Webpage Supplement to

Chapter 15: Psychodrama, Sociodrama, and Role Playing

Adam Blatner

January 31, 2007

On this webpage, there are:

Further References:

If the chapter on psychodrama and sociodrama piques your interest, here’s where you can find out more about the subject:

1. My website, www.blatner.com/adam/  has a webpage that lists all of the currently available books on psychodrama, where they can be obtained, their costs, etc.

2. My textbooks www.blatner.com/adam/books.html  have some of the most extensive references on psychodrama.

3. My website also has a webpage that lists the major books in drama therapy and related approaches.

4. Elsewhere this website there are literally scores of webpages with articles about various other aspects of psychodrama, sociodrama, sociometry, and so forth.

5. That same website has a photo directory that shows pictures of J.L. Moreno, Zerka Moreno, other significant figures in the history of psychodrama, and many current leaders in the field.

6. Other papers by Adam Blatner, most about psychodrama, are also on yet another webpage.

7. There are numerous websites of various people and organizations, many in other countries. The best source in the USA is the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama (ASGPP), founded by J. L. Moreno in 1942 as the first professional organization devoted to group psychotherapy. (Interestingly, later that year, a professional rival, Sam Slavson, founded a competing organization that was more psychoanalytically-oriented: The American Group Psychotherapy Association–AGPA.)

Good briefer summaries may be found in the following chapters that are in books that may well be in your local university library:

Blatner, A. (1994a). Psychodramatic methods in family therapy (pp. 235-246). In C.E. Schaefer & L.J. Carey (Eds.), Family play therapy. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Blatner, A. (1994b). Tele: the dynamics of interpersonal preference. In P. Holmes, M. Karp, & M. Watson (Eds.), Psychodrama since Moreno: Innovations in theory and practice. London: Routlege, 1994.

Blatner, A. (1996). Acting-in: Practical applications of psychodramatic methods. (3rd Ed.). Springer Publishing Co.(This is the best succinct introduction to the ‘how-to’ of the method available, and it has many references.)

Blatner, A. (1999). Psychodrama. In D. Wiener (Ed.), Beyond talk therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Blatner, A. (2000a). Foundations of psychodrama: history, theory, and practice. (4th Ed.). New York: Springer. (This is the best explanation of the why, the theoretical rationale for using psychodrama. Also has many updated references)

Blatner, A. (2001). Psychodrama. (Chapter 51, pp 535-545). In R. J. Corsini (Ed.), Handbook of innovative therapies (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.

Blatner, A. (2003). Applications in everyday life. In J. Gershoni (Ed.), Psychodrama in the 21st Century. New York: Springer.

Blatner, A. (2004). Psychodrama (Chapter 13). In R. J. Corsini & D. Wedding (Eds.), Current Psychotherapies, 7th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth. A very nice summary, fairly up-to-date.

Corsini, R. J., Shaw, M. E., & Blake, R. R. (1961): Roleplaying in business and industry. New York: The Free Press of Glencoe.

Kellermann, Peter F. (1998). Sociodrama. Group Analysis, 31, 179-195.

Kipper, D. A. (2001). Surplus reality and the Experiential Reintegration model in psychodrama. International Journal of Action Methods: Psychodrama, Skill Training and Role Playing. 53,137-152.

Rob Pramann, Ph. D. has several articles on his website:

Miscellaneous Comments

1. Interestingly, especially in Europe and South America, the best insights of psychoanalysis have been integrated into psychodrama, because action and experiential approaches make treatment far more cost-effective than merely talk therapies. Many other approaches have also used psychodrama as an integrated method–Jungian analytical psychotherapy, existential therapy, Transactional Analysis, etc.

2. Psychodrama has been an influence in many of the endeavors noted in this book. Indeed, the underlying idea in helping drama return to its source of inspiration and freshness, the activity of improvisation and creativity, was Moreno’s original inspiration. Twenty years before Moreno developed psychodrama as a therapy, he was a young man in medical school, and theatre was one of his special interests. But he found the traditional mode of theatre stifling, lacking what he sensed was authenticity and true vitality. Moreno’s vision was for theatre to present the truth–the psychological truth, based on real life.

In 1921, Moreno founded a troupe of actors in what might have been the first improvisational drama troupe, in Vienna. They performed variations of “The Living Newspaper” Moreno also designed one of the first theatre in the rounds. But he was a volatile character, Vienna had plunged into a post-war depression, and so Moreno emigrated. But even as he ended up applying his ideas about improvisation and action as a corrective to the growing dominance of psychoanalysis in America, Moreno never lost sight of his dream of revivified forms of theatre. Even today, there are people whose roots are in psychodrama, yet they help train actors to get more into their roles.

Theater is not just for entertainment, though; it can have a political purpose, or promote community building. Many of the methods described in this book, from Theatre of the Oppressed to Playback Theatre, have been more or less directly influenced by psychodrama and sociodrama.

