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Essentials of Psychodrama Practice

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Part of the Psychodrama in Counselling, Coaching and Education book series (PCCE,volume 1)

Abstract

The essentials of psychodrama practice are covered in depth within this chapter. Fourteen core psychodrama interventions or techniques are described with corresponding depictions of their use within psychodrama group sessions. The psychodrama techniques of doubling, mirroring, and role reversal are presented with their relationship to Moreno’s developmental theory. Considerations for the application of psychodrama interventions on teletherapy is also provided. Various types of psychodrama scenes are described with reference to the Psychodramatic Spiral and the Hollander Curve. The processes of closure, de-roling, and sharing at the end of a psychodrama enactment are outlined.

Keywords

  • Psychodrama
  • Doubling
  • Mirroring
  • Role reversal
  • Empty chair

Psychodrama is an experiential approach that moves the group process beyond words and into action. A psychodrama is only as good as its warm-up. While many are interested in facilitating or experiencing psychodrama, it would be a mistake to attempt an enactment without any warm-up. After adequate warm-up, the director facilitates the protagonist and topic selection before moving into the psychodrama enactment. The protagonist is interviewed, a scene is set on the stage, roles are identified, and group members are chosen by the protagonist to play the roles needed. The director skillfully facilitates the psychodrama using role reversal , doubling , mirroring, and other interventions as needed to move toward the clinical contract or goal of the psychodrama. Once achieved, a final scene or action is initiated for closure of the drama, followed by each role player de-roling, and returning to their chair in the circle. The final phase of a psychodrama is sharing—where participants are invited to share how they are connected with the roles and themes from the psychodrama by sharing their own feelings, thoughts, and experiences. This chapter will outline the basic techniques and interventions of psychodrama, different types of psychodrama scenes, the importance of closure and de-roling, and the sharing phase of the group process. In this chapter, considerations for utilizing psychodrama interventions through teletherapy will also be presented.

13.1 Psychodramatic Techniques and Interventions

Within any psychodrama, there are numerous techniques available for the use of the director. In 1958, Moreno reported that a colleague had counted 350 unique techniques within psychodrama (as cited in Nolte, 2020). New techniques and psychodramatic interventions are being developed by modern psychodramatists on a regular basis. Eleven core psychodrama techniques emerged from a recent systematic review of the psychodrama literature (Cruz et al, 2018). Though their initial list included 56 techniques, these eleven were considered “core techniques of Morenean Psychodrama”: doubling , mirroring , role reversal , soliloquy, sculpture, resistance interpolation , games , social atom, sociometry, intermediate objects, and role training. Other significant techniques noted in the review included symbolic representation, amplification, concretization, and the empty chair. Nolte’s (2020) book on the practice of psychodrama includes additional psychodramatic techniques such as the initial interview, self-presentation, scene setting, and spontaneous improvisation.

This section will introduce psychodrama’s core techniques beginning with the double, the mirror, and role reversal. These three techniques represent Moreno ’s developmental theory (see Sect. 4.8)—the stage of identity (doubling), the stage of recognizing the self (mirroring), and the stage of recognizing others (role reversal) (Moreno, 1952). Moreno writes that the inherent tragedy of our interpersonal world is the lack of transparency of our psyche and our inability to fully and accurately communicate our experience, thoughts, and feelings with others. “The full psychodrama of our interrelations does not emerge; it is buried in and between us. Psychodramatics has had to develop a number of techniques to bring deeper levels of our inter-personal world to expression” (1972, p. 190).

13.1.1 Doubling

The double speaks (or attempts to speak) the inner world of the protagonist, giving voice to their inner reality. Zerka Moreno (1946b, p. 180) described the function of the double as “to reach deeper layers of expression by peeling off the outer, socially visible ‘I’ of the subject and by reaching for those experiences and imageries which a person would reveal in talking to herself, alone, in the privacy of her own room.” Operationally, this is done simply by standing next to the protagonist, mimicking their body posture, and speaking in the first person as if one is the protagonist. If the protagonist experiences the doubling as inaccurate, they correct it—if it is accurate, the protagonist repeats it and owns it as their own. A double can be assigned by the director to stay with the protagonist throughout the enactment. The Morenos both generally used a single auxiliary to play the double role—Zerka frequently held the double role when Jacob Moreno ’s was directing. Doubling is also a technique that can be performed by anyone in the group, including the director or therapist. As psychodrama practice has evolved, doubling has become more spontaneous to the point that many directors invite “hit and run” doubling statements. In this more modern approach to doubling, anyone who is warmed up from the group can offer a single doubling sentence when invited or requested.

Jodi is in the midst of a psychodramatic dialogue between herself and her courage. In the role reversal with her courage she becomes stuck and seemingly cannot find the words to engage with herself from this strength-based role. The director invites other group members to double for Jodi (in the role of courage) one at a time, offering statements from courage to Jodi. If the statement is accurate, Jodi is asked to repeat it from her role of courage to herself; if the statement is not accurate, Jodi is asked to simply change it. The first group member states, “I am your courage and although you don’t always feel me, I am always with you”. Jodi repeats it with some hesitance. The next group member doubles, “You and me, we go way back - I’ve been with you your entire life. You use me every time you have overcome difficulty and every success you have had.” Jodi again repeats it with some hesitancy, but this time with a more relaxed body. The director offers a doubling statement, “Jodi you have the courage to grow—you have done it before”. Jodi looks to the director with appreciation and repeats the statement, letting down her defenses. A third group member doubles, “Jodi, you have so much courage—way more than you could ever realize. You are using me now and your courage inspires others in the group!” Jodi looks to other group members nodding in agreement and repeats the statement with compassion towards herself. Jodi continues in the role of courage speaking to herself spontaneously without prompting. “Jodi, you can do this. You are a courageous woman and the world needs your courage more than ever. You have the courage to be vulnerable in your relationships and to trust the group here who cares about you…”.

