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An introduction to Psychodrama

 One means of our creating a container by which we can briefly examine psychodrama theory would be by looking at the relationship that exists between our Thinking/Feelings/Bodies & Behaviors. In the center is Spirit, a concept that is perhaps more obvious in the creative arts therapies than in other disciplines. This appreciation of our spiritual dimension was imperative to J.L. Moreno.  

This introductory workshop is designed to look at ways we can use psychodrama and action methods to achieve and maintain appropriate and healthy equilibrium between our cognitive, emotional and physical or behavioral responses. When these aspects are all present, we have greater access to our spirituality and the deeper aspects of our humanity.   This article is designed to give an understanding of some of the basic terms, tools, and techniques that are a part of achieving this goal through psychodrama. 

As we explore the various levels of psychodrama, you will notice how often an area sub-divides into three related aspects of the one whole. In a psychodrama session, the psychodramatist continually works to balance these triune aspects. 

This balance becomes a means for helping group members achieve a deepened consciousness and connection with themselves and with the community around them. First, we will identify the resources necessary for a psychodrama. 


J.L. Moreno identified 5 key instruments necessary for a psychodrama. This information is from Moreno’s article on Psychodrama and Sociometry in Psychodrama Volume I.

 The Stage

  • This provides the arena for the action to occur. This setting can be a real location or a fantasy place. The stage provides safety through containment. In addition, it offers freedom by becoming a place where fantasy and reality can co-exist.

 The Protagonist

  • This is the person who is telling his or her story. Unlike an actor, who speaks from a defined script, a protagonist in psychodrama and sociodrama is allowed the spontaneity necessary to tell and develop his or her drama in the moment, through thoughts, emotions and actions.

 The Auxiliary Egos

  • Psychodrama values the interaction between group members as key to both healing the person and the other participants in the group. Since our hurts and injuries occur within the context of relationships, the reparative work is most effective when it occurs within the group setting.  The auxiliary egos are played by group members, who take the part of significant others in the drama.  Auxiliaries might also be disowned or wounded parts of the self.  At times, the auxiliaries can represent concrete objects [a chair, a bottle, an ocean] within the drama that have significance.

 The Director

  • The director acts as producer, counselor and analyst. She or he maintains contact with the protagonist, and facilitates the immediate action of the drama, as well as facilitating the transition to other scenes.  Through the tools of psychodrama, the director can offer insight or provide interpretations of the action.  A primary goal is for the director to work to maintain the equilibrium between mind/heart/body/and spirit during the action.

 The Group or the audience

  • The group members offer support and containment for the protagonist. They provide an anchor throughout the warm-up and action, and assist the protagonist in cooling down at the end of the enactment.  As psychodrama is primarily a method of group therapy, the members also have a commitment to use the drama to identify and speak to their common ground of shared issues. 

 In working to achieve a balance with the head, heart and body, the director can make use of a number of tools and techniques. Several of these can be used to advantage with any of these points on the triangle; some are particularly useful in accessing a specific perspective.


  • In doubling, an auxiliary ego, positions himself or herself to the side and slightly behind the protagonist. The double will usually take on the physical position of the protagonist, and is there to give voice to the underlying or unspoken thoughts, feelings or responses.  Most commonly, the double is used to help deepen affect.  However, well used, a double can also be used to expand the variety of feelings being experienced.  For instance, a double might bring anger in to a scene in which the protagonist is primarily aware of sadness, so that both feelings can be validated.  However, a double can also be used to increase the cognitive aspects of a drama.  Often referred to as a ‘containing double’ this can be particularly useful when an individual is ‘overheated’ in a drama, and needs to be more grounded.  Doubles often provide the protagonist with an increased feeling of safety, which is of critical importance when working with survivors of trauma.  Doubles can also bring in the somatic experiences, allowing the protagonist to become increasingly aware of his or her physical responses to the drama.


