A dozen or so people meet once a week and talk. Many different topics are discussed, but they all seem to have relationships to the speakers and listeners. Even the most abstract ideas and speculations about existence and cosmology are communications about what we find meaningful to ourselves and one another. Granted, the relationships only become clear after repeated involvement in the discussions. New participants have been known to exclaim, “This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever been to in in my life!” Sometimes they smile quizzically and say, “This is just great! I’ve learned so much.” Then they never return. 

A Group member is talking about a class in which she is having difficulty:

        “The professor acts so damn haughty. He puts me down whenever I try to talk with him.”

Another person observes:  “You sound angry.”

“Well, wouldn’t you be!”

From a third member:  “We need a Psychodrama!”

A card table is brought into the center of the Group circle. Two chairs are set up across the table from one another and two more behind each of these. The principle speaker sits in one of the center chairs. She designates one of the male members of Group to sit opposite her. She describes her persecutor to him, believing that he can best play the role of her nemesis.

The Psychodrama begins as our principle player goes outside the circle then comes in and knocks on the table as if it was a door:

Professor Persecutor begins:  “Yes? (Voice cold and detached)  What can I do for you?”

Student: “Can I speak with you?  I’d like to talk with you about the grade I got on my last paper.”

Professor:  “Yes, uh, what’s the name?”

 Student:  “Shirley Martin.”

Professor:  “Yes...uh.. (fumbles in the air as if with papers of some kind) ...It was a ‘B’.”


Student:  “Could you tell me what was lacking from it being an ‘A’.”  

Professor (with a very affected sense of disdain and exasperation):  “You can talk with your T. A. That’s what they’re for. I have 800 students and I have to get this paper ready for publication next week.  I don’t have time to bother with undergraduate’s problems.”

            Student (quietly): “Oh.”

One of the other Group members, who has been listening silently but attentively, sits in the chair next to Shirley and states very loudly, almost yelling: “You goddamn piece of shit! I could get more help from a computer. In fact you’re nothing but a computer. I almost said: ‘living computer’, but that remains to be seen. You make me want to barf right here on your fucking desk!”


Hold the action!

It is clear why Group may sometimes appear ‘weird’ or even destructive to the uninitiated.  Fears, anger, and other strong emotions are often the rule rather than the exception.  Members often push one another into uncomfortable situations.  

A dozen or so people meet once a week and talk. Many different topics are discussed, but they all seem to have relationships to the speakers and listeners. Even the most abstract ideas and speculations about existence and cosmology are communications about what we find meaningful to ourselves and one another. Granted, the relationships only become clear after repeated involvement in the discussions. New participants have been known to exclaim, “This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever been to in in my life!” Sometimes they smile quizzically and say, “This is just great! I’ve learned so much.” Then they never return. 

A Group member is talking about a class in which she is having difficulty:

        “The professor acts so damn haughty. He puts me down whenever I try to talk with him.”

Another person observes:  “You sound angry.”

“Well, wouldn’t you be!”

From a third member:  “We need a Psychodrama!”

A card table is brought into the center of the Group circle. Two chairs are set up across the table from one another and two more behind each of these. The principle speaker sits in one of the center chairs. She designates one of the male members of Group to sit opposite her. She describes her persecutor to him, believing that he can best play the role of her nemesis.

The Psychodrama begins as our principle player goes outside the circle then comes in and knocks on the table as if it was a door:

Professor Persecutor begins:  “Yes? (Voice cold and detached)  What can I do for you?”

Student: “Can I speak with you?  I’d like to talk with you about the grade I got on my last paper.”

Professor:  “Yes, uh, what’s the name?”

 Student:  “Shirley Martin.”

Professor:  “Yes...uh.. (fumbles in the air as if with papers of some kind) ...It was a ‘B’.”


Student:  “Could you tell me what was lacking from it being an ‘A’.”  

