The future of Psychodrama
begins with its past
     The future of the contemporary teaching and practice of psychodrama may depend on its capacity to expand its language and investigations to include:

1) greater integration and reinterpretation of ancient and traditional aboriginal healing rituals which use experiential processes to achieve altered physical, mental, emotional and chemical states; and

2) integrating the study of neurology and neurophysiology in the context of our neurological connection with (and therefore our mind's ability to affect) physiological and biological processes. 

      Advances in these and other fields in the past two decades have opened the world of Psychodrama to new levels of application which have yet to be fully explored.

  Harold Finkleman's 'Future of Psychodrama' workshop was first presented as a Continuing Education Workshop for the International Council of Psychologists' Annual Conference (1999) and qualified attendees for four Professional Continuing Education Credits as approved by the ICP and the American Psychologists' Association. 

     The Continuing Education Credit workshop was based upon Finkleman's insistance that Psychodrama as it was adopted from the works of J.L. Moreno was a 'practice' but not a 'science'. The new-knowledge thesis was that for Psychodrama to evolve into a true science it would have to include on one side the traditional medicine man's act of becoming and on the other side integrate the psychodramatic sphere of neurology as introduced in the works of P.V. Simonov. 


After Finkleman's paper on the subject was adopted by the ICP as a workshop, it was published as a chapter in the University text 'Its All About Relationships' (Pabst 2002) Dr. Anna Laura Comunion and Dr. Uwe P Gelen, Editors. The chapter is titled 'Psychodynamic Frontiers -- counselling, healing and the Medicine Man's bundle

'The Future of Psychodrama'

     We take our first first steps to broaden discussion on the evolution of the science by defining or re-defining three (3) styles or 'opportunities' of Psychodrama:

1    ‘Psychodrama' – Encounter, enactment or reenactment of selected events or experiences to achieve "experiential" analytical and therapeutic advantages. 

2    'Psychodramatic Analysis' -- Using primarily the observation and practical reenactment of selected events -- to stimulate reflection, discussion and interaction -- mostly employing puppetry, directing, storytelling and other mediums of communication and expression; sometimes includes exchanging roles.

3    'Psychodramatic Therapeutics' or PDT -- The treatment of emotional disturbances through direct manipulation of the rhythms, pitch and volume of the 'voice' (or inner-monologue) in the patient's mind, often with appropriate corresponding physical processes. This may call upon or combine techniques for visualization, meditation or even hypnotherapy. Often includes an “act of becoming” another person, creature or even object or event.

     The first two approaches are the most common, the latter -- PDT -- is the new one on the block and, along with shamanic and many traditional cultural approaches, creates a foundation for the new opportunities afforded the world of psychodrama.

Psychodramatic Therapeutics

    The first public/academic introduction to Psychodramatic Therapeutics in North America was in a workshop at a 1970 Canadian federal government sponsored conference -- Milieu 70 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The specific workshop introduced and examined the work of neurophysiologist and scientist Dr. P. V. Simonov of Moscow's Academy of Science, an internationally celebrated authority on brain process, neurochemistry and behavior. For decades his work had been mostly shut off from study in the West, a circumstance blamed on the Cold War policies of the American government. Simonov was the first neurologist to examine and expand upon psychotherapeutic opportunities in the cross-over between works of Russian thespian and director Constantin Stanislavsky 1863-1938 and the works of neurophysiologist Ivan Pavlov 1849 - 1936.  

    Stanislavky wanted his actors to achieve new heights of "becoming" their characters through rigorous mind-body processes. On the other side of the formula: Pavlov wanted to better understand how the mind linked electrochemically to the body in a 'whole' system. Together, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, their efforts gave birth to what is now known as the Theory of Psychophysical Action -- sometimes credited to Stanislavsky and sometimes to Pavlov.

    It works like this: If you combine the complex 'inner monologue' -- inner voice complete with the inherent rhythms, pitch, volume and tone -- of the person you are attempting to become, with the physical processes, gestures, activities and emotional (body and mind) attitudes and 'intent' appropriate to that character in his or her circumstance, you will ‘become’ that character.

    According to the Theory of Psychophysical Action, this inner voice or ‘inner monologue’ has its own personality with variable volume (louder or softer), pitch (higher or lower) and pace or rhythm (faster or slower) which manifest a state-of-mind. 

    The Winnipeg workshop featured a survivor of schizophrenia who was using inner monologue exercises developed by Simonov's students to maintain a level of mental and emotional stability through focused self-awareness.

    Today, PDT (psychodramatic therapeutics) offers opportunities for therapists to create theoretical models of a patient's inner monologue. E.g.: a manic individual may have a loud, high pitched and rapid inner monologue which leaves little opportunity or room for outside input to penetrate; a paranoiac might have a very hushed, low pitched and slow paced inner monologue which invites (even recruits) outside input, thereby permitting delusions to be created in an otherwise seemingly empty and vulnerable environment. While these models may only be theoretical, therapists can use them as a base upon which to better understand their clients and take the first concrete steps in building a practical non-invasive therapeutic (art therapy anyone?) opportunity.

    Often in PDT, the psychologist acts as a 'director'. Sometimes the director will not even be a therapist -- instead, be a facilitator, working their craft in conjunction with therapists and begin by teaching participants the Stanislavsky Method. The patients would be told they are being taught the approach "in order for everyone to do the best performance possible." 

     Through otherwise simple exercises, the pitch, rhythm and volume of the individual's own natural inner monologue make themselves evident. Therapists or directors/facilitators can then offer individuals the opportunity to play roles which 'exercise' and ‘stretch’ the range, volume and focus of the inner voice to break it loose from where it may be stuck and to help it to where it is more supportive of the patient's well being.

