THE NEW NORMAL: Social Atoms Meet the Stages of Change

If the nineteenth century looked for the ‘lowest’ common denominator of mankind, the unconscious, the twentieth century discovered, or rediscovered its ‘highest’ common denominator - spontaneity and creativity.”                        Who Shall Survive, 

From a psychodrama perspective, there is a frequent and ongoing demand for spontaneity, using JL Moreno’s definition: “Spontaneity operates in the present, now and here; it propels the individual towards an adequate response to a new situation or a new response to an old situation.” Who Shall Survive 

Many of you are familiar with the Stages of Change. (Prochaska, Norcross, DiClemente)  However, change is unlikely to occur in a vacuum. Therefore, it is more effective to view concrete dynamics of change within a larger social perspective. Psychodrama offers us a wonderful tool for juxtaposing change and relationships – the Social Atom.

People continue to talk about ‘The New Normal’ yet what we are really dealing with amidst COVID-19 pandemic is managing rapid and frequent change.

(For those not familiar with the social atom or the stages of change, there are articles on the Social Atom from a previous presentation on my website )

One of our goals in this presentation is to find an interface between the Social Atom and the Stages of Change.

• No movement towards change.
• The individual could be oblivious or in denial regarding an area of change.
• They might have several failures at change and have given up hope for a different outcome.
• Expect defensiveness, externalizing blame or responsibility.
• Direct confrontation tends to be less effective.
• Unlikely to observe change in isolation.

• Who can observe, or help you observe your behaviours with compassion?
• Who helps you believe change is possible?
• Who (living or dead) might sabotage or undermine change? Whether unconsciously or intentionally
• Who can help you identify what is capable of change and what is outside your control?
• What are your strengths – internal or interpersonal- that can be drawn of during this stage of change?

• The individual is reflective, but not yet ready for change.
• This is a time of gathering information
• This is often a period of strong ambivalence.
• Defenses are lessened.

• Help the individual examine both excitement and fear as part of change.
• Help the individual role train for the change he or she desires.
• Examine ambivalence through enactment of various perspectives.
• What are costs and benefits of changing? Of remaining the same?
• What is the impact on your social atom if you change? If you do not change?

• Another level of warm-up; important to not rush into action without thought.
• A time of identifying resources, both internal, external, transpersonal.
• Identify markers in the path of change.
• Create manageable and realistic goals.
• A time to set deadlines or dates for initiating change.

• Work on fostering healthy warm-up:
o Creating a safe place for role expansion and role training.
o Future projections.
o Building healthy sociometry that promotes change.
• Listen for and work with metaphors: a journey, climbing a mountain, stepping into the dark, climbing a ladder...
• What awakens your anticipation and enthusiasm?
• Who helps you clarify what you can reasonably accomplish?
• Who is our strongest advocate for change?

• Typically, an individual’s change makes demands for change in the larger social atom.
• It often takes a high level of energy to shift from planning to action.
• This is often a time when individuals experience internal reactions at facing their learning curve.

• Authentic change is seen in the catharsis of integration, not the catharsis of abreaction.
• Identify elements that can self-sabotage healthy change:
o Internal Critic
o Perfectionism
• A powerful time to engage in role training, exploring and learning with safety.
o With recovery issues, role train new activities to substitute for addictions.
• Concretize strengths and resources for the individual.

• This is not a static position, in embodies integration and role creation.
• The new behavior is becoming the ‘default’ position.
• Individuals can become nostalgic or homesick for the old, familiar patterns.
• Deeper issues can begin to emerge:
o What did my perfectionism cover?
o What was hiding/avoided through my passivity?
• How well are those in my social atom adjusting to the changes I am making?

• Concretize resources:
o Who helps you consolidate positive aspects of change?
o Who supports and nourishes new roles you are establishing?
• How can you help the individual navigate and support a changing social atom?
• Role training situations that jeopardize these new, preferred changes.

• Relapse into old behaviors is common symptom/experience in process of change.
• Hopelessness at failure can putt individual back to pre-contemplation stage.
• Can we explore lapse as a learning moment, rather than a shaming one?
• Can we explore our lapse chain so we can make an appropriate intervention/response?

• Doubling self-compassion helps an individual learn rather than become self-deprecating.
• Develop spontaneity – finding more adequate response to the lapse than was in the initial planning.
• Help individual explore sociometry – who is still a support, who is blaming or shaming you?
• Does the individual need additional role training?

We rarely change in a vacuum. Moreno said the smallest human unit is two or more. So, let’s consider Ways to integrate these two tools with clients or for your own personal reflection and growth:

Invite individuals to think about one specific area in which they are in a process of change. Be specific and concrete. Where do you see yourself within the stages of change, for this specific area/issue?

Using social atom, outline the Circle or Triangle representing yourself in one color. This will help you maintain the focus of this as YOUR social atom.

Consider one or two individuals who might be your best supports for engaging in that stage of change. Remember, in another stage (for the same issue, or other changes), you might be choosing different auxiliaries… Outline or fill in their shape with a second color.

Are there any individuals that might block, undermine inhibit or deflect from these changes? Outline or fill them in using a third color.
• Remember, we are complex entities; I might want you to sober up, but that could also mean sacrificing some of the power I’ve welded while you were less functional. I might really want to support you in changing your employment goals, but that might also make demands for change on my part as well.
• Inhibitions can be conscious or unconscious – remember when we change, we make role demands on the others in our social atom

Look at those you identified, either as a support or as an inhibition to a concrete area of change. Take time for yourself (or with your client) to role reverse into one of those individuals. Trust your intuition which person would be the helpful role reversal at this time.

BE patient as you warm up to move into this individual’s role. Staying in role, take 5-8 minutes to write a note to yourself, regarding the potential change that is being considered.  Keep this time brief; the goal is to access spontaneity and creativity, not become caught up in a 'good report'.

When completed, it is important to hear the letter out loud.  You might read it to a client or have an individual read it aloud. Have them sit/stand/move from the reversed role so that they can both speak and hear the content.

Allow time to process this experience.

This workshop was developed for the Mid-Atlantic Collective of ASGPP, and presented on May 16, 2020

Stephen Kopp, TEP
copyright 2020


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