Psychodrama is a branch of psychotherapy in which clients use spontaneous role-playing to explore and gain insight into their personal lives. Psychodrama is “a way of practicing living without being punished for making mistakes” (1). Including elements of theater, and often conducted on a stage with props and other actors, a client who is facing a troublesome real-life situation is able to practice different ways of dealing with a problem without the risk (perceived or real) of “messing it up.”
Psychodrama was created by Jacob Levy Moreno, a psychiatrist and psycho-sociologist. In the early 1900s, Moreno developed what was known as the “theater of spontaneity,” based on the acting out of improvised impulses.
A core principle of psychodrama is spontaneous creativity. The belief is that the best way to discover new solutions to problems is by responding to them in a spontaneous and creative manner (2). The freedom to explore new behaviors without the fear of punishment allows the client to gain insight into potentially better ways of dealing with problems in the real world and hopefully the courage to implement those new insights in his or her behavior outside of therapy.
Within a psychodrama session, one client within a group takes on the role of the protagonist, and he or she chooses a specific situation mirroring a real-life situation to enact on stage. The situation can be anything from past events to future important decisions. Other members of the group support the protagonist by taking on the role of the other people who are significant to the client within the chosen situation. For example, suppose the client has been working for a particular company for seven years without a raise. He has been meaning to ask for a raise but does not want to upset his boss in any way. He is displeased with himself and his lack of “courage” and ability to speak with his boss. He thinks about it so much that it has caused daily distress in his life. In a psychodrama session, the client is able to role play a situation in which he sits down with his boss to ask for a raise. Many different scenarios can be played out, including ones in which his boss happily agrees to a raise to those in which the boss becomes upset by such a request. By exploring all potential outcomes, even ones the client has not thought of himself, he will hopefully gain insight into new ways of thinking about the situation and new ways of approaching the situation that are useful to him.
1. Jennings, S. (1994). The Handbook of dramatherapy. London: Routledge.
2. Baim, C., Burmeister, J. (2012) Psychodrama Advances in Theory and Practice. London: Taylor and Francis.