Professor (with a very affected sense of disdain and exasperation):  “You can talk with your T. A. That’s what they’re for. I have 800 students and I have to get this paper ready for publication next week.  I don’t have time to bother with undergraduate’s problems.”

            Student (quietly): “Oh.”

One of the other Group members, who has been listening silently but attentively, sits in the chair next to Shirley and states very loudly, almost yelling: “You goddamn piece of shit! I could get more help from a computer. In fact you’re nothing but a computer. I almost said: ‘living computer’, but that remains to be seen. You make me want to barf right here on your fucking desk!”


Hold the action!

It is clear why Group may sometimes appear ‘weird’ or even destructive to the uninitiated.  Fears, anger, and other strong emotions are often the rule rather than the exception.  Members often push one another into uncomfortable situations.  

At this point I am going to step out of the arena to discuss calmly and carefully what we just had a taste of and why it is part of a process that is helpful to the participants. I am going to discuss the structure and function of Psychodrama, its philosophy and history: possibly ranging back to the Greek tragedies but as modern as the news you heard this morning. Following this description, I will discuss my own Psychodramatic experience, training, and use in therapy and training Groups.

Psychodrama was developed by Jacob L. Moreno who has also been credited with many innovations leading to the development of group psychotherapy including the name. Moreno claims to have conducted the first group psychotherapy in the early 1930s (158:17). Moreno calls Psychodrama “...the backbone of the third psychiatric revolution...” in which the individual treatments developed by Mesmer, Charcot, Janet, and Freud are moved out of the consulting room and made available for the treatment of society (158:151). Psychodrama is an extension of the techniques of hypnosis and abreaction, which the last four mentioned clinicians practiced and from which Freud developed psychoanalysis. 

Although he was trained as a doctor, it may be a stretch to call Mesmer’s technique ‘clinical’. He hosted a French Age of Enlightenment salon, with a very theatrical flare. Mesmer practiced and possibly invented (or at least named) ‘animal magnetism’ (similar techniques described by Egyptian healers, including in the Bible, as well as Hippocrates, Asclepius and other Greek doctors—later becoming known by his name: ‘mesmerism’, then renamed :‘hypnosis’ in mid 19th century by Scots physician Baird). Mesmer would dramatically ‘magnetize’ a great vase-like or fountain-like device in the center of the room (called “The Baquet”) while his patients would touch this and fall into trance or ecstatic state of mind. They would awaken from this altered state of consciousness, often experiencing themselves as cured. Seeing as how he is generally considered to be the developer of modern hypnosis, we might consider him as an honorary clinician. His followers certainly considered him to be the genuine article! They claimed that he was instrumental in their recoveries [Richard Darnton: Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France (46)]. (Interesting to compare this ritual with the healing ceremonies of Pentecostal churches described in Chapter One, above.) Both Mesmer and Charcot practiced their hypnotism dramatically, in front of audiences, and seem in some ways, to be closer to the modern day stage hypnotist than actual ‘consulting room’ clinicians. Both had international reputations, Mesmer as a ‘magnetizer’, Charcot as a highly respected neurologist. Clinicians and other interested scientists traveled from other countries to observe and train with them. Freud studied with Charcot, while a century earlier Ben Franklin and Anton Lavoisier were part of a committee of world-class scientists who investigated Mesmer. (They were unconvinced.) Demonstrations by Mesmer and Charcot, however, can easily be credited as being progenitors of Psychodrama. The effectiveness of their facilitation of trance phenomena provides examples of Le Bon’s and McDougall’s descriptions, referred to by Freud in the first chapter, of ‘group’ dynamics practiced as hypnosis for purposes of healing. A more apt description would be: ‘crowd’ or ‘herd’ dynamics. Note the correlation of herd with animal magnetism. [Cf. Ellenberger Discovery of the Unconscious (59) and Pierre Janet Psychological Healing (107) for details of their ‘practice’.]

