Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Semantics of Psychodrama

Originally posted on August 5, 2017

I like psychodrama as a field, and also as a way of life. I’m working on an anthology of applications of the method beyond psychotherapy—title: Action Explorations. I don’t use psychodrama for these many applications, for the reasons mentioned below:

First of all, I bow with respect to tradition: The word “psychodrama” and the creativity of its originator, Jacob L. Moreno, M.D., generated a great deal of what Moreno himself called “cultural conserve.” Many of my colleagues in that field hold to that word.

On the other hand, I have found the phrase “action exploration” to be more evocative of constructive associations for the following reasons: First, drama itself has shifted in its semantic associations. Drama used to include comedy—think of the two masks used to symbolize that endeavor. But in the television guides in the last fifty or so years, drama has come to mean something that will scare you, or touch your hear to the point of tears. Whatever its connotations, they are not neutral or matter of fact.

As for psycho– that phrase is too easily conflated with psychotic or psychopathic, as in the thriller in the 1950s, “Psycho.” Also, some enactments are role-related, and so more like “Socio” than psycho. A third unfortunate association is of “psychoanalysis,” which was gaining in popularity when the term was coined in the 1930s, but as analysis became decidedly less popular, so did its associated term, In fact, in France, psychodrama has negative associations.

Further, the term has gotten old, applied to many things that are not Moreno’s method. There’s even a rock band called “Psychodrama.” News items call certain emotionally-weighted  events “psychodramas.” The protestations of the few in a small field will not be heard. Furthermore, it’s not only a form of psychotherapy, so many dictionaries have it wrong, too!

So at least regarding the term for the activity, and at least for non-clinical settings such as business, education, or religion, I’ve chosen the term, “action exploration.” I confess though that most of it involves the application of Moreno’s methods. It also includes drama therapy, Bibliodrama, and other approaches that may not be anything that Moreno though of—it’s a more inclusive category.

Essentially, then, what action explorations (or  psychodrama) offers is a chance to play the supposed scene through: An idea is converted into action. In a way, that’s what science does: Make it into an experiment. Try it out in action. See what happens. So for the reasons mentioned above, I pro-pose the use of the phrase “action explorations” instead of psychodrama. That phrase evokes few or none of the associations of psychodrama.

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