3. Comments on Method:

On Warming-Up: Experiential exercises might be used, such as pairing people up and letting them talk for five minutes, then each person introduces his or her partner. Another exercise involves getting to know people’s names and at the same time having people become more comfortable with coming out of their chairs and moving. Standing in a circle, each person in turn says his own name, and while saying the name, makes a bold movement and gesture. Everyone else then responds by saying the name and repeating the gesture, so it’s a bit of the follow-the-leader game. As each person takes her turn, there’s an implicit suggestion that some new gesture or movement will be used, which invites a flow of impulse and imagination, a measure of spontaneity, to be exhibited. The presentations become a bit more dramatic as the group goes round, and there is a sense of delight and laughter.

There are hundreds of known warm-up exercises, books full of them, which can be adapted for business team-building, school projects, therapy groups, prisoners in rehabilitation, etc. The purpose is to develop a sense of trust and common concern, so any protagonists need not feel so vulnerable.

4. On Sharing: Similarly, knowing how to process an enactment also requires some skill, because group members tend towards being analytical and subtly judgmental. This is most un-helpful for protagonists who feel vulnerable because of their heightened level of self-disclosure in the enactment. What is encouraged instead of interpretation is sharing. The director might say, “How has what you’ve witnessed or been a part of related to something in your own life?” Answering more personally results in more support for the protagonist, who, because of the increased vividness of the action, can then integrate his or her experience without needing of lot of wordy analysis.

Some Key Principles

Psychodrama weaves together a number of principles that have applications in life in general and not just in therapy. First, creativity is a core value, and it helps to make this a goal–that is, instead of thinking that we’re finding the “right answer,”–as if there were one, which, in a changing world, may not be so!–the object is to just explore, with a belief that a creative response is possible. People like to think of themselves as creative, so it generates a positive frame of mind.

The next concept is that creativity is often best developed not from brooding and intellectual planning so much as from spontaneity, getting out there and messing around, improvising, getting involved, experimenting actively. This experimental attitude requires a corollary, a sense of safety, that is in turn promoted by setting up a bit of a playful context.

Moreno found that drama offered a natural vehicle for tying all these together. Psychodrama, using the various techniques and components mentioned and many others, functions as a kind of laboratory for exploring and working out psychosocial problems.

A related psychological dynamic that Moreno wanted to weave in was the psychology of rapport, that tendency for preferring this person over that one to share in a given task or role. When rapport–Moreno called it “tele”–is high in a group, the functioning of that group or team is more fluid and effective. If a person has poor rapport with the others in the group, he or she will not be able to get much interest or support from the group in an enactment. (Moreno developed a system for assessing the types of rapport in a group, and called this method “sociometry.”) So, first, the participants must be warmed up to each other by finding which roles they do find in common. There is a good deal of artistry in working with groups in order to bring them to a higher state of readiness to work together.

Another dynamic that is underlined in psychodrama is the power of the magic “if,” the power of fantasy. Moreno called this “surplus reality” in order to grant it a kind of recognized status. An encounter with a parent who has died; with oneself ten years in the future or twenty years in the past, as a child; a re-experiencing of an unpleasant event but this time with a happy ending; an encounter with an unborn child; such events not only didn’t happen, they never could happen. Still, they represent a psychological truth, and for Moreno that was a greater, a deeper truth–and, indeed, why he called psychodrama a “theatre of truth.”

Sociodrama: Comments by Rosalie Minkin:

(Rosalie has for 25 years of used sociodrama in on-going therapy groups and in private and public settings. The article will illustrate various sociodrama sessions as well as provide the reader with an overview of sociodrama.)

J.L. Moreno blended theater and the social sciences when he created sociodrama between 1921-1923. "Sociodrama is an action method dealing with inter-group relations and their collective ideologies. The true subject of any sociodrama is the group." (Sociometry and the Cultural Conserve. Sociometry Monographs No. 2; 1943. Page 331)

Sociodrama has been defined as a 'deep action method that deals with intergroup relations and collective ideologies. Therefore the true subject of any sociodrama session is the group."

Sociodrama has two important ingredients: (1) the creation of roles; and (2) the development of group themes. In assigning, taking, and discovering the dimensions of their roles (which might include both animate to inanimate characters), members can actively consider possible alternative behaviors as well as acknowledge new or old perceptions of the characters they enacted. (Some of these may well be related to some aspect of their personal lives, though not necessarily so.) Specific methods are used to creating roles and there are specific circumstances when the director or the member selects the roles for the sociodrama session.