Moreno developed Psychodrama to the realms of very elaborate stage productions, involving a theater, three-tiered stage, special lighting and other special effects (158:108). In a small group this would be both impractical and not necessarily desirable.  The sparseness of the props allows, even demands, participants imaginations to create the drama. With a few basic rules such as the ones described later in this chapter, several chairs and a table, Psychodrama may be produced with tremendous therapeutic impact for the participants, including the Group audience. This process also gives opportunity for spontaneity to develop, being one of Moreno’s main values. Psychodramas, while often dealing with topics in a life-and-death seriousness, are also fun, developed with a sense of play, these therapeutic ingredients emphasized previously and later in this paper. One of the main advantages, then, for our purposes, is the ability to reproduce and study elaborate social interactions when the need arises in our Group.

Lewis Yablonsky [Psychodrama: Resolving Emotional Disturbances Through Role-Playing (252) recounts participating in Psychodrama as led by Moreno in the late 1940s. Yablonsky was a graduate student at the time and this was his introductory experience. He attended a session led by Moreno and was called on to play what I term the Antagonist, although his role was not of a villianous or persecuting character. With no previous experience Yablonsky was called out of the audience by Moreno, who instructed him to play the part of the fiancÚ to a young woman who ultimately blew up and threw her engagement ring at him. (Quite a success!) Following this Moreno took the actual couple aside and worked with them therapeutically. Yablonsky describes Moreno as leading in a very charismatic fashion. The names Yablonsky reports of the roles played is slightly different than the names given in my study ahead, but how all of these roles are played is basically the same.

Psychodrama is part of a continuum with role-playing as the foundation. This may simply be defined as an individual pretending or acting as if he or she was another person. The role player can also act as themselves at another time, in another circumstance, and may be elaborated to playing and speaking for inanimate objects, for example rocks, stars, a river, a tug boat, a choo-choo (note the animistic connection to play and childhood), other animals or plants, or even abstract concepts such as Truth, Justice, country, Capitalism, The Unconscious, God, etc.

            When a group of individuals interact, taking various roles, a drama is built up. Sociodrama is produced when dramatists play different roles representing segments of society. In a communications workshop given to hospital employees I had participants play different departments and discuss a SNAFU that actually happened when an oxygen tank was not delivered to the Eye Clinic, causing a delay in an operation, angering a doctor who verbally took it out on a nurse in another department. The players reported that they came to understand more about the complexities involved in coordinating many departments by acting out these parts. The stage was then set for problem solving. Role-playing is also the basis for an elaborate range of simulation games developed for education and industry as well as the government and military.  1

            In Psychodrama the roles played by participants are structured in such a way that the drama illustrates and works toward resolution of interpersonal and intra-psychic conflicts. As the technique is illustrated and explored, its use and methods become clearer.

            In the remaining sections of this chapter I will discuss the structure of Psychodrama as I have used it with in-patient groups and staff training. This structure is derived from my own Group and Psychodrama training with Wallace McAfee. This pared down version of Psychodrama only vaguely resembles the Group event in full action. When members are very experienced and know each other well, Psychodrama becomes an important part of the working through process as well as a source of inspiration and new perspectives. The opening example for this chapter illustrates such an experienced Group. The inability of a newcomer to follow the action may, in fact, show the depth to which an experienced Group rapidly proceeds with this technique.


Figure 1

The center of Psychodrama is a table. There are two chairs set facing one another across the table with two chairs set behind and slightly to the side of the main chairs. This entire arrangement is set within the Group circle. The table functions in a ritualistic manner. Discussion around the table is considered to be taking place within the Psychodrama session. This has special features and rules and is differentiated from the usual Group interaction.

            The two principles are the Antagonist and the Protagonist, designated in the picture above as “A” and “P”. The Protagonist is the person around whom the Psychodrama is centered. The Antagonist portrays the person with whom the Protagonist is attempting to explore and change communication and behavior. Usually Antagonist is the Group member best suited to act-out Protagonist’s demon or shadow, although there may be other portrayals possible. This is figurative language (no supernatural entity is meant) indicating a real life person that Protagonist finds particularly enraging or hard to handle in any number of ways.

