How Psychodrama Helps People in Recovery

the benefits of psychodrama

To better understand the concept of psychodrama, let’s start by breaking down the word itself. The word “psycho” derives from the Greek psyche, which means heart, mind, soul, and spirit, while “drama”, which is also derived from Greek, refers to a play, a movie, or a story. Essentially, psychodrama means a drama of the mind and soul. This form of therapy is helpful in recovery because it forces us to take a different perspective on our emotions or actions giving us time to reflect and develop the ability to properly express our emotions or to control our emotions.

The Stages of Psychodrama

Psychodrama therapy usually takes place in group sessions, but it can be done in individual therapy settings. Members of the group take on roles in a person’s life, so the more people, the more effective it will be. Psychodrama is broken down into three stages:

  1. Warm-up: Participants are introduced or “warmed-up” to a person’s issues. In this stage the protagonist, or the main character, emerges. This phase also helps establish trust and cohesion among the group.
  2. Action: During this phase, the protagonist creates a scene about significant events in their life. The therapist acts as the director while other members act as antagonists, a person who actively opposes or is hostile towards someone, who exists in the subject’s life.
  3. Sharing: During this stage, the therapist helps participants process the scene and allows for group discussion. The protagonist discusses how their actions and emotions affect the way they interact with others.

Techniques for Psychodrama

There are several techniques a therapist can choose from when administering psychodrama therapy to a group. The technique used is dependent on what the protagonist needs to get out of the therapy session. Some common techniques for psychodrama are:

  • Role-reversal: Participants reverse roles and play the part of another person, place, or thing within the protagonist’s life in order to gain a new perspective of the self. Role reversal also allows the protagonist to gain insight into what might be driving the behavior of an “antagonist” in their life.
  • Mirroring: Someone else from the group takes on the protagonist’s role, enabling the protagonist to observe themselves as if in a mirror. 
  • Empty chair:  An empty chair represents another person, an aspect of the protagonist, or a situation, giving the protagonist the opportunity to speak freely to the empty chair as if the person were really there.
  • Doubling: The group or therapist stands behind the protagonist and acts as an inner voice, expressing what is not said but may be experienced subconsciously.

Who Benefits from Psychodrama?

Psychodrama can be used to treat a variety of mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders. It can be very beneficial for those with personality, mood, and eating disorders. People who experience identity issues or negative self-image benefit from psychodrama as well because it provides them with a safe space to communicate their pain or issues they face in life. It is also very effective for treating people with PTSD or trauma, especially children who suffered abuse.

Psychodrama also helps patients improve interpersonal communication. We tend to view conversations from only one perspective – ours. Psychodrama allows us to take on a different perspective and an objective view of our interactions with others. It can help us understand the ways in which our actions and words affect the emotions and actions of others and vice versa. We are able to evaluate our thought processes and change patterns of thoughts and emotions that are harmful to our interpersonal relationships.

Psychodrama groups are pre-screened to ensure that the participants are open to working with delicate issues and can maintain a level of confidentiality. Also, it may seem like an invasion of privacy sharing such personal events and feelings with the group. This is why group cohesion is so important. Everyone must be on the same page in order for the therapy to be effective. Psychodrama therapy is supposed to give the participants a safe space to express themselves. If that safe space is threatened, then the efficacy of psychodrama suffers. 

Respect for the protagonist and the feelings they are sharing are also essential in psychodrama therapy. Empathy is important here because it allows us to put ourselves in the place of a protagonist or antagonist. These roles are not to be taken lightly and should be played with reverence. Usually, if a participant violates the rules or confidentiality of the group, there will be a democratic decision of whether they will be allowed to rejoin the group or moved to a different group or program. 

Psychodrama Therapy is a creative therapy approach that has been used for more than 50 years. It can be used to complement cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or as an alternative to other therapies. There is no single path to recovery. That is why Avalon Malibu offers a wide variety of  alternative, experiential and behavioral therapies at our facility on the southern coast of California. Our skilled and compassionate staff will work with you to develop a plan that suits your unique needs. We specialize in treating co-occurring substance use and behavioral health disorders and our world-renowned program has been known to succeed where others have failed.  At Avalon Malibu, we strive to help you cultivate a fulfilling life with sustained recovery. We will provide you with support throughout your entire recovery journey, even as you return to the community. If you or someone you love would benefit from psychodrama therapy, please do not hesitate to call us at (844) 857-5992.


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