In the example above, Jodi seems to get stuck in the role and loses her spontaneity. The doubling from the group helped her to stabilize in the role of courage and to establish herself within the surplus reality of the psychodrama scene. The doubling statement from the director offers Jodi a reminder of the therapeutic relationship with her therapist. Each doubling statement from the group implicitly includes an affirmation of empathy, support, and reassurance of the interpersonal connection and identification. The group members, who doubled, each offered Jodi a small window into their perception of her which allowed her to begin to renegotiate her sense of self. While the doubling in this case was primarily to help Jodi access spontaneity in the role, it also served to keep group members involved and emotionally engaged to the topic. Tian Dayton remarks that:

a good double can be very effective in helping the protagonist to feel seen and understood, in acting as a therapeutic ally while confronting painful emotional material and in moving the protagonist’s action to a deeper level by giving voice to that level. (2005, p. 37).

Doubling becomes especially important when working with traumatic material because it helps the protagonist to integrate emotions and cognitions that have been previously split out of consciousness due to the overwhelming nature of the traumatic experience (Hudgins & Toscani, 2013). The Therapeutic Spiral Model offers modified doubles including the body double and the containing double , which are frequently combined into one role in practice (Hudgins & Toscani, 2013). This role is generally the first to be incorporated into the psychodrama to provide increased safety, stability, and connection for the protagonist in trauma-focused psychodrama (Giacomucci, 2018). The body double and the containing double are roles that stay with the protagonist throughout the entire process mirroring all movement and body posturing of the protagonist while incorporating doubling statements regularly. This TSM double has the function of helping a protagonist ground in the present moment and the body, express difficult feelings, and contain overwhelming feelings (Giacomucci, 2018). This double maintains attunement with the protagonist and adapts statements based on what is clinically needed to balance emotional and cognitive experience. It also provides the protagonist with an opportunity to renegotiate and reframe the experience with more mature perspective of the situation by seeing it through two sets of eyes—the eyes of herself in the past and the eyes of herself today (Dayton, 2005).

13.1.2 Mirroring

The mirror technique allows the protagonist to observe from a distance and to “see herself as others see her” (J.L. Moreno, 1946a, p. 182). In a psychodrama enactment, the director may instruct the protagonist to take a seat in the audience while another group member, an auxiliary ego, reenacts the scene for the protagonist to see himself in action—as if he is looking at himself in the mirror (Moreno, 1965/2006). This is especially useful when a protagonist appears stuck in a role, acting out defenses, or simply unaware of how their responses are experienced by others. The mirror intervention can be helpful to continue a scene when the protagonist is unwilling or unable to do so—it allows them to experience the action from a distance while they warm up to returning to the role of self in the action (Yablonsky, 1976). The mirror position provides emotional distance from the scene, offers the protagonist an opportunity to view the situation from outside in order to develop greater perspective, and sees self with more clarity and compassion (Dayton, 2005). The mirror technique, in a sense, is the protagonist role reversing with an audience member and becoming a spectator of self (Cruz, Sales, Alves, & Moita, 2018).

James is in the midst of a psychodrama scene exploring his relationships to his defense mechanisms. In his interactions with other roles he presented as engaged with some difficulty accepting their positive messaging. When interacting with his defenses, he appeared much more engaged and non-verbally in agreement with its messages. As his strengths-based roles spoke, he listened—but when his defenses spoke he listened attentively and nodded his head up and down in agreement. The director was struck by James’ inability to see how enmeshed he was with his defenses and invites him to step into the mirror position, choosing someone else to play his role. James watches the group replay his interactions with his strengths-based roles and his defenses while demonstrating his non-verbal communication. From the mirror position, James was able to fully see his enmeshment with his defenses and was able to expand his perception. The director invites him to speak to himself from this place, offering suggestions on how to change his relationship to his defenses. Then he is role reversed back into the role of himself to put these suggestions into action.

While the mirror intervention is useful to help a protagonist see their maladaptive relational patterns, it is also useful as a tool for integration of positive scenes. Another use of the mirror intervention is at the end of a transformative psychodrama. Inviting a protagonist to move into the mirror position to fully see the change they have created in the scene and take it all in can be very integrative.

13.1.3 Role Reversal

In a psychodramatic enactment, a role reversal allows one the experience of trading places with another person, stepping out of one’s own identity and into the identity of another to see through their eyes. J.L. Moreno outlines the philosophy of role reversal in his 1914 Invitation to an Encounter poem:

A meeting of two: eye to eye, face to face. And when you are near I will tear your eyes out and place them instead of mine and you will tear my eyes out and place them instead of yours then I will look at you with your eyes and you will look at me with mine. (J.L. Moreno, 1914).

Zerka Moreno refers to role reversal as the sine qua non of psychodrama—without it there is no true psychodrama (Dayton, 2005). Many psychodramatists consider it to be the most effective psychodrama technique (Kellermann, 1994). In a psychodrama enactment, a husband and wife could role reverse to develop a better sense of each other’s perspective; one could reverse roles with a historical figure or a role model; the protagonist could reverse roles with one of their intrapsychic roles (such as courage, their inner hero, or their inner critic); or even reverse roles with God! Role reverse could be used with two individuals in the group, or between the protagonist and one who is only psychodramatically present through surplus reality. There are many different shapes that the role reversal can take, ranging from intrapsychic, intrapersonal, and transpersonal roles. The following depicts a psychodrama role reversal with the role of God.