            There are times that a Group member might jump into the Psychodrama because they feel that they can best portray “A”. At other times “P” may decide or the Group may decide who can best play “A”.

            Directly behind each of the principle players there are two chairs. These are for Alter-Egos: “Alt-Ego Pro” and “Alt-Ego Ant”. Usually these chairs are empty at the beginning of the Drama, but Group members fill them as the need arises. The Alter-Egos help the principles. Often “P” is stumped. This is the most common reason for a Psychodrama: “P” is stuck and does not know what to do, or “P” does not have a spontaneous action that works well for a particular social situation or an interaction with a specific difficult person. “Alt-Ego Pro” has more detachment and can support “P”. There are also times that it takes two Antagonists to set that particular Double-Bind that “P” needs to work out.

            The action of Psychodrama is divided into two acts: Round 1 and Round 2. The use of names similar to parts of a prizefight may not be entirely accidental. In this case the prize is personality development. In Round 1 the object is to release emotion, usually frustration and anger. This process is referred to as Catharsis. Protagonist is encouraged to express rage toward the Antagonist. This may be in the form of yelling, swearing or even with bataka bats—foam clubs invented by George Bach who also developed Fair Fighting Therapy: methods of communicating anger, rage, and even, with these bataka bats, expressing physical assault, safely and therapeutically. Edna McAfee chuckled when I mentioned attending a workshop by Bach and his young women attendants. (Who beat each other up with Batakas! to the enthusiasm of watching clinicians. Not even sublimated sexuality!) “He was a great teacher; really funny!” she commented. Often genuine expression of feelings of rage is followed by laughter or sometimes tears. Most Protagonists repeat Round 1 several times, sometimes at weekly intervals, before Catharsis from an issue is achieved.

            Round 2 is called Resolution. Its purpose is for Protagonist to practice a new, healthier interaction with “A”. Often discussion among Group members takes place during a “Time Out” between rounds. During this halt in the Psychodrama action, Group members discuss the interaction in order to figure out what a healthier response may be to “A’s” provocation.

            Sometimes “A” and “Alt-Ego Ant” do such a good job at demonic portrayal that the entire Group seems double-bound! It often takes all of our wits working together, problem solving, to figure out a therapeutic or calm, healthy reaction or interaction during Round 2.

             McAfee presents the idea that in Round 2 Protagonist can show that they hear and understand what Antagonist is saying. Protagonist may express or reflect the meaning of what the Antagonist communicates. Much of the practice that goes to make up Round 2 is developing a calm, reflective response to a situation that is originally truly maddening and/or provokes anger. Some Group members have come to call this “Second Round Response”. This is a process leading to empathetic communication. The goal is that the Protagonist takes the lead and is able to move the discussion with Antagonist to a calm equilibrium of emotion and thought. In Section C, Part 2 of this chapter and in the concluding chapter about the Crisis Intervention Workshop, some communication principles are presented that I have found helpful in explaining this part of the process. Psychodrama is a method to practice this assertive but balanced communication. If “A” angers “P”, “A” is in control of the communication. As “P” answers appropriately, even to provocations, “P’s” Freedom is increased. Commonly, the difficulty in formulating a Round 2 response centers on a principle that this response is not meant to be a capitulation. The usual response to a provocation is to become angry and argue. In Round 2 communication, “P” responds calmly, showing that he or she understands Antagonist but not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing. (Take a breath, and count slowly to three or ten—you’re the person in control of this conversation—or whatever number that you want!) Now explain “A’s” position—describe “A’s” experience, possibly even better than “A” can, him or herself.

