Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The Potential of Psychodrama

Originally posted on June 3, 2011

Psychodrama as a term has two meanings: It has become used as a general term for the whole of the work of its inventor, Dr. Jacob L. Moreno, and in that sense, it includes sociometry; spontaneity development; the use of improvisation in theatre; role theory in social psychology; the use of interactive group therapy and group work beyond therapy (e.g., support groups); action methods in therapy; the concept of warming-up; a philosophy and even theology that makes creativity a core value; and so forth. The second meaning applies to psychodrama as a form of group therapy, which, in its classical form requires generally 2 or more hours per session. This “classical” form has been and continues to be used as therapy, but my thinking is that Moreno’s methods in general—in the first sense mentioned above—really transcend that classical method.

I think each component has value in itself. If people only used role reversal in more contexts it could have a huge impact. When Moreno’s methods are used together, even mixing just two of the elements—better mixing three or four—but even just one—, these elements techniques are even more useful! Moreover, although psychodrama was used in the mid-20th century mainly as a form of psychotherapy, Moreno himself and many of the first generation of his followers applied these methods in education, professional training, and in other contexts besides psychotherapy.

Part of the problem is that, sociologically, psychiatry was a very progressive field in the mid-1950s. People were very hopeful about the potential of depth psychology. Some parts were, indeed, orthodox; but other extensions of psychoanalysis were not particularly bound in fidelity to Freud’s ideas and fearlessly explored new theoretical and therapeutic methods.  Since Moreno happened to be most involved with psychodrama as therapy during this rise and fall of psychoanalysis, even though he operated on the outskirts of the profession, to some degree his methods were affected by the same pressures as the larger field. For example, de-institutionalization—discharging many patients to outpatient care and closing many hospitals—also resulted in the breaking up of many vibrant psychodrama treatment programs.

In the 1970s through to the present, psychiatry as a leader in the profession had its influence diluted by the rise of managed care and the strength of the major pharmaceutical companies. Moreover, there was a major proliferation of other types of therapists starting in the mid-1960s, so that nowadays psychiatry has retreated into a more medication-prescribing role, alas, and therapy is being supported only if performed by the less expensive non-psychiatrists.

Furthermore, psychotherapy itself is being pressed by managed care—who make profits in proportion to their effectiveness in controlling costs and providing the minimum levels of care—so that contemporary therapists have incentives for delivering mainly  short-term, evidence-based methods which patch people up a bit but rarely get to the bottom of the problem. Psychodrama never was that independent of the overall rise and fall of psychoanalysis, psychiatry and psychotherapy, in spite of its defining itself as in some ways opposite to psychoanalysis.

The lack of “hard” research supporting this complex method (psychodrama), the emergence of scores of competitive approaches, and other reasons—all contribute to psychodrama struggling to keep some vibrant identity. My solution is to re-configure our mission: With great respect, I think that psychodrama-as-therapy should be recognized as constituting in the future only part of the overall expression of Moreno’s contributions in the world. I suggest that in the long run Moreno’s work in the realms of education, business and organizational management, conflict resolution, penology, religion, social action, personal development, recreation, the arts, and so forth may carry his ideas into many domains, to many more people, and into more corners of the world. I see his ideas as contributing to the establishment of a more mentally flexible foundation for the evolution of consciousness. I’ve endeavored to help this happen.

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