  • A mirror is a technique in which the director has an auxiliary ego temporarily assume the role of the protagonist within the drama. The protagonist is then allowed to step out of the scene, and view it from a distance.  The mirror frequently is very useful in accessing cognitive awareness, as the technique tends to increase the objectivity with which the protagonist views the scene.  Mirrors can nonetheless also help access feelings, particularly when the scene is intense.  They can provide safety, when the protagonist begins to shut down emotionally.  Mirroring is a valuable tool when working with sensitive themes, as a means of lowering the likelihood that a protagonist will be re-traumatized by events occurring within a drama.


  • Often spoken of as the ‘walk-and-talk’, the soliloquy is most commonly used at the beginning of the drama. The protagonist walks with the director, allowing the director, the protagonist and the group to warm up to the themes of the drama.  It is during this time that the protagonist will speak about his or her warm up, the issues to be addressed, and possibly begin to identify scenes or auxiliary egos for the drama.  The director will use the soliloquy to establish their contract, or the expected goals and directions that the drama will take.  Soliloquies can also occur during the drama, to give the protagonist a ‘time out’ to process the events.


  • An aside is a moment within the drama, in which the protagonist is able to say what his or her immediate thought or reaction is, without other auxiliaries responding to it. It can be useful as a tool to surface additional information or affect that might be underlying an interaction or which is too frightening or upsetting to say out loud.  Generally in an aside, the protagonist will turn her or his head, and make the internal statement to the director/group members, and then return to the action of the drama, but with this additional information not available for therapeutic intervention.


  • This is a tool for shifting an issue from a generality to a specific, or for taking metaphoric language, and increasing the intensity by focusing it in a physical action. Having someone/something represent the burden the protagonist is carrying would be an example of concretization.  Often concretizations help to access the physical aspects of a person’s experience, and make the drama more incarnate.

 There are many other tools and techniques available to the trained director for working to balance thinking/feeling/physical and behavioral elements of a drama.   In addition, there are several other perspectives from among which the director will choose, as she or he determines what will best serve the protagonist and the group during a specific psychodrama session.   These will be reviewed below.


Within the discipline of psychodrama, there are three distinct branches. While these branches can overlap within a psychodrama session, it may be worthwhile exploring the contribution of each of them individually.


  • The measurement of social/relational choices, focused on specific criteria.   Sociometry helps to identify and clarify the underpinnings of a group, in terms of the cohesion or lack of connection that affect participants.  It can be used as a warm-up or as a clarification of the group’s dynamics.  These can be measured through observations, in action, or through various pencil and paper sociometric tests.  Preferred criteria are non-judgmental and are criteria that can be acted upon.  Additionally, criteria are chosen which focus or reflect the group’s dynamics. Some forms of sociometry include spectrograms [measuring ambivalence or graduated reactions to the criterion] locograms [using space or location to determine choices or interests] and action sociograms [choices between individuals, made in action within the full group membership] 


  • An enactment in which a situation is explored through the focus of a single major role relationship. Sociodrama deals with the collective roles of a group or culture, and maintains the focus on this shared aspect, rather than on particular individuals.  It is the “group’s drama”, rather than restricted to any one specific person. As such, roles can be fluid, rather than remaining with one person.  Role playing is one common form of sociodrama.


  • The word psyche refers to the mind or mental life of the person. Drama, means action or a thing done.  Psychodrama is the science that explores the human experience through dramatic action.  In contrasting the different branches, a ‘traditional’ psychodrama would focus on a particular protagonist, and his or her story, as it is enacted within the session.


Each drama occurs on three levels. Typically, one level is dominant; however each level will usually be represented in the work that occurs.  One task of the director is to help the protagonist focus on which level is appropriate to the current need, and then maintain the focus and balance of the drama.  Attention to these dynamics prevents the drama from becoming too convoluted, or from blurring these levels in a manner that defeats the contract with the protagonist.


  • These are dramas that focus on the internal parts of ourselves. Such a drama might include accessing some of our inner strengths or in claiming parts of ourselves that we have disowned.  They might involve confronting our shame or anger, and letting go of destructive emotional baggage.  The intrapsychic dramas frequently look at shifting and re-integrating our internal structures in a manner that allows us more freedom and spontaneity within the moment.