            The Round 1 action, as illustrated at the opening of this chapter, can become hot and heavy very quickly. Often, during a Psychodrama interaction, the audience members have ideas and want to chime in. With this high energy level, the interactions can become very chaotic. A Group member is designated as “Referee”: signifying when Psychodrama is “ON”, which round is taking place, and when Group discussion is appropriate and a Time Out is called. This person clarifies, in general, what is happening and has a certain authority to control the action. 

            Before proceeding with illustrations I would like to summarize with an outline then elaborate on each component. These include: 


            A. The Principle Interaction   

                1. Protagonist “P”   

                2. Antagonist “A”   

                3. Referee 

            B. The Alter Egos   

                1. Alt-Ego Pro

                2. Alt-Ego Ant

            C. Structure of the Psychodrama   

                1. Round 1: Catharsis   

                2. Round 2: Resolution   

                3. Time Out: Group discussion 

            D. Psychodrama and the Group   

                1. Individual–Group Effect  

                2. Group–Individual Effect  

                3. Presentation  



This is the main body of the Psychodrama. We could describe this as The Plot. This is a portrayal of an interpersonal event in the life of the Protagonist, real or imagined. As the overall goal of Psychodrama, for the Protagonist, is to change an attitude, feeling, or behavior, toward or during this event, there is something uncomfortable, frightening, enraging, or generally not right about the interaction as perceived and acted upon. Sometimes this type of interaction by the Antagonist is called “crazy making”.

            This event is brought directly into the Group by this portrayal. Examples of common themes include a teenager learning to deal with his mother’s authoritarian and demanding attitude without withdrawing or exploding in rage; a rehearsal for an upcoming job interview that was creating a great deal of stress and anxiety in a woman’s life; a second woman talking to her husband whose behavior she describes: “He tells people what to do all day (He is a supervisor.), then comes home, opens his beer and relates to no one but the TV. He expects me to punch in, fix dinner, and punch out. I’d like to punch him out!” Sometimes, as in the case with the teenager, more than one Antagonist may be played, in this case both parents. Even sibs and an entire family event has been acted out.

            The real-life person who is portrayed by the Antagonists is usually not in the Group at this time. The presence of the actual person with whom the Protagonist has this difficult communication complicates full exploration and expression of feeling for “P”. Resentment, resistance, and inhibition result. At best, reality testing and rational explaining interferes with the full development of Round 1. The achievement of Catharsis comes from Protagonist being able to express what he or she is feeling without having to edit emotions for reality. Protagonists are often surprised by the expression of their own feeling. Experience teaches that Protagonist cannot gain the full level of rage that he or she may express if real-life Antagonist is present. (Admittedly, Moreno, in Yablonsky’s example, operated with both members of the couple present—the difference of a one-time ‘stage’ demonstration, and on-going therapy. Even in this example, Moreno took the conflicted couple aside and worked therapeutically with them.)

•  THE PROTAGONIST : Since “P” is the person around whom the Psychodrama centers, I will begin by discussing this role. “P” necessarily will be part of the description of other roles, but I will return specifically to the interaction between Protagonist and the Group as a whole later in the chapter.

            “P” brings an interpersonal interaction to the Group and requests help with it. Or, sometimes “P” is “encouraged” by other Group members to discuss and portray an issue. This interaction is often represented in projected terms: “My father’s giving me problems again.” Or “No matter what I do (he, she, they) find fault. I’ll never be good enough.” In our opening example the problem was Professor Persecutor. To “P’s” mind, Antagonist is symbolic of the entire situation. Psychodramatic presentation reproduces the projected symbol in as much detail as possible, allowing “P” to reincorporate it, thereby facilitating the opportunity for control.

             At times a Group members describe general situations, e. g. “I hate school. It‘s so boring and overwhelming.” or “My job’s worth shit! (Profanity helps grease the wheels; we’re already well on the road to Catharsis.) I just can’t hack it, but I’m broke and it took me six months to get into this shithole job.” Question from the Group leader: ”Is there a particular person who’s pressuring you?” “Yeah! My boss is a real jewel. He gives me more than I can do then jumps all over my ass when I can’t keep up—then the job I do do sucks. I just want to tell him to stick it up his ass.”—and in 1st Round that is exactly what our speaker did. By personifying the situation with an Antagonist playing a superior such as a teacher or boss, a symbolic interaction is developed. Catharting toward the symbol catharts to the entire situation.

