While individual counselling and psychotherapy remains an important form of counselling, group counselling is also considered to be a powerful source of therapy. Many professionals consider it to be even more powerful than individual counselling. One of the most popular and powerful forms of group counselling is Psychodrama, created in the mid-1930s by J. L. Moreno and later developed by his wife, Zerka Toeman Moreno. It is primarily an action approach to group therapy in which clients explore their problems through role playing, enacting situations using various dramatic devices to gain insight, discover their own creativity, and develop behavioural skills. The basic premise of this school is that some aspects of the mind cannot be adequately accessed through words. Some feelings are best expressed through action, interpersonal interaction, or imagery, and improvisational theatre can provide a channel for understanding and healing in this context.
The highlight of this approach is that the scenes are played as if they were occurring in the here-and-now, even though they might have their origins in a memory or an anticipated event. Of the many techniques that are available to the group therapist, also called as the psychodrama director, we present 3 most important and commonly used techniques:
1. Self-Presentation: In the self-presentation technique, the client, who in psychodrama parlance, is referred to as the protagonist, gives a self-portrait to introduce the situation. Let us say that in the group Suresh wants to explore his relationship with his wife, Aisha. The group is interested in this and wants to have it enacted. The director (group leader) has Suresh stand up and come onto the stage area, and they begin to establish a scene in which Suresh interacts with Aisha. Suresh picks someone from the group to be the one playing his wife. Suresh states the problem as he sees it, and the director helps to translate the narrative into an action so that “talking about” becomes “show us how you and your wife interact.”
2. Role Reversal: Role reversal, considered one of the most powerful tools of psychodrama, involves looking at oneself through another individual’s eyes. In role reversal the protagonist takes on the part of another personality portrayed in his or her drama. For example, as in the example mentioned above, Suresh will switch roles and now play the role of his wife, Aisha while the member from the group who was playing Aisha will now play the role of Suresh. As a technique, it can have two effects on the protagonist and the rest of the members of the group: (1) helps the protagonist better portray how he or she imagines or remembers the other personality, and (2) helps one with a fuller understanding of the viewpoint or situation of the other. In other words, by consciously taking the viewpoint of the other person, the protagonist, and others, is empowered to build understanding and empathy.
3. The Empty Chair: is another very important technique in psychodrama. This technique is popular and effective (when used rightly, of course) that it is used by several practitioners in both group and individual counselling. Here, using two empty chairs, the client is asked to visualise the person that s/he would like to talk to and is encouraged to verbalise his/her feelings without having to filter as would have been the case in real life. Once done, the client is then asked to switch the chair and respond as if the other person would have responded. It is also used when the therapist would like the client to have a conversation with the 2 different sides of himself/herself. For instance, if Abdul complains of feeling contradictory feelings of superiority and inferiority, the therapist will ask Abdul to sit on the chair and have a conversation with the superior side of him and then switch.
We hope that this brief glimpse of what a group counselling session with a psychodrama therapist might hold in store for you. It is definitely a challenging process as it requires an individual to go beyond their comfort zones and is definitely a break away from the conventional ‘talk’ therapy.