The second ingredient is a theme. Themes focus on subjects ranging from interpersonal difference, socio-political concerns and political issues. Themes either originate from the director or the group members.
For Example: A sociodrama director was asked to work with nurses, for one hour in their hospital lounge. (The administration department asked the director to have the nurses talk about their patients) After much discussion the director listed possible roles ranging from "bed, doctor, patients, thermometer, buzzer. The nurses selected the roles they wanted to enact. After further discussion a theme, selected by the nurses, focused on "making a difference in our world" In the role of a patient, one man said to a nurse playing “the buzzer.” The “patient” said, "Whenever I ring you the nurses never come to find out what I need or want." The buzzer responded, "Hey, it’s not my fault! Maybe they need to make me ring louder."
Others joined in the sociodrama interactions. Once the session came to a closure, members spoke in character and then de-roled (the technique of more explicitly putting down, shaking off, or otherwise indicating to the group that they are releasing their role, and they are re-entering the role of “themselves” in the group.)
  The nurses started to respond. " I guess I do that and don't show up sooner with my sick patients."
  The value of role- playing in a sociodrama is learning by doing. The value of the theme in a sociodrama is the development of doing by action.

There are three essential steps in the development of a sociodrama. As with psychodrama, these stages include, the warm-up, the action, and the sharing and integration.

Another example: In a psychiatric hospital’s outpatient drug treatment program, a group of ten adults meet for two hours. The members enter the room and the director is seated and silent. After a few minutes members are talking to each other. The director hears statements that include, “Why isn't she saying anything?” or “I wish I were home already; I am so tired of being here.” There is continual discussion amongst the members. Then the director then asks, "if you could go anywhere where would you go? The group members, look at each other, sometimes laughing and then begin to shout out names, cities, and countries. The director asks them to select a place. In this example the group made a collective decision and selected Paris, France.

The issue then was: "I want to go to Paris if I could be anywhere." The director then assigned them roles. These assigned roles were based on their history, the psychiatrists' treatments plans and the patients' personal goals. The roles included storybook characters, movie and entertainment stars, and animals. (The patients shout, gee this is going to be different") The group members introduce themselves, (I am Tom Sawyer, or I am a lion etc) The director reminded them that they are all in Paris. The members strolled, sat and interact with each other.
The action proceeded and the director walked around the room and doubled or used role-reversal tools to continue the actions.

The interaction continued and the director can decide to change the setting from a street to a dance hall. The decision, to change the setting, rested on a lull in the action. She/he moved the action to a specific place in Paris, i.e. an apartment. The new setting provides more group interaction

In the closure, the director again suggests, "Say the last thing you want to say to each other."
The sharing began in the role that the members played in the sociodrama. Alice in Wonderland said, " I felt ignored;" Tom Hanks said, "Everyone recognized me, I was embarrassed." During this time, the director spoke to each role player in character: “Tom, I also heard that you were tired of being an actor and wanted to change your life."
  Once de-roled, members shared how the sociodrama was important to them. The patient role-playing Tom was able to identify his personal feelings of being tired and embarrassed of using drugs. The director asked the patient "if it is true what does he want to do about the issue?"
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In another example, teens on probation met for a few hours on a Saturday, once a week for four weeks, in a group room in a a police station. The ostensible goal was to teach them to respect themselves and others.
  The group is taught how to role-play at each session. The director used rap music as a warm-up as a vehicle to connect with the teen's interests. Immediately this got their attention and they respond "yeah, I love that song,” or “I would rather listen to...”
The issue, selected by the director was initiated by the words of one of the songs. The director announced that the issue would be “caring.”
The members were told to choose roles. They begin to shout roles out to each other. The members choose roles that included, lips, girls, boys, candy, hearts, and rap stars, sports heroes.
The participants strolled around in their new roles. (They were reminded that they were not to play themselves.)
  The director created the setting, (the moon), the place (a neighborhood), and the time 5pm and again reminds them of the theme, “caring.”

  Then the action phase ensued: Initially the room was quiet. The director made the following statement, "what have you heard from earth today?" The members began to interact with each other, in character. The rapper sang, "show a little love in your heart" and members join in to the chorus. The session came to closure and the director asked them to say the last thing they wish to say in their character. Various phrases by the kids included, "Hey be cool.” “Don't walk there again.” “I will never let you into my house.” “Let’s get out of here.” “Don't step on my crater rocks."

For sharing and integration: With this particular group the sharing was essential since most of the kids wanted to de-role immediately. The director asked the members "what was it like to play your role and how was the role similar or different than your life role?" One member stated, "Hey, I never say I am sorry the way my character did to the young kids.” Another: “I shouldn't have spray painted that house." Often sharing is focused on words such as, "I could never do what my character did,” or “Gee, why do I do that?"
   The director often knows that at least one kid got some message from the sociodrama related to his/her own life.

The value of my work in sociodrama is based on Moreno's' theory and hypothesis that "every individual is characterized by a certain range of roles which dominate his/her behavior..." ... enactments that aims to clarify group themes rather than focus on individual problems.  (Who Shall Survive 1978? Pages 87-88)