George is a protagonist in inpatient addictions treatment and has expressed his sense of guilt and shame around his addiction and how it has impacted others in his life. His goal in the psychodrama is to move towards self-forgiveness and more spiritual connection. In the psychodramatic dialogue with God, he begins to express his feelings of self-hatred, remorse, and shame. He shares about feeling like the things he has done to his family are unforgiveable and irreversible. The director invites him to role reverse with God. Another group member begins to play the role of George repeating his sharing of self-hatred, guilt, and shame to God (now played by George). In the role of God, George looks at himself full of remorse and pain. He begins to speak to himself, “George, please stop beating yourself up for things you did in your past. You have a disease called addiction which caused you to do things you wouldn’t have done otherwise. You are really a good man; I know because I created you. I want you to know that I forgive you for those things you did and the people you hurt. I need you to go out into the world and make amends to them and work at loving yourself. You have the gifts to help countless others suffering with addiction now. Make this your purpose.” George is then instructed to role reverse back into the role of himself and another group member becomes God, repeating the same messages. George savors the messages from God as the weight of his guilt and shame begin to dissipate.

In the example above, George appears stuck in his own feelings of shame and guilt, unable to expand his perception of the situation or any positive that could come from his experience of addiction. The role reversal with God allowed him to see himself from God’s eyes and to see his life from a larger perspective. As God, he was able to offer direction, affirmation, and even suggest meaning and purpose from the experience of pain and suffering. The role reversal allows for new integration and action insights which lead to an expansion of the self. It is a technique with the functions of building ego strength, spontaneity, sensitivity, empathy, awareness, and self-integration while facilitating socialization and an exploration of interpersonal relations (Dayton, 2005; Hudgins & Toscani, 2013; Kellermann, 1994; J.L. Moreno, 1959). There are of course guidelines and clinical considerations to take into account when using the role reversal technique, especially when working with trauma, these will be outlined in Sect. 14.5.

And so we may say that the double, the mirror, and the reversal are like three stages in the development of the infant which have their counterpart in the therapeutic techniques which we can use in the treatment of all human relations problems. (J.L. Moreno, 1952, p. 275).

13.1.4 Soliloquy

The soliloquy is a technique from classical drama, however when used in psychodrama its focus is to give the participant the opportunity for expression and catharsis that might not be otherwise possible (Moreno, 1972). Moreno describes the soliloquy as an enlargement of the self as it intertwines the self of the role player with the role being played in the psychodrama. However, Moreno cautions directors that having auxiliaries or protagonists provide soliloquys too often disrupts the intensity of continuity of the role and the spontaneous act (1972).

The use of soliloquy allows the protagonist or auxiliary egos to give voice to the unspoken thoughts or feelings related to the psychodrama scene. This technique is often used when the protagonist is in the role reversed position as it challenges them to develop a deepened understanding of the role they are playing (Nolte, 2020). A soliloquy is also helpful when a protagonist has become stuck or appears resistant (Moreno, 1965/2006). Inviting them to pause the psychodrama scene and offer a soliloquy, or internal dialog as if nobody was in the room, can be illuminating for both the director and the protagonist about where the scene needs to go next (Rojas-Bermúdez, 1997). Yablonsky (1976) describes the soliloquy as most similar to psychoanalytic process of free association. For example:

In a psychodrama scene, Lori has begun a dialogue with God with the goal of gaining insight into her life purpose. Her interactions with the other roles in the psychodrama have been spontaneous and engaged. After beginning to talk to God, she quickly becomes guarded and avoidant. Noticing the significant change in the protagonist’s presentation, the director invites her to offer a brief soliloquy, freezing the scene. She begins to speak freely – “It is harder to talk to God than I realized. I thought that I only had positive feelings towards God but when I started to talk, I realized that I also feel intense anger towards God. I have tried to live a good life, but he keeps allowing trauma and loss to enter my life. I feel shameful for being angry at God and afraid of what might happen if I tap into my anger.” This short soliloquy provides the director with essential information about the protagonist’s experience and offers clues of how to help Lori get unstuck.

13.1.5 Initial Interview

After the selection of the protagonist, the initial interview takes place between the director and the protagonist. This serves many purposes including:

  • To continue the warm-up of the protagonist

  • To continue the warm-up of the group based on the topic of the psychodrama

  • To warm up the director to the forthcoming enactment

  • For the protagonist and the director to further develop trust, connection, and understanding

  • For the protagonist and director to create a contract for the goal of the psychodrama

  • For the director to gather important information about the presenting topic

Moreno suggested that the initial interview should be kept short as to avoid talking about the issue instead of putting it into action (Nolte, 2020). Many psychodrama directors conduct the initial interview while walking in a circle on the stage with the protagonist to create physical movement which is outlined in more detail in Sect. 12.4.

13.1.6 Scene Setting

Scene setting is employed almost immediately after the initial interview. This technique is significant in that it marks the initial plunge from reality into surplus reality. The director encourages the protagonist to choose a setting for the psychodrama enactment and to begin to use objects or role players to set up the scene. This is done through creative symbolism and concretization. The process of physically setting up the scene moves the protagonist into action and warms up their body, their imagination, and their emotions while also warming up the group to the protagonist and the forthcoming enactment. For these reasons, it is often helpful to allow the protagonist to set up the scene by themselves. Rather than talking about the scene, the protagonist is instructed to show us the scene on the stage. In cases of psychodramas related to past experiences, the act of setting up the scene helps the protagonist further access the memory related to the scene which seems to be better accessed through the body, movement, and action than by solely talking (Nolte, 2020).

13.1.7 Self-Presentation

This technique facilitates the protagonist to accurately show how they and/or others act in a given situation. Self-presentation is often used as an early scene in a psychodrama for assessment, establishing the starting point, and to warm up the protagonist and enter surplus reality. Moreno writes that it is especially useful as an early intervention to help reduce anxiety, increase spontaneity, and establish tele between the protagonist and facilitator (1946). Moreno describes it as the simplest psychodramatic technique (1937). Self-presentation allows the protagonist to externalize their own subjective reality, perspective, and experience which is used as the basis for moving forward in the psychodrama enactment. This technique is used for past, present, or future situations.

