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Here is the first comprehensive book on psychodrama, the experiential therapy rapidly gaining popularity with clinicians and treatment centers worldwide. Psychodrama is a powerful action method with very specific techniques that can be effective in reducing trauma, releasing pent-up emotions and learning new behavior.
Tian Dayton, one of the field's most respected practitioners, brings together a complete examination of the theory and practice of pyschodrama, directions for specific drama games and methods for applying the theory and games in the treatment of trauma and addiction.
It is through direct experience that we come to know ourselves. It is through full engagement in life that all our senses, feelings and thoughts come into play. Doing is knowing—what we do we come to know, and what we come to know is stored in our brains as our baseline of learning. We can talk about swimming, read books on the subject and learn strokes on dry land—but until we get into the water, we have no direct experience of swimming. So it is with life: until we do, we do not know.
Why should therapy be any different? Experiential therapy offers us a safe stage on which we can do and know, allowing our inner selves to come forward so that we can examine what we have accepted as true about a situation or ourselves. We often confine the idea of learning to a classroom setting; but from the point of view of how information is stored by the brain, all our life is a classroom. Often it is the emotional content of a given event or teaching that determines the impact of a particular learning experience.
Early learning forms the basis for later learning. What we accept as true about ourselves early in life becomes the foundation upon which we build the beliefs about ourselves that we carry into adolescence and adulthood. What we are told about ourselves while we are young, either through verbal messages or the emotional atmosphere, tends to form the beginnings of our own personal mythology.
The brain stores memories in clusters called cell assemblies, as interconnected or associated events. The activity of learning actually builds up and pares down cells, leaving a biological trail through the brain: in a period of from five to ten seconds, an event of one-half second has produced a structural or physical change in the brain. Not surprisingly, rich memories—the most colorful, the most ridiculous and the most painful—are those most likely to be recalled by the brain.
The high emotional content of traumatic events is a powerful learning experience, which in part accounts for the ease with which a person raised in a troubled family will turn to self-defeating behavior. A man may repeatedly become involved with women who leave him, or a woman may constantly, yet unconsciously, seek out abusive men. They are acting out the same old script, a script that is literally imprinted on the brain.
According to Daniel Alkon,
Individual brain cells, after repeated exposure to similar events, begin to react in the same fashion each time: In other words, they learn.
The human brain then starts to categorize and [to] group images, and then we use these complex sets to make abstractions. This process, created and reinforced in childhood, creates memories, which rarely go away. They may be hidden from the conscious mind, but they remain locked in the brain, waiting for a trigger to bring them to the surface.
Some adults suddenly "remember" vivid memories of childhood abuse, sometimes even after decades, while others develop new ways to hide from them. Theirs is akin to the stress syndrome experienced by soldiers who have survived the battlefield and by men and women who survived the horrors of the Holocaust. For many, bringing back the memories is too painful. Forgetting and inhibiting enables them to function. Sadly, unconsciously repeating destructive behaviors is part of the stress syndrome. Psychodrama offers people a way to change the self-defeating script, to reprogram old learnings through the creation of new experiences. Children under the age of twelve think in concrete rather than abstract forms according to Jean Piaget. Traumatized people tend to regress back to this thinking. Psychodrama is concrete operational so it provides a modality for accessing and working with experiences that occurred in these operational modes.
As human beings we live in space, time and circumstance. We take in information through all five senses. Many traumas are preverbal—experiences that occurred before we learned to express ourselves through speech. It is difficult to reach these wordless places and reflect upon them exclusively through the use of language. But when our bodies are engaged, we can move through the memory and show what happened rather than try to reconstruct it through words.
Psychodrama is inherently corrective: It creates an opportunity to do and say in the here-and-now what we could not do and say then, when it was too threatening or dangerous. Psychodrama allows an interior problem to surface, to be reconstructed and to be played out in the present moment, releasing the long-held feeling on both the psychic level and the cellular or body level. As children we may have been victims of our size, strength or position in the family, but as adults in a psychodrama we regain our autonomy and power by finally giving back the internalized pain to the source from which we received it. We can release the voiceless victim who lives within by allowing ourselves to speak. We can have the situation as we wish we could have had it to begin with, can say what we wish we had said and can do what we wish we had done.
When we "suspend our disbelief" in a psychodrama, we are doing more than entering a world of our creation: we are opening a door into our own unconscious, through which we can pass in either direction. We can reach out and make friends with the terrified child, the innocent baby, the playmate, the victim or the enemy that lives within. When we bring these parts of ourselves out into the open, they lose the hold on us they had in silence.
Psychodrama is a powerful action method with specific techniques. When used with care and with an overall treatment plan in mind, it can be very effective in helping clients to reduce trauma, release pent-up emotions and learn new behavior. It is a valuable tool for virtually all people in pain, and it is particularly well suited to people whose lives have been affected by addiction. In fact, during the 1980s experiential therapy became the therapy of choice in addiction facilities across the United States. Psychodrama can be incorporated into a variety of treatment situations, and its techniques can be used within other methods.
