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Psychodrama Group Therapy

We Don’t Just Talk About It. We BE About It!

Action Based Group Therapy

You’ve been hearing us chat up this “Action-Based” group Wynne is starting for Adult Children of Dysfunction this summer. What does this mean – “Action-Based”? Sounds weird….

I’ve (Wynne) been training in the Psychodrama method since 2013. From my first 3 hour CEU intro I was hooked. And after 10 years of training I still can’t succinctly describe to non-therapists what “Psychodrama” is. Or why it is so incredibly powerful. Or exactly how it works. But it IS and it DOES.

Please allow me to try. Let’s start with how well-known psychodrama trainers in the field describe “Psychodrama”:

“Psychodrama is the use of action techniques to explore an individual's private and public world in a multi-dimensional way. It is also useful in helping the individual to express unexpressed feelings and to find and practice new ways to change unsatisfying situations in life. Psychodramatic interventions are designed to encounter people where they are, in the present and assist them in contacting and developing the best that is within themselves, whatever their functioning level. Psychodrama reinvests power in people. Clinically, psychodrama can be used with groups, couples or individuals.” ~ Antonina Garcia & Dale Buchanan of Psychodrama Training Associates

Hmmmm……Maybe still not really clear? Let me try this…

Psychodrama Group Therapy

My shortest explanation is that “Psychodrama” is a marriage between therapy and improvisation. The therapy side is that the client explores therapeutic issues for which the client is ready to address. There are few limits to what therapeutic issues can be explored, such as any concern from the past, present, or future. The issues can range from mild indecision to deep trauma. In a psychodrama group, the therapist has designed an agenda of a series of activities to build group safety and connection. As the activities unfold, the therapist is looking for the “central concern” of the group and is directing the process by which those concerns are revealed and addressed in the group.

The “improvisation” side of psychodrama is the strategic use of therapist-directed activities to assist clients to explore their thoughts and feelings about identified issues. What kind of activities, you ask? In attempt to create a mental picture for you, these “activities” remind me of my times at summer camp as a kid… you remember those interactive games the camp counselors asked us to play? Well those silly games were designed for us to have fun, laugh, let our guards down, and get to know the other kids. They even did this my first week as a freshman college in a huge field. Increasingly, motivational speakers and trainers often use interactive ice-breaker games to set the mood and build connections with others. The psychodramatist uses action-based methods for the same reason: for group clients to find common ground, lower anxiety and build group “cohesion”.

**The group Action from Love starting in the summer will stay at this level of vulnerability. Subsequent groups starting in the fall are designed to go deeper and will include Dramas. Please see below.

The ultimate enactment is more commonly known as a “Drama”. A “Drama” has 3 parts:

  1. The “Warm Up”: the time taken using action-based activities for clients to gain clarity on issues specific to them individually, and for clients to build sufficient connection between each other. Choosing the “Protagonist” is the final step of this phase before the Action starts. The Protagonist is the client who has agreed to be the “Main character” of the issue s/he wants to resolve. Usually the protagonist is also chosen by the group as the person whose therapeutic needs best represents their own concerns at the time.

  2. The “Action”: This is the time whereby the psychodramatist gains clarity with the protagonist as to what issue s/he wants to address. The issue is re-stated and defined as the “contract”, or the goal the client wants to achieve during their drama. The psychodramatist then asks the protagonist to “set the scene” in the room of where the client wants the drama to take place. This includes the use of props, and a prop can literally be any object or other group member in the room. (This may remind you of when we were kids we set up scenes for role play games.)Next the protagonist asks other group members to serve as “auxiliary” roles to help the client reach their contract/goal. Any group member, other than the protagonist, who is part of the drama in any capacity is called an “auxiliary”. With the scene set and the auxiliaries chosen, the therapist directs all group members using a variety of action and drama methods to assist the client to meet their contract.

  3. “Sharing”: the time after the completion of the drama whereby other group participants share how their own lives relate to the contents of the drama. Clients who played an auxiliary role also share insights and feelings they received while in their respective roles. One purpose of sharing is to re-integrate the client back into the full group as his/her present-day self. As other group members share back with the protagonist, the “vulnerability playing field” is leveled again and the protagonist doesn’t feel as exposed. Also, clients continue to build connection with each other as they continue to find common ground on deeper levels. There is healing power in connection.

Yes it really works!!!

Psychodrama has been successfully applied to treatment problems such as:

  • PTSD and Trauma

  • Domestic Violence

  • Eating Disorders

  • Childhood Sexual Abuse

  • Substance Abuse

  • Co-dependency

  • Grief

  • Mood Disorders

  • Personal Growth

Psychodrama groups are commonly offered in the therapeutic milieu for treating substance abuse, eating disorders, and trauma survivor victims. I have found great success directing psychodrama groups for Family Programs for addicts in drug treatment and their families.

Dr. J.L. Moreno, creator of Psychodrama and Group Psychotherapy, believed that those who are “spontaneous” and “creative” will best survive and enjoy the challenges of life. “Creativity” is the ability to develop options from which to choose a response, instead of reacting or staying stuck in old patterns. “Spontaneity” is the freedom from fear to make a choice and take an action through a readiness to improvise and respond in the moment.

By encouraging an individual to react spontaneously in the group setting, they may begin to discover new solutions to apply to old problems in their lives. Spontaneity and creativity are essential for us to adapt to new challenges, and Psychodrama is designed to create conditions to facilitate clients’ ability and confidence to try new solutions.

The American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama states, “Psychodrama affords a safe, supportive environment in which to practice new and more effective roles and behaviors."

“Psychodrama comes from the two roots ‘psyche’ meaning ‘soul’ and ‘drama,’ which means action.” ~ Nicholas Wolff

In other words, Psychodrama is the “Soul – In – Motion”, which to me sounds as groovy as a lava lamp.

Bottom line: in Psychodrama we don’t just talk about it. We BE about it! Action!


Thank you so much to #teamsoulspring counselor Wynne Stallings for her contributions to the content of this article.


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