13.1.8 Spontaneous Improvisation

This technique brings the director to facilitate the protagonist in enacting fictitious or imagined roles or responses in the scene, as opposed to acting out their actual responses. In some ways, spontaneous improvisation is the opposite of the intervention of self-presentation—one being the acting out of reality while the other being fictitious. The task is to challenge the protagonist to leave their own role and take on the role of a fictitious character—to access spontaneity from a role other than their self. The use of spontaneous improvisation allows the director to put a strong role demand on the protagonist while giving them aesthetic distance from the intensity of the initial psychodrama topic.

The following is a clinical use of spontaneous improvisation. In John’s psychodrama, he faces his addiction but becomes stuck in the encounter and cannot find the words or spontaneity to talk back to his addiction. The director pauses the scene, enrolling John into the role of a father protecting his family from a seagull coming to eat their dinner. In this role, John is able to access the spontaneity to confront the seagull without hesitation. Though the content of this scene is very different, the process and role demands are similar. After which, the original scene can be revisited as John has been role trained through spontaneous improvisation.

The technique of improvisation is the royal route of spontaneity training as it throws the patient into roles, situations, and worlds in which he has never lived before and in which he has instantly to produce a new role to meet the novel environment. More than therapy is provided. It is training and development of a new personality which may differ greatly from the one which was brought for treatment (Moreno, 1972, pp. 210–211).

This technique also provides diagnostic information to the director about the protagonist’s ability to access spontaneity and alternative roles (Nolte, 2020). It is both useful as a spontaneity warm-up, an intervention within a psychodrama enactment, and a grounding exercise after the intensity of a psychodrama.

13.1.9 Sculpting

Sculpting describes the process of using auxiliaries to concretize the perceived relationships within a family, social atom , sociogram, memory of an experience, or even internal parts of self (Blatner, 2000). Other group members are chosen to step in as auxiliaries needed for the scene and are directed by the protagonist in terms of location, distance from the other roles, posture, movement, messages, and/or expression. Doubling and role reversal interventions are also utilized in action sculpting. This process provides an externalized, workable expression of a system’s structure (Cruz et al., 2018). An action sculpture is much more contained, slower, and prescribed than a psychodrama process. It also employs the mirror intervention much more regularly than a psychodrama enactment would. For these reasons, it is useful for time limited groups, less warmed up group, less experienced participants, and demonstrations. The use of sculpting has become popular beyond psychodrama, especially in family therapy (Blatner, 2000).

13.1.10 Resistance Interpolation

This intervention describes the process of testing the protagonist’s spontaneity, in terms of responding to new situations, by modifying the psychodrama scene. The protagonist presents the situation, and it is enacted with a scripted outcome, then the director modifies the scene in a way to change major elements and put new role demands upon the protagonist in the scene (Cruz et al., 2018; Moreno, 1972). For example:

Adam has just engaged in a self-presentation of a recurrent relational dynamic in his marriage. He demonstrates how he and his partner frequently find themselves in a back and forth argument where neither of them can connect with the other because they both become defensive and guarded. Adam describes getting to a place where he feels he is unable to admit that his partner is right about anything and becomes increasingly combative. The director instructs Adam and the auxiliaries to replay the scene, waiting for Adam’s combativeness to become activated. Once Adam and his partner are engaged in the back and forth rejection of each statement the other makes, the director instructs the auxiliary in the role of Adam’s partner to begin including statements related to the content of their disagreement that are undeniably true such as “we have been married for 4 years now” or “we have been fighting for five minutes”. The factual statements throw Adam off as he can’t deny that they are true—he is challenged to respond in a new way rather than continuing to reject each statement. He begins to contemplate each statement from his partner for its merit and truth before responding.

This intervention attempts to uncover new behavioral responses and aspects of personality from the protagonist (Rojas-Bermudez, 1997). The use of resistance interpolation can be used to help a protagonist access new spontaneity that can later be integrated into the reality of an interpersonal situation.

13.1.11 Games

Group games are frequently involved in psychodrama groups in the warming up process or cooling down process. Simple and playful games are implemented with the goals of increasing spontaneity, trust, cohesion, and movement—or in the context of cooling down after an intense group, with the goals of reconnecting the group with a sense of playfulness, grounding, and spontaneity in the here-and-now. Most of the games employed in psychodrama groups have been borrowed from other fields such as the theater games, improv, drama therapy, the New Games Movement, and pop culture (Blatner, 2000, 2013). Collections of these games have been published by others, such as Drama Games (1990) by Tian Dayton, Improvisation for the Theater (1999) by Viola Spolin, 101 Improv Games for Children and Adults (2004) by Bob Bedore, and 275 Acting Games Connected (2010) by Gavin Levy.

The use of games can also be traced back to social work with groups practice, specifically in the non-deliberative approach (Lang, 2010). Group games and activities serve “to engage the members and advance them interactionally toward achievement of groupness, mobilizing and enhancing the natural interactional capabilities of participants” (Lang, 2010, p. 169). Group activities offer opportunities for participants to feel a sense of belonging and developing “connection between the self and the external world and experiencing themselves as effective in the world” (Lang, 2010, p. 173). The action and experiential nature of games creates a playful space for increasing self-efficacy, self-confidence, and social skills.

