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Jacob Levy Moreno's psychodrama: what is it?

Jacob Levy Moreno's psychodrama: what is it?

November 21, 2022

Since it began to popularize in Europe and the United States during the beginning of the 20s, Jacob Levy Moreno's psychodrama has caught the attention of many people and.

It is possible that this is due, in part, to the striking nature of the psychodrama sessions: a group of people who seem to represent a play based on improvisation. However, Levy Moreno he conceived these sessions as a psychotherapy tool based on assumptions that go beyond the simple desire to spend an entertaining time. Let's see what is the theory on which the psychodrama is based and how it shapes the sessions in which it is used.

Who was Jacob Levy Moreno?

The creator of psychodrama was born in Bucharest in 1889 in the bosom of a Sephardic Jewish family. Some years after settling in Vienna in 1915, Levy Moreno started an initiative based on theatrical improvisation, which would give way to a psychotherapeutic proposal that he called psychodrama. Psychodrama was based on the idea that expressing oneself through spontaneity and improvisation supposed a kind of liberation through creativity, which had to do with their own subjective experiences through unplanned dramatizations.


In addition, Moreno studied Medicine at the University of Vienna, and there he came into contact with the ideas of psychoanalytic theory , which was gaining acceptance in Austria during the first half of s. XX. Although the father of psychodrama rejected many of Sigmund Freud's assumptions, psychoanalysis had a marked influence on his thinking, as we shall see. In the same way, he experimented with a type of intervention that could be considered a primitive form of mutual help group.

In the year 1925 Levy Moreno moved to the United States of America, and From New York he began to develop both psychodrama and other elements related to the study of groups , such as sociometry. He also theorized about forms of group psychotherapy in general, starting from a heterodox perspective that rejected determinism and extolled the role of improvisation. After spending a good part of his life developing methods of group therapy, he died in 1974 at the age of 84.


What is psychodrama?

To begin to understand what psychodrama is and what goals it is intended to achieve through it, let's first review its appearances: the way in which one of its sessions is developed. To understand minimally what we will see below it is only necessary to understand two things: that the psychodrama sessions are in groups, but that the psychodrama does not seek to address problems expressed by a group, but that the presence of many people is used to intervene in the problems of individuals, in turns.

A) Yes, in each moment there is a clear protagonist, which is to whom the session should be oriented , while the rest of the people are members who help in the realization of the session and who, at some point, will also be the protagonists of their own psychodrama.

These are the phases of a psychodrama session:

1. Heating

In the first phase of the psychodrama session, a group of people meet and the person who dynamizes the act encourages others to perform exercises to break the ice . The goal of warming is to make people uninhibited, become aware of the start of the session and be more predisposed to express themselves through actions that in another context would be bizarre.


2. Dramatization

The dramatization is the core of the psychodrama sessions . In this, one of the people who attends the group is chosen, and this explains a little what problem has made him attend the session and what is the autobiographical background that is associated with it. The person who directs the session tries to make the protagonist of the dramatization phase explain the way in which he perceives this problem in the present, rather than try to remember exactly the details of it.

After this the dramatization begins, in which the protagonist is helped by the rest of the group members, who play a role, and all improvise scenes related to the problem to be treated. However, this representation does not follow a fixed script, but is based on improvisation supported by very few guidelines on what the scene should be. The idea is not to faithfully reproduce scenes based on reality, but to offer a similar context in certain essential points; then we will see why.

3. Group Echo

In the last phase, t All the people involved in the representation explain what they have felt , the way in which acting has caused them to evoke past experiences.

The foundations of psychodrama

Now that we have seen what basically consists of a typical session of psychodrama, let's see on what principles it is based, what is the philosophy behind it. For this, first of all we must start from the concept of catharsis, explained first by the philosopher Aristotle, as a phenomenon by which the person understands himself better after having experienced a work that represents a series of events. This was very applicable to the theatrical dramatizations, in which almost always there was a climax that sought to arouse intense emotions in the spectators and offer an outcome that represents a process of emotional liberation.

For Jacob Levy Moreno, the idea behind the therapeutic potential of psychodrama was that it allowed catharsis to go from being secondary, experienced by the spectator, to being an active catharsis, experienced by protagonists of dramatizations.

The theory of Spontaneity-Creativity

And why was this form of catharsis supposed to be better? This idea was based on the theory of Spontaneity-Creativity , according to which creative responses to unforeseen situations is the best mechanism to discover new solutions to old problems that remain entrenched for a long time.

In other words, the inability to see beyond the mental path to which we have become accustomed to analyze a problem must be broken by participation in unforeseen situations. In this way, the process of emotional liberation is born of a creative and spontaneous fact , something more significant for oneself than a fiction seen from outside the work. For this creative catharsis to occur it is not necessary to reproduce past experiences with accuracy, but rather to make the session evoke elements that the protagonist believes are significant and are related to the conflict to be dealt with.

The relationship between psychodrama and psychoanalysis

The link between the psychodrama of Jacob Levy Moreno and the psychoanalytic current is based, among other things, on the implication that there is an unconscious instance of the mind of people, and another conscious.

Some problems are fixed in the unconscious part, causing the conscious part to suffer the symptoms of this without being able to get access to its origin. That is why the problems that are tried to approach from the psychodrama are conceived as "conflicts". This word expresses the clash between conscious and unconscious : one part contains representations related to the origin of the problem and struggles to express them, while the conscious part wants the symptoms that produce the unconscious's attempts to express what it contains to disappear.

For Moreno, Psychodrama allows the symptoms of the problem to be reproduced by the acts themselves guided by the conscious part of oneself; In some way, the problem is reproduced, but this time the process is oriented by consciousness, allowing this to take control of the conflict that remained blocked and integrate them into their personality in a healthy way.

Psychoanalysis also pursued the goal of blocked experiences emerging into consciousness in a systematic way so that the patient could re-interpret and appropriate them. However, Jacob Levy Moreno did not want this task to be based solely on the reinterpretation of something, but rather pointed out the need for the process to also involve the participation of the whole body through movements that are performed during role playing on a stage.

The effectiveness of psychodrama

Psychodrama is not part of therapeutic proposals that have scientifically proven efficacy , which makes the skeptical community in health psychology not consider it an effective tool. On the other hand, the psychoanalytic foundations on which it rests have been rejected by the epistemology on which scientific psychology relies today.

To some extent, psychodrama focuses on both subjective experiences and the processes of meaning that are said to your results can not be measured in a systematic and objective way. However, critics of this perspective point out that there are ways to take into account the effects that any psychotherapy has on patients, however subjective the problem to be treated.

This does not mean that psychodrama continues to be practiced, as is the case with family constellations, whose sessions may resemble those of Jacob Levy Moreno's classic psychodrama. That is why, faced with problems related to mental health, we opt for alternatives with proven efficacy in different types of problems, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.


Jacob Moreno Psychodrama Video (November 2022).


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