    Dr. Simonov was the first scientist to popularly describe The Stanislavsky Method as a “concrete means of conscious influence on neuroses” which by definition cannot be influenced by direct effort of will. His work should inspire thespians, art therapists and psychologists with interest in Psychodrama to reinvestigate the opportunities. This work must credit him with inspiring or inventing Psychodramatic Therapeutics because its language and opportunities emanate from his writings. Certainly he was the first scientist with the credentials to combine an understanding of the diverse disciplines required to scientifically affirm the opportunities.


An Aboriginal (First Nations) Model

The following is a brief example of the contemporary use of a traditional approach to PDT ... known more popularly as "the act of becoming":

To treat Bill -- a physically abusive alcoholic who has demonstrated his serious desire for change -- a tribal shaman assigned him responsibility of “becoming” a grouse in a ceremonial Chicken Dance. The role was important. The tribal practice is to earn the presence of birds. It is believed the birds will be plentiful and accept sharing themselves with the tribe only if the tribe showed that it was “family” to the birds. Someone in the tribe would have to become a grouse -- a bird active on the ground. Bill must become that grouse. Bill understands what is needed, but resists -- he is struggling with his own current life challenge. Although he had his own dance costume and gear with him, he named two competition dancers who could do a better dance, but the shaman has other plans. (Bill is voluntarily sleeping on his front porch until he feels he is truly ready to settle back in to his family without alcohol, without anger, and without violence. He has admitted to his problem, resigned himself to his struggle and accepted his challenge.)

This ceremony, at first, seems at once both distracting and an impossible task. To become a grouse, Bill will have to do everything a grouse would do and think -- everything a grouse will be thinking. Not a real-time simulation, but a real-time experience.

Bill will have clear his mind of personal involvements of his human habits and human experience and focus on the mind and experience of the grouse. Supported by a team of ten drummers sitting around their four foot diameter two foot high drum, Bill begins rhythmically scratching the ground to uncover seeds and activate bugs and worms for food, simultaneously using his eyes, nose and ears to stay aware of predators and keep alert to the (hopefully) protected location of the hen and chicks. To do this Bill must truly clear his mind of Bill-the-alcoholic and maintain that constant state of unselfish focus while he searches for more food for his hen and chicks.

Five minutes then ten minutes of dancing go by and the process gets intense. Amidst this he will wail out to his fellow grouse and tell them how he welcomes his life as a bird and celebrates his life as a bird and therefore helps them to celebrate their lives.

At each stage of this exhausting process, Bill must more and more let go of the old Bill and fill his mind with the rhythm, thoughts and purpose of the grouse.

It is important for Bill to not merely to simulate this actiovity ... but to embody the experiences and ‘become’ the bird. The shaman will tell you that birds, after all, feel the thoughts of their brothers and can distinguish ‘real’ from ‘mimic’. To be ‘real’ requires Bill to ‘shed’ Bill-the-abuser and shed Bill-the-alcoholic and become one with nature around him at the deepest inner level. Every thought, every motion, every breath is whole, practical and purposeful and part of the experience of the bird. All else is let go. Every breath gently ends with listening and concern for the family.

After 15 or 20 minutes the dancing reaches a new high, the drummers are singing and the energy changes. It is the act of becoming -- becoming a clear, successful and worthy creature of the forest. It is a holistic or wholistic embodied experience of becoming -- or re-becoming. We have seen it on television as a shaman becomes a snake so convincingly that every vibration, every smell was so much like a snake that he or she can pass through a pit of snakes and either be recognized as a snake or be invisible to them. This is similar, except the medicine men want Bill to be seen and convince the birds that humans are actually family to the birds and it is safe for the birds to be among the humans and, as such, the birds will be accessible to the tribe.

As quickly as the dance starts, the drumming, singing and dancing stop and all that is left is a strange almost hollow echo in the forest, the crackling of a small fire and gentle rustling of a few leaves in the trees.

It is an intense ritual when done right. It is helpful to the tribe. As a therapeutic event it has proven impactful in helping individuals advance in their personal health and awareness, including dealing with and overcoming the trauma of alcohol and drug addiction.

The particulart event used as our example and detailed above, was punctuated by one of the old medicine men (who had permitted us to attend) walking Bill back to a tipi. At the entrance to the tipi the old man paused and looked back to make sure we could hear him say to Bill (we are paraphrasing here) "If (our champion chicken-dancer) Okan would have danced tonight it would have been okay. But you showed up. That was important. You danced hard and let go of the worst of yourself, and the best of yourself -- the real you -- became that grouse ... and I know the Creator saw and I could feel him say this was big medicine."

An opening   


Outside Sciences Contribute to Progress

The inclusion of emerging sciences and inclusion or reinstatement of traditional or even ancient sciences is pushing forward the fields of

  • movement psychology (gesture, body language, energetics, etc) ... read everything you can about Movement Psychologist Dr Stuart Heller, often known as Dr Move;
  • communication psychology (semiotics, context, psychodynamics, etc);
  • transpersonal psychology (spiritual connectiveness and associations) look up Dr. Beth Hedva;
  • ... as well as psychodrama.
While facets of many sciences are consciously, randomly, serendipitously, unconsciously or coincidentally employed in psychodrama, sciences collectively have taken significant (often unpublicized) recent strides. It is time to use the new opportunities and employ psychodrama practically in many facets of life and society.

Copyright 1999  Harold Finkleman, Calgary, Canada