13.1.12 Intermediate Objects

The use of objects in psychodrama has been described previously in the context of concretization and surplus reality. Although objects are not used in every psychodrama, many facilitators do employ them for their utility in enhancing the production. The use of scarves has already been mentioned, other commonly used objects include chairs, masks, cards, puppets, dolls, and small figures (Blatner, 1996). The functions of using objects include warming up to spontaneity /creativity, concretizing roles, and providing aesthetic distance for clients. While Moreno often used objects in his psychodrama directing, the theory of intermediate objects is traced back to Jaime Rojas-Bermudez (Cruz et al., 2018; Rojas-Bermudez, 1997). Rojas-Bermudez’s (1997) specific use of intermediate objects relates to the use of an object to symbolize the therapist when a client cannot tolerate the vulnerability of direct human interaction. Instead of the dialog taking place between therapist–client, it takes place between object–client to reduce intensity and decrease activation or alarm. The intermediate object is then removed once the client is able to tolerate face-to-face engagement.

13.1.13 Role Training

Role training is an intervention process used to help a protagonist practice and rehearse new roles or responses related to future interpersonal situations (Blatner, 2000). Role training can be used as a warm-up structure for groups, as the primary psychodrama enactment, or as a closing scene in a psychodrama. Role training allows the protagonist and the group to replay a scene multiple times with modified responses to explore optimal actions and develop competence in a given situation. A role training process can also involve using role reversals or the mirror position to best evaluate the impact of different responses. Role training is used in psychotherapy with varying goals including the practice of difficult conversations, boundary setting, anger management, anger expression, vulnerability in relationships, job interviews, and other social skills. It can also be used to the role train for intrapsychic situations such as responding in new ways to thoughts of self-harm , addiction cravings, defense mechanism, feelings of inadequacy, depression , anxiety, and any other internal experience. Role training is utilized beyond psychotherapy and is commonly used in sociodrama, role-plays, and other simulations within the contexts of professional training, education, supervision, activism , community organizing, personal development, conflict resolution, business, coaching, and acting (see Sect. 19.3).

13.1.14 The Empty Chair and Multiple Empty Chairs

The empty chair seems to have become popularized by Fritz Perls ’ gestalt therapy which was influenced by Moreno’s psychodrama. The major difference in the use of the empty chair is that gestalt uses it primarily for the client to talk to another, while psychodrama also utilizes the role reversal and doubling in the empty chair process (Knittel, 2010). This will be explored further in Sect. 15.5.4. The empty chair is another intervention used by psychodramatists in replacement of an auxiliary. Moreno used to refer to the empty chair as a four-legged auxiliary (Nolte, 2020). In a psychodrama, an empty chair may be superior to group members playing auxiliary roles when a protagonist has limited ego strength, significant trauma, anxiety, or when working with a perpetrator role. Using the empty chair to concretize a role limits the influence of that role in the psychodrama, whereas when another human being plays the role, it increases the role demands and role reciprocity on the protagonist.

The empty chair can be used in a variety of contexts including as a warm-up for a psychodrama, in groups or individual sessions, psychodramatically or sociodramatically, and with a single empty chair or multiple empty chairs. The differences between psychodrama and sociodrama will be explored in a Sect. 15.1, as is the use of psychodrama methods in individual therapy (see Chaps. 16 and 17). The utilization of multiple empty chairs is lesser known but an effective process for helping a client or group to express messages or feelings to others in their life while also having the opportunity to role reverse, speaking to themselves from the role of others.

An example of employing a multiple empty chair structure comes from this writer’s clinical experience in inpatient addictions groups at Mirmont Treatment Center. After a sociometric warm-up on the topic of relationships, five empty chairs are pulled into the center of the circle, each labeled with a different type of relationship—family, friends, self, groups/communities/society, and God/spiritual roles. Group members are invited spontaneously to sit in one of the five empty chairs and verbalize positive or negative messages that they have received (verbally or non-verbally) from others in their life. Multiple rounds of this multiempty chair process can be facilitated with varied instructions including:

  • Role reverse with one of these types of relationships and verbalize a negative message you have received from others about your addiction

  • Role reverse with one of these types of relationships and verbalize a positive message you have received from others about your addiction

  • Role reverse with one of these types of relationships and verbalize a message you wish you could have heard in the past

  • Stand in front of one or more of these empty chairs and articulate a message you need to express to one of these relationships

  • It is now 5 years in the future; stand in front of one or more of these empty chairs and articulate a message you hope to express to one of these relationships in the future

  • It is now 5 years in the future; role reverse with one of these types of relationships and verbalize a message you crave to hear in the future

Through this process, step-in sociometry or simply raising hands is used to indicate shared experience related to each message offered. After the process moves toward closure, the group advances into the sharing phase.

13.2 Psychodrama Interventions Adapted for Teletherapy

Though psychodrama practice online is relatively new, unique advantages to psychodramatic teletherapy are being discovered. Teletherapy and the use of technology seem to produce both limitations and benefits for psychodrama practitioners and trainers. While it creates a more accessible group experience for participants who are not geographically nearby, it also limits the ways in which participants can connect with each other due to the absence of physical proximity and lost non-verbal communication.

One unique aspect of using psychodrama online is the access to a nearly unlimited collection of images on the Internet and an avenue to easily share an image or video for all participants to see. This feature can be used to enhance many psychodramatic warm-ups or enactments and raises the question of how psychodrama’s surplus reality and virtual reality might be complimentary to each other. In teletherapy or online teaching sessions, images could be used to help with scene setting, defining roles, psychodramatic dialogs, or doubling practice. An image of an empty chair can even be shared on the screen for group members to engage in an empty chair process.

In commonly employed teletherapy or online teaching platforms, each person in the group can also see a live video feed of themselves during the session. This unique aspect of online work is similar to psychodrama’s mirror position and can be leveraged to help enhance the therapeutic nature of the session for clients. Because a client can literally see themselves on the computer screen, it is easier to facilitate a psychodramatic dialog of the client speaking to themselves or a part of self. This feature can also make role reversals in individual teletherapy easier because the client can see themselves on the screen even when they have psychologically role reversed into another role.

