, we will talk with each of you individually. This can be a brief interaction, and not longer than 30 minutes per person.
We want each member of the family to be clear about the purpose of the meeting, the goals they would like to achieve and their desired outcome.
When we meet with you and your family, everyone will know what is on the agenda. It may be that a new issue will arise, or someone will realize how something we are discussing is the result of another event or interaction. That is fine. But this is where our expertise comes in.
We will determine as a group whether or not the new topic should be discussed right now. In our experience, some family members are very skilled at changing the subject when the issue is uncomfortable for them, or they want to avoid it. If we have not resolved the topic we are currently engaged in, we will save the new subject for another meeting.
Another very important reason for having an agenda is because most people need some time to process new information in order to formulate an appropriate response. No one should have to fear that they will be “blindsided” by an issue or accusation that they have been unaware prior to our session.
Most situations can be understood if we take the time to understand them from another perspective or from a different interpretation. This calls for respect. In family therapy, we are seeking to increase understanding among the members, not to prove one person right and the other person wrong.
We have control over ourselves, our attitudes, and how much effort we put into something.
We do not have control over other people, what they do, think, or believe. This includes people in our own family. And frustratingly, for the older generation, we have to recognize that the culture has changed, and expectations and beliefs have changed. We may not like it, and we certainly have the right to say so, and why.
But, we will be happier in the long run if we can learn to accept we do not have control over the changes we see. We do not have to approve of behavior or actions we find unacceptable, in order to spend pleasant time with our families. There may be some areas in your family that you do not need to talk about.
We can only attempt to seek understanding of others, and let go of our expectations of what others should do, or not do.
We can ask our family members to do certain things to help us feel more comfortable, or to help us get along with each other better, but we cannot demand change from them, if they do not want to change, or are unable to change.
What you can expect from family counselling with us is to clarify what various members of the family actually want and what they would like to see happen in the family that is not happening now. You can expect help with reframing situations that have happened in the past. You can expect help with increasing your ability to understand each other from the other’s point of view. This does not require that you change your point of view. Sometime we just have to agree to disagree. This can really be okay.
What you can expect from family counselling with me is help focusing on “problem solving” and learning to separate the “problem” from the individual involved. You are not the “problem” and your family members are not the “problem.”
If we want peace, we must learn acceptance.
What you cannot expect from family counselling with us
We will not permit personal attacks, insults or accusations during family therapy sessions. In family therapy, the members need to talk from their own perspective. Sharing feelings of frustration, anger, and hurt are an expected part of the process, but those feelings need to be expressed with respect and without blame.
Anger is a healthy, normal response to a perceived injustice, but people are not volcanoes or steam kettles, and emotions are transient. We now understand that anger is best managed by gaining a different perspective on the situation that made us angry.
Sometimes people want to express feelings of resentment, hurt and anger towards members of their family. Some people believe that they will feel better if they can tell a family member what they think of them. They may refer to this as “needing to get something off my chest.” Or they may think that their family member “needs” to hear their opinion of their character or actions. They may even believe this will cause their family member to change, and improve, and should even feel grateful for hearing the “constructive criticism.”
People do need to express their feelings, but the appropriate place to do that is in individual therapy. We have never seen a relationship between two people improved by criticism, scolding or personal attacks. No one has an exclusive claim on the “truth.” Telling another person the “truth” for their own good never achieves anything except to create new resentments, hurt and anger.
When people feel judged, they will stop listening. Expressing your judgments about other family members does not lead to resolution or peace. It damages relationships even more.
If a family member comes to family therapy with the goal of proving another family member wrong or to try to justify their own position, they will not get satisfaction. Family counseling will not be successful if it involves blaming, shaming or punishing any members.
We will not facilitate a session where one member hurts the other by verbal abuse, personal attacks or blaming behavior.
A word for adult children
Becoming an adult changes your relationship with your parents, but it does not mean you no longer need to respect and honor them.
Your parents and parents-in-law are not your peers. They are your parents, and it is not your job to correct them or pass judgment on them. That was a job their parents did. Remember when you think about the Ten Commandments that there is a commandment to “Honor your father and your mother.” There is no commandment to honor children.
For parents with adult children
Married adult children need to respect and honor their parents, but their first priority is to their spouse and own children.
Parents of adult children need to respect their autonomy and independence. When adult children marry, their parents need to respect the new couple and family. Conversely, adult children need to recognize that their parents are not going to take orders from their children.