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Barry Greenwald, Ph.D.
As a training device, psychodrama is used to acquaint potential crisis workers with the situations
that provide the precipitant for a call to a hot line. Although we stress continuously "the caller is
the client" it remains important for the volunteer to be able to conceive of the constellation of
events that surround a call and the important others who figure significantly in the caller's life.
Psychodrama also provides a unique opportunity for volunteers to become more aware of their
own feelings and thoughts about some very emotionally volatile situations. Often, trainees are
surprised by what emerges from them as they play out a part in one of the dramas. This type of
training should never be undertaken when there is not going to be sufficient time for processing.
It is not unusual for feelings to be tapped that were not anticipated and the trainer should be
prepared to deal with the emotions that go beyond the part portrayed in the drama.
It is important in introducing PSYCHODRAMA to make clear that this is "acting," not "real
life." Participants should be assured that no one is going to assume that the way they handle
their part and the situation is the way they would handle it if they were to meet a similar
situation in their own lives. It is also important to assure participants that they are not
required to have experienced a similar event in order to "play a part." All they need is an
imagination and a willingness to develop a role with some consistency.
An area that can serve as a stage is desirable but not absolutely necessary. Some props that can
be used to create an environment also help the process along. What is absolutely necessary is a
willingness to become involved and the ability to suspend just enough reality testing to insure
Ease your trainees into the situation by starting with less emotionally demanding situations and
gradually move to the more emotionally charged. Fifteen to twenty minutes is usually sufficient
and the drama does not need to reach a conclusion before it is called to a halt. A most potent
part of this technique is the "interview" conducted with the participants after the drama is halted.
They are interviewed in the roles that they have played. If someone has played a mother, she
is interviewed as that mother. The questions asked focus on the feelings and thoughts that went
on during the drama, but even more interesting are the questions that probe the history of the
characters and their relationships. Despite the briefness of the drama, the participants are able to
fill in the entire history of themselves and their relationships to the other people in the drama. A
system has evolved; a network is in place and one can demonstrate some of the most potent
concepts of systems theory.
During the interview, the audience should be encouraged to ask questions of the actors. Again, it
is important that the questions be directed to the participants as if they are still in the part. The
audience is also asked to report on how they felt as observers and what feelings were stirred in
them. The final activity, before moving on, is to ask the audience which actor might be the one to
call a "hotline" and to offer some reasons for their guess
In a three hour session, it is not unusual to cover only three dramas. It is not a process that lends
itself to being rushed. An observant facilitator can demonstrate many of the pitfalls of human
relationships from just a few dramas.
DIVORCE: Parents call the family group together to announce their plans for a divorce.
Setting: Living room of home.
Watch for: Alliance between mother and her mother. Alliance between children and a particular
parent. Who gets the blame for the divorce. Do children feel responsible? Where are the
communication breakdowns? How does the family deal with feelings, particularly anger? What
roles are played in the family? What effects does the loss have on the kids? How do they see it,
i.e., in terms of the family network, in terms of what they will each loose personally? How is
support given or not given? How does the family problem solve? What helps; what gets in the
- Mother, late 40s
- Father, early 50s
- Mother's Mother, mid 60s
- 16 year old daughter
- 14 year old son
SEXUALITY: A mother discovers that her 18 year old daughter is sexually active. Setting:
The family home
Watch for: How is the issue confronted and does it affect the ensuing communication process.
What issues--present or historical--does each character bring to the encounter?
- Mother, mid 40s
- Daughter, 18
SUICIDE: A 22 year old boy has committed suicide by hanging himself. Setting: The family
home just after returning from the hospital.
Watch for: How are the non family members dealt with and what role are they placed in or do
they place themselves. How does the divorce effect this situation? What have been the
relationships of these people to the suicide and how does that impact the communication. Are
there indications of guilt, blame, misdirected anger?
