The future of Psychodrama
begins with its past
The future of the contemporary teaching and practice of psychodrama may depend on its capacity to expand its language and investigations to include:
1) greater integration and reinterpretation of ancient and traditional aboriginal healing rituals which use experiential processes to achieve altered physical, mental, emotional and chemical states; and
2) integrating the study of neurology and neurophysiology in the context of our neurological connection with (and therefore our mind's ability to affect) physiological and biological processes.Advances in these and other fields in the past two decades have opened the world of Psychodrama to new levels of application which have yet to be fully explored.
Harold Finkleman's 'Future of Psychodrama' workshop was first presented as a Continuing Education Workshop for the International Council of Psychologists' Annual Conference (1999) and qualified attendees for four Professional Continuing Education Credits as approved by the ICP and the American Psychologists' Association.
The Continuing Education Credit workshop was based upon Finkleman's insistance that Psychodrama as it was adopted from the works of J.L. Moreno was a 'practice' but not a 'science'. The new-knowledge thesis was that for Psychodrama to evolve into a true science it would have to include on one side the traditional medicine man's act of becoming and on the other side integrate the psychodramatic sphere of neurology as introduced in the works of P.V. Simonov.
After Finkleman's paper on the subject was adopted by the ICP as a workshop, it was published as a chapter in the University text 'Its All About Relationships' (Pabst 2002) Dr. Anna Laura Comunion and Dr. Uwe P Gelen, Editors. The chapter is titled 'Psychodynamic Frontiers -- counselling, healing and the Medicine Man's bundle.'
We take our first first steps to broaden discussion on the evolution of the science by defining or re-defining three (3) styles or 'opportunities' of Psychodrama:
1 ‘Psychodrama' – Encounter,
enactment or reenactment of selected events or experiences to achieve
"experiential" analytical and therapeutic advantages.
2 'Psychodramatic Analysis' -- Using primarily the observation and practical reenactment of selected events -- to stimulate reflection, discussion and interaction -- mostly employing puppetry, directing, storytelling and other mediums of communication and expression; sometimes includes exchanging roles.
3 'Psychodramatic Therapeutics' or PDT -- The treatment of emotional disturbances through direct manipulation of the rhythms, pitch and volume of the 'voice' (or inner-monologue) in the patient's mind, often with appropriate corresponding physical processes. This may call upon or combine techniques for visualization, meditation or even hypnotherapy. Often includes an “act of becoming” another person, creature or even object or event.
The first two approaches are the most
common, the latter --
PDT -- is the new one on the block and, along with shamanic and many
traditional cultural approaches, creates a foundation for the new
opportunities afforded the world of psychodrama.
The first public/academic introduction to
Psychodramatic Therapeutics in North America was in a
workshop at a 1970
Canadian federal government sponsored conference -- Milieu 70 in
The specific workshop introduced and examined the work of
and scientist Dr. P. V. Simonov of Moscow's Academy of Science,
an internationally celebrated authority on brain process,
and behavior. For decades his work had been mostly shut off from study
West, a circumstance blamed on the Cold War policies of the American
government. Simonov was the first neurologist to examine and expand
upon psychotherapeutic opportunities in the cross-over between works of
thespian and director Constantin Stanislavsky 1863-1938 and the works
neurophysiologist Ivan Pavlov 1849 - 1936.
Stanislavky wanted his actors to achieve new heights of "becoming" their characters through rigorous mind-body processes. On the other side of the formula: Pavlov wanted to better understand how the mind linked electrochemically to the body in a 'whole' system. Together, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, their efforts gave birth to what is now known as the Theory of Psychophysical Action -- sometimes credited to Stanislavsky and sometimes to Pavlov.
It works like this: If you combine the complex 'inner monologue' -- inner voice complete with the inherent rhythms, pitch, volume and tone -- of the person you are attempting to become, with the physical processes, gestures, activities and emotional (body and mind) attitudes and 'intent' appropriate to that character in his or her circumstance, you will ‘become’ that character.
According to the Theory of Psychophysical Action, this
inner voice or ‘inner monologue’ has its own personality with variable
volume (louder or softer), pitch (higher or lower) and pace or rhythm
(faster or slower) which manifest a state-of-mind.
The Winnipeg workshop featured a survivor of schizophrenia who was using inner monologue exercises developed by Simonov's students to maintain a level of mental and emotional stability through focused self-awareness.
Today, PDT (psychodramatic therapeutics) offers opportunities for therapists to create theoretical models of a patient's inner monologue. E.g.: a manic individual may have a loud, high pitched and rapid inner monologue which leaves little opportunity or room for outside input to penetrate; a paranoiac might have a very hushed, low pitched and slow paced inner monologue which invites (even recruits) outside input, thereby permitting delusions to be created in an otherwise seemingly empty and vulnerable environment. While these models may only be theoretical, therapists can use them as a base upon which to better understand their clients and take the first concrete steps in building a practical non-invasive therapeutic (art therapy anyone?) opportunity.
Often in PDT, the psychologist acts as a
'director'. Sometimes the director will not even be a therapist --
be a facilitator, working their craft in conjunction with therapists
and begin by teaching participants the Stanislavsky Method. The
patients would be told they are being taught the approach "in order
for everyone to do the best performance possible."
Through otherwise simple exercises, the pitch, rhythm and volume of the individual's own natural inner monologue make themselves evident. Therapists or directors/facilitators can then offer individuals the opportunity to play roles which 'exercise' and ‘stretch’ the range, volume and focus of the inner voice to break it loose from where it may be stuck and to help it to where it is more supportive of the patient's well being.
Dr. Simonov was the first scientist to
popularly describe The Stanislavsky Method as a “concrete means of
conscious influence on neuroses” which by definition cannot be
influenced by direct effort
of will. His work should inspire thespians, art therapists and
psychologists with interest in Psychodrama to reinvestigate the
opportunities. This work must credit him with inspiring or inventing
because its language and opportunities emanate from his writings.
he was the first scientist with the credentials to combine an
of the diverse disciplines required to scientifically affirm the
An Aboriginal (First Nations) Model
following is a brief example of the contemporary use of a traditional
approach to PDT ... known more popularly as "the act of becoming":
To treat Bill -- a physically abusive alcoholic who has demonstrated his serious desire for change -- a tribal shaman assigned him responsibility of “becoming” a grouse in a ceremonial Chicken Dance. The role was important. The tribal practice is to earn the presence of birds. It is believed the birds will be plentiful and accept sharing themselves with the tribe only if the tribe showed that it was “family” to the birds. Someone in the tribe would have to become a grouse -- a bird active on the ground. Bill must become that grouse. Bill understands what is needed, but resists -- he is struggling with his own current life challenge. Although he had his own dance costume and gear with him, he named two competition dancers who could do a better dance, but the shaman has other plans. (Bill is voluntarily sleeping on his front porch until he feels he is truly ready to settle back in to his family without alcohol, without anger, and without violence. He has admitted to his problem, resigned himself to his struggle and accepted his challenge.)Outside Sciences Contribute to Progress
The inclusion of emerging sciences and inclusion or reinstatement of traditional or even ancient sciences is pushing forward the fields of
Copyright 1999 Harold Finkleman, Calgary, Canada