Another one of the unique benefits to teletherapy includes the use of objects in a client’s living space as props for concretizing strengths-based roles. These objects can be strategically used by the psychodramatist to serve as transitional objects or physical reminders for the client of their strengths or the work they are doing. Rather than relying on objects in the therapist’s office, teletherapy makes it easy to use objects in the client’s space too.

Furthermore, many trauma survivors report feeling safer doing teletherapy from the comfort of their homes (assuming that home is a safe place for them). While this is not true for everyone, some clients benefit from increased safety and comfort of their home environment and increased emotional regulation strategies available to them at home (pets, loved ones, personal objects, walking outside, etc.). When engaging in trauma teletherapy, this writer has also found the mute feature and the option to turn off one’s camera feed as opportunities for clinical interventions. For example, if a client is unsure if they are ready to share details of a traumatic event, they could be offered the option to turn off their camera and/or their audio and see if it feels more tolerable to speak the details aloud knowing they cannot be seen and/or heard when doing so. This may help warm a client up to sharing the same difficult details with the therapist directly or in a future session.

The use of the chat feature on most teletherapy platforms can be employed for clinical or educational groups online. This feature can also be used as another avenue that clients can share personal details beyond verbally articulating them. Some clients will feel more comfortable expressing or sharing themselves through text rather than verbally. In large educational groups or multilingual groups, the chat box is particularly useful as it facilitates participant engagement and expression in a contained way. Participants’ responses in the chat box can be read aloud by the facilitator, translator, or another group member to avoid the issue of too many people talking at the same time.

While teletherapy and online teaching methods are relatively new in the psychodrama field, they offer multiple new creative ways of engaging groups and utilizing sociometric or psychodramatic interventions. As teletherapy and online teaching methods become more common and continue to evolve with increased technological sophistication, it is expected that they will be more prevalent for psychodrama practitioners and trainers (Giacomucci, 2020b).

13.3 Psychodrama Scenes

The psychodrama stage offers unlimited potential and infinite possibilities in terms of scenes that could be enacted (Giacomucci & Stone, 2019). Psychodrama scenes may be entirely interpersonal scenes with roles being exclusively other people, scenes might be intrapsychic and only employ roles that represent parts of self, or the scene could include a mix of intrapsychic and interpersonal roles. It seems that Moreno’s early directing was primarily interpersonal but as the practice of psychodrama evolved, it came to include much more intrapsychic roles. Some psychodramas include fantasy characters or archetypes, while others are composed of roles based on reality. The exploration of dreams using psychodrama is another area of psychodrama practice (Scategni, 2005). While psychodrama is a useful modality for conflict resolution and often involves antagonist roles, some psychodramas only employ strengths-based and supportive roles. It is important to note that an antagonist role is not always necessary in a psychodrama scene and scenes including only strengths-based roles can be equally cathartic and transformative.

A psychodrama is enacted as if it were happening in the here-and-now. Nevertheless, psychodramas can be scenes from the past, present, or future. Time and space are transcended on the psychodrama stage (Giacomucci, 2017, 2020). As noted previously, some psychodramas are focused specifically on role training for future situations. Other psychodramas are based on reenactments of the past or wished for experience in the past. This becomes especially prominent in psychodramatic work with trauma (Giacomucci & Marquit, 2020). Many psychodramas include multiple scenes, each at different points in time, while some psychodrama enactments only have one or two scenes. Important contributions to this discussion come from The Psychodramatic Spiral (Goldman & Morrison, 1984) and The Hollander Curve (Hollander, 1978) which will be described with additions from the author in the next subsections.

13.3.1 The Psychodramatic Spiral

Goldman and Morrison (1984) offer the conceptualization of The Psychodramatic Spiral as a guide for the psychodrama directing process (see Fig. 13.1). The Psychodramatic Spiral depicts the levels of present, recent-past, and deeper past scenes related to a classical psychodrama enactment. The developers note that the Psychodramatic Spiral also visually resembles Moreno’s original psychodrama stage design. This symbol shows how the psychodrama process moves from the periphery to the core and returns full circle to the presenting problem with new spontaneity , creativity, and roles (Goldman & Morrison, 1984). It is interesting to note that the process of following the Psychodrama Spiral seems to be almost identical to the approach to treatment in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Both start with a presenting problem, move through a memory network of similar scenes to a touchstone memory with the goals of catharsis, cognitive integration, and finally practicing future templates related to the presenting problem. While some psychodramas will include scenes in the present, recent past, childhood, and future, other psychodramas might only involve one or two scenes. Regardless of the number of scenes, the movement is from the periphery to the core and moves full circle to the clinical contract and presenting problem. As scenes progress, they spiral further into the surplus reality of the past until a climax is achieved. With the climactic catharsis, the process begins to spiral back toward the presenting problem with a concretization of insight and integration and finally role training for the future (Santos & Conceição, 2014).

Fig. 13.1
figure 1

The Psychodramatic Spiral based on Goldman and Morrison, (1984)

13.3.2 Hollander Curve

The Hollander Curve (1978) depicts the three phases of a psychodrama group, labeled with the terminology of Moreno’s triadic system—sociometry, psychodrama, and group psychotherapy (see Fig. 13.2).