  • These are dramas that focus on our relationships with others. Interpersonal dramas can involve relationships from the past, current relationships or future projections and the relationships which are ahead of us and yet to unfold.  Some of the goals of interpersonal dramas might include healing past wounds caused by our own behavior or by others.  We might want to develop greater empathy, or to view an earlier relationship thought the eyes of an adult, to gain insight that we couldn’t achieve when we were younger.


  • These are the dramas that move beyond the individual, and include encounters with our higher self, God as we understand God, or our Greater Truth. These dramas can occur when someone is focused on an issue much deeper than the immediate presenting problem, and can typically emerge out of psychodramas involving grief work, working to heal childhood traumas, HIV/AIDS work, forgiveness, spiritual and religious issues, or addiction and recovery themes.


When a drama is enacted, the action always occurs in the present moment.  It is important to keep the protagonist dealing with the situations as they are, not describing them as they were or as they might be.  Nonetheless, the scenes of the drama can emerge from any of three time periods.


  • These dramas can allow the protagonist to return to a scene of safety or comfort - to anchor a time of positive feelings. Or, the dramas can focus on some of the hurts or difficulties that occurred in the past.  By bringing the action into the here-and-now, the protagonist is freed up to deal with their current feelings and to access current resources which might not have been available during the original situation.  The director transports the past scene into the present moment, which can allow the protagonist to bring spontaneity to the situation, rather than simply having a person replaying a familiar but stale script.


  • Dramas that occur in the present may work with the protagonist’s immediate emotional response regarding events in their life: home, job or relationships. They can even address interpersonal issues within the psychodrama group.  Action methods might be used to facilitate encounters between members of a psychodrama group.  In any psychodrama, these issues are viewed not simply as involving two individuals, but also being a reflection of and impacting on the person’s larger social world or the group as a whole.  Therefore, through action, the group can become a resource for resolving these conflicts.  Likewise, sociodramas will frequently address the issues of the group as a whole, as they occur in the present moment.


  • In psychodrama, we can enact a future projection. This allows a person to move ahead to a time or event yet to be, and to explore the dynamics involved.  Future projections can often be used as a vehicle for role training with a protagonist, thereby allowing her or him to identify potential obstacles and to become more familiar and comfortable with the new, desired behavior.


Within the context of any psychodrama, there are three goals. When negotiating the contract between a protagonist and director, one or more of these goals will be identified and addressed.  These goals include:


  • Through psychodrama, we can reach a new understating of ourselves, our environment, or the patterns we play out in our daily lives. Insights can be cognitive, emotional, or somatic (body/action centered)


  • This is a release of pent- up or previously blocked emotion. A catharsis can include anger, tears or laughter.  Often in psychodrama, the catharsis of laughter is underrated, yet can be an important aspect of our healing journey.  More important than a catharsis of abreaction is the catharsis of integration, the point when we restructure our experience in a new and healthier manner.

Role Training and Development:

  • One of the powerful aspects of action methods is the ability to develop and practice new behaviors in situ, to test these behaviors out, and become more comfortable with new roles while working within the safety of the group. By actively practicing new behaviors, we develop through the three stages of role development:
  • role taking           
  • role playing
  • role creating

We move from initially observing modeled behavior in others and imitating their behaviors, through a period of exploring variations of particular behaviors as they are more effective or satisfying to integrating it within ourselves, each level exhibiting an increased spontaneity. 


Continuing to examine psychodrama through a triune theme, each individual session would include three specific parts. Each of these three parts works in sequence to facilitate the group in creating a healing moment for all participants.


  • The warm-up occurs at the beginning of a session. This is an opportunity for the members to become familiar with one another and the space.  During this time, the director can listen as individuals share, seeking out the common ground and the developing energy within the session.  At other times, the director might choose to bring in a structured warm-up, an exercise or action structure that will help members to focus on particular issues or themes.


