Psychodrama is an action method, often used as a psychotherapy, in which clients use spontaneous dramatization, role playing and dramatic self-presentation to investigate and gain insight into their lives
I’m reading Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks at the moment. There’ll be a book review on my other blog at somepoint in the not too distant future, although my novel reading is not as rapacious as it used to be due to my needing to read widely on Carl Rogers’ Core Conditions etc. for my counselling course.
Psychodrama is featured within the book. It sparked some strong emotions in me which I thought I’d share on here. I was exposed to Psychodrama during my inpatient and subsequent after care at the rehab I went to in 2004. I’ve stuck at the top of this a definition I grabbed from somewhere. Let me recall how I’ve experienced it. Psychodrama sessions at the rehab were always on Fridays as that was the one day in the week the owner was always there. It was his major session with us patients other than a lecture on Sunday mornings just before family visits. We’d sit in a circle like any other group, but it was a large group of all patients resistant or visiting like I did sometimes on my aftercare. He would then pick someone as the subject of the drama and he would then construct a small drama around that person with the other members taking various roles directed by him. Often this was to show some learning or some point very relevant to the subject. More often than not this might be something mentioned in our daily diaries that we had to hand in every night before being allowed back into our dorms.
I remember two particular psychodramas that I took part in. They were for me hugely valuable, more so now since, in reflection, they are still so striking to me as I write this 11 years or so years after they were acted out. The first one had me as its subject. I’d been concerned about leaving inpatient care and how I’d not be able to handle the voice of my alcoholism in my head. I stood in the middle of the circle of chairs. I was told to simply not engage with anyone or anything. One by one my fellow patients came up with a short phrase that they started to say to me. All as close to me as they could get, in front, to the sides, behind then under and over me as well as more and more crowded right in on me. The phrases were things like “You’re too clever to be an alcoholic”, or “Surely you can mange one drink?” etc. Temptations. After what for me felt like ages with the cacophony of their voices assailing me I snapped and pushed them away yelling something like “Shut up”… well more expletive laden no doubt. The point made was that I engaged – even in saying “shut up” I had acknowledged them and that gave them power over me. A few days later when I first left the rehab that lesson was so valuable. I did struggle with those kind of voices in my head daily, hourly… second by second frankly at times! And it went on much longer than I’d have told you I was ready to tolerate then! Months in fact and I can’t say I didn’t at times tell them to shut up and lose that first step in the battle but I always remembered this very vivid lesson that one way to defeat them was to never engage with them … at all!
The second example is in some ways even more powerful for me. I wasn’t the subject of the drama that was another patient a lady who was struggling with guilt about how she had “abandoned” her children in the face of her addiction and being on the end of a badly abusive relationship with a fairly nasty partner. I was asked to play her partner. My only role was to continue to tempt her away from her children (played by other patients) to come along with me in my addiction journey, playing on her love for me, her desire for the addiction etc. In the middle of this drama unfolding with her literally playing out the pulls on her and how she felt it really struck me that I may never have hit my wife or treated my children as badly as some others but I was still without at doubt an abusive husband and father. I put that addiction ahead of their well-being and my needs had always taken priority. Back in our seats after this act, as it was discussed with the lady who was the subject and others made comment, I couldn’t hold the tears back and felt them rolling down my cheeks. Not a sob but simply a quiet cry. The facilitator noticed this and asked why. I said I was the abusive partner in a way and how I’d seen a side of myself I’d never really acknowledged or wanted to. He apologised saying he’d have preferred in retrospect to have played the partner himself. You know what – today if I ever get to see him again I’ll tell him that actually it was not the wrong thing at all. I’m not a paragon of fatherly or husbandly virtue but I’m vastly improved from where I was then and that moment really really helped me. I also remember the spontaneous show of love from another patient who simply crossed the room without a word and held me in a hug for some seconds before saying she couldn’t stand by and watch someone be in that much pain alone when I was separated from those that I was causing pain too still, i.e. my wife and children and there was an irony beyond all irony there I was doing this to be “better”, but frankly my addiction was still causing me to abandon them in that time too!
I remember that many of the patients would roll their eyes when Psychodrama was approaching or make disparaging remarks about it in our social times. I can’t say I jumped in with enthusiasm, I can’t say at times I found it embarrassing for me or others or that I found it at times without relevance to me or frankly at times the message was totally escaping my puny brain. But it provided two of the most starkly, stunningly revelatory moments of my time in treatment. The use of it is in Faulks book is a similar revealing moment for the main character within the novel. It was reading that that made me realise how much it made me learn about myself in a fraction of a second. If today I was encouraged by my counsellor to seek out an opportunity to take part in Psychodrama I would – with worry, concern etc. but I’d not hesitate to get that insight. It is such a gift. A really powerful gift.