- Suicide's mother
- Her boyfriend
- Mother's former husband
- Boy's girlfriend
- Boy's 20 year old brother
SUICIDE: After the funeral of a friend who has committed suicide, surviving friends gather in a
local pub to talk about the friend who committed suicide.
Watch for: How is the act of suicide understood? How is the suicide's motivation understood?
What feelings (anger, guilt, confusion, denial, blame) are expressed and how are they handled by
the people present? What is being sought in this discussion; what are people looking for? From
what do they derive comfort?
- Man, 22, same age as suicide
- Man, 23, suicide's best friend
- Woman, 21, once seriously involved with the suicide
- Man, 22, college roommate
- Woman, 22, friend from college
AGING: Father's father needs to be placed in a nursing home because the burden of his care is
creating real stress upon the family. Setting: The family home
Watch for: How is the "move" introduced into the conversation. What euphemisms, if any, are
used? What are the relationships between the three people like? What conflicts between the
three are highlighted in this process?
- Mother, early 50s
- Father, mid 50s
- Father's Father, late 70s
SERIOUS ILLNESS: 43 year old man is told he has inoperable cancer of the bowel and rectum.
Watch for: How does each member react to the news? What does it mean to each personally
and how does it effect the family system? How are feelings dealt with? If death is mentioned,
how is it managed or not managed? Is there a family norm for dealing with feelings? Under
stress, how are alliances drawn within the family?
- Man, 43, with cancer
- Woman, 42, wife and career woman
- Daughter, 17
- Daughter, 16
SEPARATION: Widowed mother's only daughter is planning to get married in the near future
and leave home. Setting: Mother's kitchen
Watch for: What is the relationship between mother and daughter. What measures or means
are used to control behaviors? Is guilt used? How does the daughter deal with her ambivalence
(if it exists)?
- Mother, early 60s
- Daughter, early 30s
SEPARATION: 20 year old daughter in college announces to her parents that she is planning to
move into her own apartment with a friend.
Watch for: How do the parents react to being "told," not "asked." Are the parents aligned in
their response or does each hold a different view? What reasons are offered by the girl and how
does that reflect her understanding of her parents? What part does the younger sister play?
Would this scene be different if it were a boy making this announcement rather than a girl.
- Daughter, 20, in college
- Mother, 45, homemaker
- Father, 46, in business, no college
- Sister, 18, just beginning college
PREGNANCY: Married couple discover that the wife is pregnant with their fourth child.
Setting: over dinner.
Watch for: What are the initial emotional reactions to the news. Is pregnancy seen as
something that must be accepted or as something for which alternatives exist? If the latter, who
brings them up and how? What is the quality of communication between husband and wife.
What means for emotional support are available in the relationship. What problems exist in the
marriage that are played out in this issue?
- Wife, 38
- Husband, 40
PREGNANCY: College woman discovers she is pregnant and tells the significant young man in
Watch for: How does she approach him and what does it suggest about her perception of the
relationship? Why does she tell him? What (if anything) is she asking for? What emotional tone
does she bring to the situation? How does he react immediately, with some time? What do his
reactions indicate about his perceptions of the relationship? How is the concept of
"responsibility" dealt with? What options are considered? How does the couple or the individual
- Woman, 20, college sophomore
- Man, 21, college junior
JOB LOSS: Man of 42 has been fired from a job he has held for 10 years. He must face his
family. Setting: Family home, after dinner.
Watch for: How does father introduce the subject and what are the initial reactions of the
others? What effect do those reactions have on the direction the conversation takes? What is the
meaning of the "job loss" to each of the family members? What alliances exist within the family
and how do they effect the communication process? Is this a supportive system or a punitive
- Father, 42
- Mother, 41
- Daughter, 13
- Daughter, 15
HOMOSEXUALITY: A son decides to tell his parents and his father's unmarried brother who
lives with the family that he is gay. The son's lover is also present. Setting: Family living room
after a family dinner.