Fig. 13.2
figure 2

The Hollander Curve. Based on Hollander, (1978)

The sociometry phase involves the initial encounter between group members, the warming up process, and a sociometric exploration to discern a group topic and protagonist. In this first phase of the group, connection is increased, group cohesion and safety are established, and spontaneity begins to emerge. Once chosen, the protagonist and director engage in a walk and talk while solidifying and clarifying a clinical contract around the topic and a goal for the psychodrama. The first scene is set up—traditionally, this would involve a self-presentation of the problem at hand from the subjective reality of the protagonist. Strengths-based psychodrama processes, especially the Therapeutic Spiral Model, would integrate a variety of positive roles into the first scene to help the protagonist access spontaneity and cultivate safety before moving toward a climax of catharsis (see Sect. 14.4.2). This first scene is very diagnostic for the director and provides important information about the content of the protagonist’s situation and an experiential assessment of the protagonist’s ego strength, stability, insight, and personality. The second scene moves the protagonist and the group toward catharsis of abreaction and often involves working through past scenes (or traumas) related to the presenting problem. An example of this multiscene process is depicted in the example below:

Roy is chosen by the group as protagonist to explore the topic of his fear of asking his employer for a raise. In the first scene, Roy sets up the stage based on a recent experience of attempting to advocate for himself and ask for a raise in a meeting with his boss. He describes feeling frozen and intimidated by his boss and the situation and can’t bring himself to ask. When probed, he indicates that his boss reminds him of his father who was demanding and violent at times. The second scene brings Roy to a dialogue with his father where he integrates strengths-based roles needed to confront his father and express his fear, sadness, and anger. This is where the climax of catharsis takes place for Roy and for the group. A positive ending could be incorporated between Roy and his father to offer a corrective emotional experience. After this scene, a final scene is enacted for closure, integration, and role training. The third scene brings Roy back to the office with his boss (and the strengths from the previous scenes) to practice advocating for himself with the support of the group. Now that he has addressed issues related to his father, the transference he had with his boss has dissipated and he feels more confident advocating for himself with success (see Sect. 19.3.3 for more on role training self-advocacy skills).

In many ways, the Hollander Curve brings the group from the here-and-now (warm-up) to the near past (scene 1) to the past (scene 2), flings the group forward to the near future (scene 3), and lands in the here-and-now for group sharing and closure. Similarly, but on an intrapsychic level, TSM’s different types of psychodramas (Giacomucci, 2018; Hudgins, 2002) seem to reflect the three types of scenes in the Hollander Curve:

  1. (1)

    Prescriptive Role Psychodramas—focused on building up the strengths and safety needed to face trauma

  2. (2)

    Re-Experiencing with Developmental Repair Psychodramas—revisiting the trauma and related internalized roles with newfound strength, support, and adaptive information to renegotiate the internalized trauma while psychodramatically experiencing a corrective experience

  3. (3)

    Transformative Psychodramas—exploring post-traumatic growth and the transformation of trauma-based roles into transformative roles .

Regardless of the nature of the scenes in a psychodrama, after closure is accomplished the auxiliary egos de-role and return to the group. The third phase of the group begins with group members sharing from their own experience how they are related to the psychodrama scenes that were enacted. Self-disclosure in this phase provides the protagonist with reintegration into the group and provides other participants with the opportunity to share how they saw themselves in the psychodrama. Here the group-as-a-whole nature of the topic is re-emphasized as each person indicates how they identified with the psychodrama before the group ends. One might suggest that traditional group psychotherapy employs phases one and three without the psychodramatic enactment. It uses a talk-based version of the warm-up, encounter, and discerning a group topic then moves directly to phase three with self-disclosure from group members about their connection to the topic and group dialog.

13.4 Closure, De-roling, and Striking the Set

Without adequate closure, the psychodrama may feel incomplete or unfinished for the protagonist and the group. The closure of the psychodrama ends the process “on a high note or some other positive possibility” (Goldman & Morrison, 1984, p. 31). It also is helpful to connect the chosen method of closure with the clinical contract or goal from the start of the psychodrama (Kellermann, 1992). Closure is one aspect of the psychodrama process that little has been written about. There are various ways of facilitating completion of a psychodrama enactment. Closure to the psychodrama scene may be performed with a final statement, action, or commitment forming the protagonist or the group. In many psychodramas, after the climax and catharsis, the scene organically moves itself toward closure and a good ending. There are multiple layers of closure in the process including an aesthetically pleasing closure to the scene, emotional closure for the protagonist, closure for the role players, closure for the group, and closure for the psychodrama director and any other team members.

A simple way of engaging in closure to the psychodrama scene is to ask the protagonist what they would need to happen as a good way of closing the scene. Other closure actions might involve asking the protagonist to summarize the primary cognitive insights or memorable moments from the scene (Weiner & Sacks, 1969). Others emphasize the role training aspect of a final psychodrama scene to be essential for integration and closure—often revisiting the presenting problem and first psychodrama scene (Goldman & Morrison, 1984; Hollander, 1978; Schramski, 1979). Kipper (1986) and Kellermann (1992) offer multiple different purposes for closure in the psychodrama process including: restoring emotional stability, cultivating hope for the future and future plans, provide a sense of symbolic or real satisfaction, move from surplus reality back to reality, encourage cognitive restructuring of the psychodrama problem, role training and behavior learning, and to integrate the learning back into the lives of group members going forward. Furthermore, Kellermann (1992) lists 29 different types of commonly used actions for closure to a psychodrama enactment.

Part of the closure process includes the de-roling of each role in the psychodrama. De-roling provides a ritual of returning from the psychodramatic trance of surplus reality back to one’s self and the here-and-now. It is an explicit action of consciously letting go of the role one played in the enactment. There are also frequently times when role players feel the need to hold onto aspects of the role while they de-role—such as a group member who played the role of self-love who also wants to integrate this role into their own repertoire (Blatner, 2000). Most often the de-roling process is as simple as each role player physically wiping off or shaking off the role while stating to the protagonist, “I am no longer your mother, I am a group member named Scott”. If the role players used scarves (or other props) to represent the roles, then these objects are also symbolically removed to help facilitate de-roling. This simple process takes only a few seconds while encompassing physical, verbal, and symbolic elements of de-roling.