Psychodrama is not only a psychological tool; it can also work on the social, family and private rituals that connect the deeper self with the social self, the soul with the body. Such moments of transition, validation, bonding and deep connection are rites of passage—acknowledgment that the self is alive and awake.
For most Americans the idea of ritual is obscured by vague visions of ancient rites and elaborate ceremonies. We have, as a society, divested ourselves of cultural and family rituals, and thus may lack clear connection with our deeper selves, our spiritual paths, and the society in which we live. Our lack of meaningful ritual often causes us to reach for objects outside ourselves to achieve a sense of grounding; we seek a feeling of connectedness through mood-altering substances or through the brain-chemical high of compulsive behavior. Eventually, we may experience a spiritual crisis in which we lose our inner sense of being a part of something larger than ourselves.
Rituals in longstanding cultures are, in some sense, scripted psychodramatic events. We can use psychodrama in a similar way to ritualize or concretize an important passage, event or stage by naming it, setting the scene and moving through it in the way that we need to have it in order to mark the situation.
Psychodrama is one of the most flexible and adaptable treatment modalities in use today. The Drama Within makes psychodramatic theory and technique easily accessible to the therapist working experientially because it is simply laid out to help you adapt action techniques to your particular needs. You will find information, both instructive and cautionary, to help you direct psychodramas that are effective and safe.
Part I, Understanding Psychodrama, explores the history and theory of psychodrama—how it came to be, why it works. In Part II, Drama Games, you will learn step-by-step methods to safely structure drama games for a wide variety of clients and situations. Part III, Psychodrama In The Treatment Of Trauma And Addiction, addresses these issues directly and explores the growing use of experiential methods in the addictions field. The Glossary in the back of the book will help you become familiar with the terms used in this book.
I have tried to write the book that would have been helpful to me in my own process of demystifying experiential work. It is my sincere wish that it will be in some way helpful to you, the reader, along the way.
If you see him riding on a bamboo cane,
say to him, "Good health to your horse."
Psychodrama is a method of treatment that follows people into their inner reality, allowing them to describe it and work with it as they see it. Through dramatic action the psychodramatist brings long-buried situations to the surface to relieve emotional pressure, creates a "holding" environment through sharing, support and acceptance, and then allows the natural healing forces of the psyche and the emotional self to continue to work. Although the psychodramatic process has at times an almost magical quality, it is not mysterious at all. It taps into our innate healing forces, uses its method to release them, then backs up and trusts that we will continue movement in our daily lives. Thus healing is not confined to a clinic, but is an ongoing process.
We know that we feel better after a good cry. According to Joseph Cruse, first medical director of the Betty Ford Center, tears shed in grief actually have a different chemical makeup from tears shed in joy. Our bodies are constantly releasing chemicals that we use internally to calm ourselves, invigorate ourselves, numb our pain and reduce stress. When we cry out our pain, we are experiencing a chemical release and expelling enzymes from the body.
In much the same way, psychodrama provides a safe environment in which painful stored material can be released within a clinical structure. Feelings that have been jammed down so that they are out of sight, but never completely out of mind, float up to the present. Psychodramatic action acts as the trigger, and the feeling becomes the conduit toward the illumination of the material that needs to be examined. It not only releases the feeling, it also allows the feeling to draw from the unconscious the events that are stored in the psyche. The brain can then reexamine and repattern the structure of the memory that has come into consciousness. The feeling is the indicator of how the psyche experienced the event.
The beauty of exploring the emotion through action is that the emotion can surface as originally felt, and can be understood from that perspective first—before it is edited or reflected upon in any way. This is the process of joining and moving into a person's inner reality, of validating it as it exists within that person, with no attempt to manipulate it to conform to other people's perceptions. Psychodrama also allows for an intentional reconstruction of an event if so desired, i.e., reexperiencing it in a reformed or desired state as a corrective role play of the original event. This provides new learning of emotionally laden behavior on an experiential level. Psychodrama permits action and production as a means to study behavior in its concrete form. Behavior is stimulated when the psychological environment in which that behavior was learned reoccurs. There are many legendary anecdotes of a person having had a hard night's drinking and waking up with no memory whatsoever of the previous night's fun and games. But later, perhaps the next evening when he gets drunk again, his memories come flooding back. This phenomenon was tested by giving people a number of tasks to learn—some while they were under the influence of alcohol, and some while they were sober. It was found that what was learned after drinking alcohol was remembered best when again under its influence.
Psychodrama as a life-producing physical event, is elucidated by quantum mechanics which tells us that it is physically possible for something to come from nothing, to manifest temporarily in the here and now and then to fade away again. Indeed, this process happens over and over again in our living universe. All living events follow the process of manifestation and transformation which allows us to experience the psychodramatic event or moment as real, a true corrective for the original event because it is, in and of itself, real. Producing it with surrogates on a stage gives us the opportunity to suspend it in time—as Moreno says, to "study it in its concrete form." Also, to learn from it, to grow from it, to experience it as real. It is the tangible production of a psychic reality.
¬1994 Tian Dayton. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Drama Within by Tian Dayton, Ph.D. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.