Watch for: How does the son broach the topic and what are his motives for telling his family?
How does each member react and how are the feelings given expression? Who takes charge?
What is the relationship between the father and his older brother; between the husband and wife?
What alliances exist and how do they effect the family's ability to communicate? How do they
treat the son's lover?
- Son, 20
- Son's lover, 20
- Father, 44
- Mother, 42
- Unmarried uncle, 48
HOMOSEXUALITY: Two lifelong friends get drunk after their high school graduation. When
they fall into bed that night, a sexual encounter occurs between them. Both were drunk but both
know exactly what happened. It has been several days since the event and this is the first time
they have been together and the first time they will be able to talk about what happened. The
scene is one of the boy's bedroom.
Watch for: How is the topic introduced? How is the responsibility for the event sorted out?
What role or responsibility is assigned to alcohol? Is their a difference in the way each boy
interprets the meaning of the event? How does the event affect each boy's self image? How
does it affect the friendship? What worries does it give rise to?
- 2 boys, both 18
ALCOHOLISM: Family confronts mother regarding her drinking problem in an effort to get
mother to accept some form of help. Setting: Living room of mother's home.
Watch for: Who initiates the confrontation? How has the history of mother's alcoholism
affected the family? Why is the "secret" being exposed now? How is anger handled? How does
mother explain her drinking? How does the son living at home deal with the problem?
- Mother, 55, a widow
- Daughter, 33 (not living at home)
- Son, 28 (not living at home)
- Son, 17 (living at home)
ADOPTION: 19 year old girl discovers that she is adopted. It is her first knowledge of the
circumstances surrounding her birth. Setting: the family home.
Watch for: How does the daughter bring up the topic. How the mother and father explain the
adoption. What alliances exist between the parents. The reaction of the younger brother. What
issues of the parents effected their choice "not to tell." How is potential rejection dealt with.
What issues does it provoke in the natural born child?
- Mother, mid 40s
- Father, mid 40s
- Daughter, 19
- Son, 15, natural born
DYING: Father with terminal cancer calls family together to say final farewells. Setting:
Watch for: How is the issue of death brought forth. What means are used by each of the family
members to facilitate or avoid discussing the topic. What alliances exist between family members
and how do they affect the communication process. How are feelings dealt with? Who is in
charge and how is this managed?
- Father, 62
- Mother, 58
- Son, 33
- Son, 28
- Daughter, 22
SIBLING RIVALRY: Father and two sons in a long overdue confrontation. The oldest is seen
by father as a ne'er do well and the youngest is father's favorite. All three have had too much to
drink and the subject of "favoritism" is brought up by the oldest, less preferred son. Setting: A
Watch for: The reasons for father's alienation from his oldest son and his favoritism for his
youngest. Father's view of himself as mirrored in his attitudes toward his sons. The son's
awareness of the family's dynamics. The different attitudes of the boys for their father.
- Father, 58, blue collar
- Son, 25, less preferred by father
- Son, 22, preferred by father
EDUCATION: Girl wants to go on to college; father opposes; mother waffles. Setting: Family
Watch for: Different attitudes of father and mother toward education, role of women, etc.
Mother's identification with daughter and ability or inability to support her daughter's aspirations.
Daughter's ability to stand up for herself and her own comfort or lack of it with having to be
- Father, 48
- Mother, 47
- Daughter, 18
INCEST: Mother discovers that her daughter has been involved in an incestuous relationship
with father. Mother and daughter are in mother's bedroom when mother confronts her. Father
joins the seen later.
Watch for: How does the mother confront this issue and how does the daughter respond
initially? Is there a change in the daughter's response as the scene progresses? Who seems
responsible for what has happened and who is blamed? What--if anything--does the daughter
confront the mother with? What is the father's explanation? Why did incest occur in this family?
- Wife, 39
- Husband, 42 (enters scene sometime after it has begun)
- Daughter, 16
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