  • The enactment is the part of the session in which the protagonist is chosen, and the group begins the development of the drama, as it grows scene by scene. During the enactment, the protagonist will choose certain group members to become auxiliary egos.  The director will employ various means to help warm up the auxiliary egos to their roles, and will facilitate the action as it occurs.  In a drama, it is important to note that the principles of warm-up continue to be respected.  A drama begins at the periphery and moves towards the core of the matter, as the protagonist and auxiliary egos warm up to their roles, to each other, and to the issue at hand.


  • The last phase of a psychodrama is the sharing. Following the enactment, the protagonist rejoins the group, and members share with the protagonist how the drama has affected them, particularly how parts of their own story parallel the drama.  It is important to keep the group at a sharing level, rather than processing or interpreting the drama.  This maintains the drama as a group modality, and allows both the protagonist and the auxiliaries to reestablish their identity as members of this group.  The sharing is also a time, when auxiliary egos will de-role from the drama, both through their sharing, and through the facilitation of the director.  (In a training group, members may process a drama after the sharing is completed, as this experience also becomes a part of their learning.)

In each of the categories discussed above, the director will assess and determine the dominance of a particular aspect of the drama – will it be primarily a drama form the past, present or the future projection. The underlying goal is to provide both the protagonist and the group with an opportunity to meet the goals and objectives identified during the warm up and the contract between the protagonist and the director.  As a form of therapy that has ready access to our cognitive, emotional and somatic world, it can be a powerful healing experience for participants.  In seeking competent clinical or supervisory psychodramatic services, a client ought to be aware of the credentialing process involved in certification within this field.


Certification is granted through a national certifying body, the American Board of Examiners in Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Psychotherapy. The ABE is a separate and distinct group from the ASGPP [American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama], which is the membership organization. 

Certified Practitioner: CP

  • This level designated individuals who have met the required education and subsequent ABE approved psychodrama training, and supervision, and who have passed both a written examination and on-site observation.

Practitioner Applicant for Trainer: PAT

  • These individuals have already received their CP certification, and have formally been accepted into training to become certified trainers. Individuals seeking CP level certification can receive up to 160 training hours from an approved PAT.

Trainer, Educator, Practitioner: TEP

  • These individuals have completed their PAT process, and have passed both a written and on-site examination with the Board of Examiners. They are approved to provide supervision and training in psychodrama to all CP candidates.


SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY:       Psychodrama, Sociodrama and Sociometry

Blatner, Adam.  ACTING-IN: Practical Applications of Psychodramatic Methods   Springer Publishing Company, Inc. New York   1973 (Good basic text)

Blatner, Adam.   FOUNDATIONS OF PSYCHODRAMA: History, Theory and Practice   Springer Publishing Company, New York   1988

Cossa, Mario, with Fleishchmann, Grover, and Hazelwood,   ACTING OUT: The Workbook   Accelerated Development Publishing   1996   (Action methods and adolescents, includes some exercises)

Fuhlrodt, Robert L. (editor)   PSYCHODRAMA: It’s Application to ACOA and Substance Abuse Treatment.   Thomas W. Perrin, Inc.  East Rutherford, NJ   1990

Gershoni, Jacob (editor) Psychodrama in the 21st Century- Clinical and Educational Applications    Springer Publishing Co. Inc. New York,  2003

Moreno, J.L.  The Essential Moreno, (editor - Jonathan Fox)   Springer Publishing Company,   New York   1987

Sternberg, Patricia and Garcia, Antonina.   SOCIODRAMA:  Who’s In Your Shoes?  Praeger Publishers, New York   1989   (Excellent basic text on Sociodrama, includes some warm ups at the end of the book) – This is the website for the American Board of Examiners in Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Psychotherapy. guidelines for training, lists of trainers and psychodramatists in your area. – the national membership organization.  It has a calendar, library, and a number of resources for learning more about the field.

© copyright March 2000

Revised May 2007


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