The essential idea of Psychodrama


The basic idea of psychodrama seems simple and obvious:

  • – to play in small groups current, past or future scenes realistically or fantastically;
  • – to translate desired or feared images into drama = action;
  • – to step out of the seclusion of the inner world of the soul;
  • – to expand and leave the everyday roles with their advantages and disadvantages, with their supporting and constricting sides;
  • – to search for variations and alternatives with others in guided play.

In the process, complex situations can be developed in several scenes, or excerpts of situations can be brought into focus. As in theatre, everything imaginable can be portrayed scenically, every sensation and every feeling can find expression.

The action is created by the actors and actresses together, as protagonists, as antagonists, as doubles, as mirrors, as auxiliary ego. It develops from the impulses for action and the joy of play of the group, takes up wishes and needs, makes them visible and perceptible. There is no definition of seriousness or fun, of tragedy or comedy. Mixing and changing are possible at any time, laughing and crying are close together. After the play, the group members talk about their feelings, about similar experiences in their lives and about their thoughts on the subject. From the shared experience of a psychodrama can follow a gain in emotional freedom, in readiness for creative activity, and in insight. If something remains unresolved, another scene can follow. Essential to psychodrama is the spontaneous, free choice of playing roles in each scene. This change appeals to different sides and expressions of individuals, promotes agility, and allows for different positions in the dynamics of the group.


With the help of sociometric techniques such as sociograms, group sculptures, and symbolic images, clarity can be gained about the character and intensity of the relationships in the group’s network. Admitted or unacknowledged attraction, distance and dominance emerge. Hidden group themes and critical sub-group structures become clear in group games. Overly static positions in the group’s system can loosen. The various roles allow the patterns of individual history and those of societal role prescriptions to emerge.


By working on “role transparency” it becomes possible to loosen “role fixations” and create freedom to choose new behaviours and forms of contact. This reveals how symptoms and blockages often become understandable and accessible as disturbances in relationships. Sociodrama enables access to social as the “living (=played) newspaper”. The role exchange helps to see the positions, topics, and conflicts, and hardened controversies more clearly. By, for example, putting oneself into the position of a foreign or hostile counterpart and experiencing its inner dynamics, this becomes understandable from its premises. Mutual dependencies and influences become visible, and one’s own position can be reflected upon more consciously and defined more clearly.


The origin of psychodrama

We owe the idea of psychodrama and an essential part of its practical development and theoretical foundation to Jakob L. Moreno.


“As a young doctor I founded the Stegreiftheater (1921) in Maysederstraße near the Vienna Opera. There it became clear to me what therapeutic possibilities lay in acting out, in the active structured acting out of mental conflict situations.” (Moreno in: Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama, 1959, p. 14)


As a pioneer of group psychology and group psychotherapy, Moreno, in his intuitively creative way of working, grasped many theoretical points of view which were then more clearly formulated and independently developed by other scientific directions and schools. Meanwhile, in modern psychodrama, the present models can be used for the various aspects of complex scenic work. The mobile variety of human forms of expression in action, play and language, as it is cultivated in psychodrama, eludes a global theory, but requires all the more the reflection with the help of the different theoretical perspectives. Thus, especially in psychodramatic work with symbols and in spontaneous play, unconscious contents come to light and can be reflected upon within the framework of depth psychological or psychoanalytical theories. In the play of everyday scenes and their variations (also into the future) psychodrama contains elements of practicing behavior; here learning-theoretical thinking can be included. The relational dynamics of “natural” groups, e.g. families, can be enacted and become the subject of systemic reflection.

Methods of psychodrama for adults

The human capacity for scenic play, for acting in roles, for representation in images and symbols is already evident in the original playfulness and imagination of children. In adults it often seems to have faded due to the overemphasis on linguistic expression and communication behavior, but it is easily stimulated again. A strength of psychodrama lies in the close connection of group and individual work in action, play and reflection. Psychodramatic work with individuals in protagonist-centered psychodrama and work with the group in group-centered psychodrama intertwine.


In the work with individuals, the development of the group is also promoted; the others are involved as co-players or experience the portrayed problems as observers. In working on group issues and group conflicts, whether in impromptu play or in sociometric form, each group member receives personal feedback about his or her significance and position in the group structure. In sharing, the mutual communication of one’s own feelings and experiences about a jointly experienced scene, the encounter of the individuals deepens. Modern psychodrama emphasizes the group’s capacity for creative design and problem solving by developing group cohesion and autonomy. It strives to have individuals assume as much personal and mutual responsibility as possible and to involve the group in leadership functions as appropriate. Psychodrama occupies an intermediate position in the spectrum of methods with many overlaps and touches. This facilitates the combination with other methods and sometimes complicates the demarcation.


Psychodrama belongs to the therapy and self-experience methods that consider emotional expression in different intensities to be important. It has a variety of well-tested action techniques and a developed praxeology, which until now has mostly been passed on in person and less in writing; this is changing in recent years, when psychodramatic work, which is scientific in the strict sense, is also increasing.


In the concrete or scenic work with physicality and psychosomatic issues, which can be conflict-centered and revealing as well as exercise-centered and more functional, the insights of various body-therapeutic methods are available. A special task of psychodramatic practice and research thus exists for the area of transition and intersection of different theoretical models, for the questions of their complementarity or incompatibility. The special possibilities of psychodrama lie in:


    plastic representation of individual, interpersonal and social problems,

    spontaneous action, free choice of roles and sociometry,

    integrating work with images, actions, physicality and language.


Psychodrama promotes creative cooperation and cohesion in the group in a special way. It opens scenic space for individuals to bring their imaginative and creative abilities into the intense reciprocity of the group and to experience their significance for the group.