Just as the process of scene setting is used to help assist a protagonist and a group to move into surplus reality, the process of striking the set helps the protagonist and the group to move out of surplus reality. Scene setting facilitates the warming up process while striking the scene facilitates a cooling down process. One might think of striking the set as de-roling the objects used in the scene and finalizing the movement from the surplus reality of the psychodrama stage back to the reality of the group room.

13.5 Sharing in Psychodrama

Upon de-roling and striking the set, participants return to their seats and final sharing phase of the group begins. In this last part of a group, participants are provided with the opportunity to share with each other about how they could identify with the psychodrama enactment. This allows for the protagonist to be integrated back into the group while offering other group members with the chance to express how they saw themselves in the protagonist on stage (Giacomucci, 2019). Sharing from participants sometimes also involves sharing insights into the role they played then sharing from themselves to help role players fully de-role (Holmes, 1991; Wilkins, 1999). Sharing from the role is called role feedback and can provide a broader perspective of the scene for the protagonist (von Ameln & Becker-Ebel, 2020). The sharing from group members at the end of a psychodrama generally does not involve feedback or advice giving—instead, it is focused on self-disclosure. Zerka writes that in the sharing phase, “group members should speak about themselves, not the protagonist; here we share our common humanity” (1987/2006, p. 234).

When a protagonist’s topic is chosen sociometrically, the psychodrama represents the group-as-a-whole—as such, the rest of the group will have much to share upon completion of the enactment. The role dynamics, the scene, the messages, and actions of the group topic will almost certainly provoke feelings, insights, and act hungers from the group. The sharing after the psychodrama allows other group members to express, articulate, and name their own difficult experiences as it relates to the enactment (Dayton, 2005). In many cases, participants who played other roles will have their own catharses and insights because of the role they played. Dayton (2005) writes that the protagonist’s psychodrama acts as a tunnel into the group’s experience or a mirror for each individual group member. The protagonist reveals himself during the psychodrama enactment, and the group reveals itself during the sharing phase (Nolte, 2014).

The sharing process can be as simple as each person sharing, in order of seating arrangement. It could be done spontaneously with the option to share or not. When there is limited time remaining in the group, the director might invite a few participants to share or invite the protagonist to choose a few group members that they would like to hear share. Another option for quick and efficient sharing is to employ dyads, small groups, step-in sociometry, or spectrograms to facilitate this process. In the phase of sharing after a psychodrama, it is not uncommon for a psychodrama director to also share their personal connection to the topic. Traditionally, psychodramatists seem to use much more self-disclosure than other therapists. It is recommended that each director uses discretion and discernment around professional boundaries and personal disclosure in the sharing phase.

The sharing phase of the group instills a sense of universality in the group and hope for the future (Kellermann, 1992; Wilkins, 1999). Upon the completion of the psychodrama, just like the completion of any other involved action, group members will likely feel a sense of relief, satisfaction, and relaxation as they de-role, and the group moves closer to closure. It seems that in the sharing portion of the group, the group sharing often touches upon a discussion of wonder and awe related to the power of the psychodrama process, the synchronicity of roles chosen (tele), and the surprise of how real the surplus reality scene felt. When a group is properly warmed up, the group-as-a-whole becomes invested in the psychodrama enactment and collectively acts as-if. The telic connections from the sociometric warm-up carry over into the psychodrama, especially evidenced in the protagonist’s (conscious or unconscious) choosing of role players. Frequently in the process of choosing role players, the person chosen happens to have an unresolved relationship to the role they are asked to play. The act of playing the role offers the auxiliaries with opportunity catharses, action insights, and role training. At the end of a psychodrama group, participants often report feeling tired or exhausted emotionally. It is important that the sharing assists the group to cultivate new cognitive insights, connections, and integrations.

Historically, it is interesting to note the evolution of the sharing phase. Initially, this phase involved the director (Moreno) offering comments and interpretation of the protagonist’s performance in the psychodrama while other group members offered their own observations. This changed after an experience Moreno had with a group that involved a young woman protagonist with multiple other psychiatrists in the audience. When it came to the sharing phase of the group, the psychiatrists gave their interpretations and analyses without consideration to the feelings of the protagonist who felt neglected, confused, and hurt by their comments. Moreno became frustrated and confronted the group—“Do you have children? What is your relationship to your daughter? Here we share with our hearts, not our brains” (Z. T. Moreno, 1945/2006, p. 22). After this experience, psychodrama sharing excluded professional interpretation and advice giving and become centered on personal disclosure (Nolte, 2014). Furthermore, Moreno disliked the term feedback, often reminding others that it is also used to describe the annoying sounds that two electronic machines make when in discord with each other. Zerka writes that instead of feedback, he suggested we think of sharing as “love-back”. When a protagonist offers a psychodrama, it can only be conceptualized as an act of love and vulnerability—which can only be repaid with love (Moreno, 2000/2006).

13.6 Conclusions

The essential practice of components of psychodrama has been outlined in this chapter including the foundational interventions of psychodrama. A mixture of the aforementioned psychodrama interventions are employed in each psychodrama varying due to the presentation of the protagonist/group, the goals of the session, and the style of the director. Attention was given to the varying types of psychodrama scenes including the use of the Psychodramatic Spiral and the Hollander Curve to guide the direction of scenes from present-day to past scenes, ending with role training for future situations. The significance of closure and de-roling in psychodrama has been presented including the importance of the sharing phase in a psychodrama group.

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Giacomucci, S. (2021). Essentials of Psychodrama Practice. In: Social Work, Sociometry, and Psychodrama. Psychodrama in Counselling, Coaching and Education, vol 1. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-33-6342-7_13

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