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What is Psychodrama?

Within a group setting, the psychodrama director chooses you to be the protagonist for the day. You describe a problem you’re currently having with your older sibling. Based on your narrative of the situation, the director works with you and some of the group members to assign particular roles to them.

The group members then become characters, such as your sibling and your anger, who aid you in acting out the scene you’ve presented. The remaining group members act as the audience who observe your very own psychodrama!

How Psychodrama Works

The founder of psychodrama, Dr. Jacob Moreno, believed that responding to an issue in the moment and with a willingness to improvise led to the most creative solutions. Therapist Izzy Wilkinson describes the spontaneity that is central to psychodrama this way:

“We start the drama with a specific goal in mind – for example, reducing shame or being more authentic with feelings–but sometimes the goal changes depending on what comes up for the client in the moment– I have found that this approach is empowering to clients because they get to choose where it leads.”

Psychodrama takes place in various settings, but typically involves eight to 12 group members who meet weekly for 90 minutes to two hours. As noted above, each psychodrama is based on one individual member’s life situation, and a trained psychodrama director facilitates the session. A session may include three phases.

The warm-up phase helps group members get to know each other and build trust and emotional safety, since they’ll be acting out roles in each other’s lives. During the warm-up phase, participants may take on a certain role to introduce themselves, such as that of a friend or family member who knows them well.

In the second phase, or action phase, the protagonist, with the director’s assistance, creates a scene based on a significant event in their life. The focus may be on a present or past situation, a dream, or preparation for a future event. Some common methods during this phase include:

  • Mirroring: The protagonist first acts out an experience. They then step out of the scene and observe while a group member steps into their role and portrays them. This practice can help a protagonist come into contact with emotions that have been difficult to name and face.
  • Role reversal: The protagonist takes on the role of someone important in their life. This technique can help them better understand the other person’s role and develop empathy for that person.
  • Doubling: A group member takes on the protagonist’s behavior and movements, saying aloud any emotions or thoughts that they think the protagonist may be experiencing. This method can help the protagonist become aware of thoughts or feelings they haven’t been able to express, as well as give them the opportunity to correct any actions or parts of the scene that don’t feel like an accurate representation.
  • Soliloquy: The protagonist expresses to the audience their inner thoughts and feelings. This method helps build their self-knowledge.


During the third and final sharing phase, the director facilitates the group’s processing of the scene. By discussing the events that took place in the action phase, group members gain new insights into their issues and have the opportunity to explore how the psychodrama impacted them.

Through psychodrama, group members figure out how to resolve problems and practice new life skills and behaviors.

When to Use Psychodrama

Most of the findings on psychodrama are from anecdotal experiences rather than empirical research. Clinicians have found psychodrama to be effective with individuals who have a hard time naming and expressing their emotions, as well as those who have trouble containing strong emotions. It also helps people address:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Grief and loss
  • Trauma
  • Autism
  • Eating disorders
  • Adoption and attachment issues

Psychodrama and Substance Abuse

Psychodrama can help steer young people away from substance abuse by developing healthier ways of responding to emotional triggers. For example, a psychodrama director may ask the protagonist to pick a double (i.e. another group member) that represents the wisest part of the self and have a conversation with it.

Whereas the protagonist may have been in denial, the double is able to see and express how drugs or alcohol have been causing harm. The insights gleaned from this scene may lead to an exploration and reenactment of new behaviors that can help the protagonist cope with painful feelings in healthy ways.

Using Psychodrama to Treat Addiction in Teens and Young Adults

Psychodrama’s attention to individual issues matches Sandstone Care’s whole-person approach to working with teens and young adults.

Here, our youth experts partner with you and your family to create a customized path forward that includes every aspect of your life, from substance and emotional struggles to school, work, friendships, physical health and living situations.

Sandstone Care has trained professionals available seven days a week to help you with any questions you may have about psychodrama and additional treatment options. Give us a call today at (888) 850-1890.

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