Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Getting Personal in Experiential Learning

Originally posted on June 18, 2013

A friend asked me to clarify the difference between psychodrama and sociodrama and the spectra in between. He wrote, “Interestingly sometimes in the past when I started out doing a sociodrama in teaching a group of therapists come up with some themes such as how to deal with an angry patient, someone may volunteer to enact a problem patient of their own instead of the group constructing one. It then becomes a psychodrama with this protagonist role reversing to create characters.”

I responded, “Yes, within every psychodrama there are elements that are more sociodrama; that is, the situations enacted partake of the challenges of the role that are common to many people in the role. Also, within every sociodrama there are elements of psychodrama, in that what gets presented are particulars of a specific encounter that involve elements unique to the specific personality of both the main player and the other, in some ways beyond the purity of their role being played.

For example a sociodrama of therapist and client has a number of aspects and/or role components which provide rich enactments to explore in themselves. However, sometimes the situation presented becomes complex. If the question is how to deal with a seductive client, that’s one thing. But if then one adds that the therapist is both lonely, perhaps recently divorced, and the rest, what is added is extra personal variables.

The teaching situation that is to begin with more impersonal may then be drawn into being more of a psychodrama. Multiple roles converge. For exaple, a sociodrama might have one person playing one or two roles in relation to a typical client playing one or two roles. One role qualifies the other, so that age, gender, race, length of time in therapy with this therapist, etc., may combine with presenting problem. One could do some sociodrama with if two or three qualities are combined, but the more the situation becomes specific to a therapist or client who is narrowed to being personal, then it’s more of a psychodrama.

That is to say, the more role components are specified (especially if they are real and not just a model) the more what is explored in action is not a sociodrama or role play, but more like personal psychotherapy.

In a psychodrama, a real person who is a nexus of many roles interacts with another one or more “real” people (as played by supporting players, also called “auxiliaries” by psychodramatists).

In a sociodrama, the focus is only on the complexities of the main elements in one role relationship: A father of a certain age, a daughter of a certain age, a situation. A number of people could relate to that. But if the father were to specify other elements, it becomes more like a psychodrama. Even if it’s all constructed, it’s fiction, too many variable in play makes it too distracting for the audience or group.

The point here is that there’s a bit of a danger of a sociodrama exploring how to cope with a problem situation can slip into something so personal as to be confusing, or something that is personally too self-disclosing for the main player. There’s a slippage from a sociodrama for teaching into psychodrama as therapy, and this should not be done in teaching situations.

If it’s understood by all way ahead of time that it will become personal therapy for the main player—the protagonist, in terms used by psycho-dramatists—, then that’s okay. (Sociodramas are sometimes used as warm-ups for this deeper and more personal investigation.)

My friend noted that this dynamic can be shifted this way, perhaps because some group leaders have an unconscious desire to play therapist, or are responding to the main player’s desire to get some therapy—also unconscious. My friend said, “When this begins to happen, I also inject didactic material into the drama by taking a time out with the group and having them reflect on what else the therapist might say with a client who becomes problematic in this way. The role play is thus pulled into the less personal and more collective realm, which is what the others are there for.

I agreed, saying, “You help neutralize the unique elements in the action and re-focus group on the main role interaction and less on the idiosyncratic elements. We agreed that it does get a little awkward to interrupt an enactment to do this but if one waits until the end the teaching moment may be lost.

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