How Psychodrama Works in the Treatment of Addiction

Psychodrama therapy is a complementary form of therapy that can be very beneficial in treating addiction and other mental health disorders. In its broadest sense, psychodrama therapy activities are a dramatic production in which the participants, who are either actors or spectators, provide the source material, create the production and benefit from the catharsis that the drama may create.

The goal of psychodrama is to give patients a way to develop, practice, and adopt new and healthier roles and behaviors. Although the objective is a difficult one, many participants find the experience to be enjoyable. It’s important to note, however, that psychodrama is much more than pretending or playacting.

Since it is an active form of therapy in real-time, psychodrama can be an empowering alternative or complement to traditional talk therapy. Some of the common benefits patients can experience include:

  • The opportunity to express their feelings in a safe environment
  • Improved self-confidence
  • New life skills
  • Improved relationships with others
  • New and more positive behaviors and thought patterns
  • Better communication skills
  • Overcoming a loss

A Brief History of Psychodrama Therapy

Jacob Levy Moreno was a Viennese psychiatrist who originally developed psychodrama therapy. He believed that an individual’s capacity for creativity and spontaneity makes them the co-creators of their universe.

He posited that a person’s strength resides in his or her own uniqueness. Therefore, the less we allow ourselves to hide our uniqueness to conform, the truer we are to our authentic selves, which allows us to connect with others on a real, deep, and authentic level. The process of psychodrama therapy activities is specifically designed to help bring people closer to this authentic state. That state allows for spontaneity and creativity that can improve one’s life.

The Theory Behind Psychodrama

Therapists who specialize in psychodrama believe that memories are at the root of a person’s feelings and dysfunction. Each memory is quite different from one person to the next. Still, usually, they revolve around an incident where the individual was emotionally hurt, ignored, or made to feel marginalized, misunderstood, or compelled to act out.

While the memory of the event may remain vivid in a person’s mind, they often lack a full understanding of what occurred and how things might have differed. As such, the memory serves to keep them in their pattern of dysfunction instead of helping them resolve the issue.

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The First Step

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The Three Phases of Psychodrama

Warm-up: in this phase, issues and concerns that are important to the group are identified. The protagonist is chosen, either by the group, the therapist, or by the participant. The group becomes a safe space, free of judgment, allowing for the spontaneous act of creation.
Action: the protagonist enters the stage in preparation for taking action to address the issue identified in the warm-up phase. The protagonist shares his or her intention with the group and therapist. The action is completely improvised, unfolding naturally, as the protagonist goes from one scene to the next. Through this process, spontaneity is developed, allowing the patient to get closer to his or her authentic self, often providing new insights. Throughout the process, the protagonist is supported and guided by this therapist, injecting techniques such as analysis, verbalization, processing, action, and insight as needed.
Sharing: the protagonist returns to the group once the enactment is done. He or she can rest while other group members share their thoughts and feelings that the drama evoked in them. The protagonist can hear other members talk about similar painful experiences and feelings they may have had, giving him or her a sense of acceptance, understanding, and support. In so doing, what was once a private source of shame is now transformed into a public victory for everyone.

Psychodrama Therapy Techniques

Some sessions may include participants reenacting their memories of significant and pivotal events in what is called “the moment.” The moment, in psychodrama, is the concept that everything that is being acted out is happening in the present. The action that takes us back to another place and time where harmful patterns were established. By re-creating the specific present time that surrounded the past event, a participant can become aware of the dynamics of that time; better understand the relationships and the context within which it occurred.

Using the role reversal technique, the participants are provided the opportunity to view their life and addiction from an outsider’s perspective, like a friend, parent, or loved one, by taking on their identities.

In a technique known as mirroring, another group member takes on the role of the protagonist to allow the patient to see him or herself from outside.

Through processes like these, new perspectives can be found, different endings can be created, and a greater insight can be achieved.

Understanding and Dealing with the Outcome

Some of the insights gained through psychodrama therapy can be very profound and necessitate further inspection. At Beachway Therapy Center, we use psychodrama therapy activities as part of a more comprehensive addiction treatment process that includes one-on-one therapy sessions where the findings of psychodrama can further be explored.

Take the First Step Towards Recovery

If you, or someone you love, is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, regaining control and getting back to a sober and healthy life begins with a phone call. Each addiction treatment plan at Beachway Therapy Center is uniquely tailored to meet the needs and circumstances of our patients. Our treatment programs include one-on-one counseling, group therapy, supplemented by a range of holistic services that include art therapy, music therapy, equine therapy, and psychodrama therapy.