            While projected, the issue appears beyond “P’s” grasp. This interaction may be restated in intra-psychic dynamics. The symbol: “Antagonist” arouses unpleasant, inappropriate, sometimes desperate emotions for “P”. “P” does not want to express these feelings to “A” in the real-life situation as this expression would certainly hurt “P’s” cause, and could, in certain situations, lead to “P” actually getting physically, as well as emotionally, hurt, or becoming so enraged that “P” might actually attack the person who Antagonist represents. Therefore “P” must devote a portion of consciousness, attention, or psychic energy (cathexis) to self-control as well as dealing with “A”. “P” does not want to “lose it” which could result in a reduced capacity for free, spontaneous interaction and increases the likelihood that “P” must rely on older patterns of behavior. These older habits are often not appropriate to the new situation or may be contributing factors to the present situation. These more primitive behaviors are emotion laden and therefore symbolic. It is now clearer that Psychodrama, a symbolic interaction, is effective because it is devised to deal with symbolic interactions.

            I asked one of the actual Psychodrama participants, whose response that I have named Shirley Martin, what she was experiencing. (There are actually several Group participants, both men and women, who have done very similar Psychodramas. This is a summary portrayal, a common theme in Group with students, but also Group members describing work issues with uncaring supervisors, bosses, and other depersonalizing authority figures—often leading to parents.) Shirley describes feeling: “...completely emotionally clogged up. If I really let it out I’d just explode! I’d start sceaming at that arrogant son-of-a-bitch and never stop!” A couple of weeks later, in Psychodrama, that is what she did—attacking “A” furiously with batakas! Afterward she started trying to figure out what an effective Second Round might be. Until this time discussing Second Round just surfaced a good deal of anger.

•  THE ANTAGONIST : The role of the Antagonist is on a par with playing the devil for “P”.  Members who play “A” must ferret out what interaction “P” is anxious or angry about and do their best to portray this. “P” has an antipathy toward a certain person or sometimes several people in certain social roles. If Antagonist is successful he or she will encourage “P” to see them in that role. In communication theory: “A” manipulates the disjunction between verbal and non-verbal information or the contradictions and paradoxes that interfere with clear messages, to Double-Bind “P”, thereby entering into symbolic communication as “P” enters hypnotic or trance-like state of consciousness. Psychoanalysis might call “P’s” reaction a transference reaction. 

            As players come to better know each other in the Group, they become more aware of one another’s sensitive issues and highly charged emotional conflicts. By portraying these in a controlled Group atmosphere with a great deal of warmth and personal concern, Protagonist is offered an opportunity to bring up old and present (and even imagined future) hurts and work toward resolution. Although it may side-track the intensity of the Psychodrama, it can be pointed out that just First Round development itself requires a high degree of Empathy from the Group.

           Player “A” also gains a cathartic effect by playing the Antagonist. In developing the character of the demonic, often hostile wielder of the Double-Bind, “A”, and the Group, must take an empathetic stance toward this all powerful antagonist. “We see what you’re really up to—and you can’t hurt us with your verbal attacks and lame attempts at control!”

            With a small adjustment of the metaphorical Group lens, we also see potential powers and areas for growth for the entire Group. Often one becomes aware of others’ conflicts before one’s own may be faced. Sometimes a solution for another person clues us into our own solution.

            In the non-Psychodrama Group interaction (Time Out) these conflicts may be explored and discussed, but if the discussion is too intense or the conflicts are presented too soon by being brought up in their full fury, between members of the Group, a stifling effect may appear on Group interaction. Topics will be discussed but afterward, in subsequent Group sessions, be avoided. At its worst extreme open conflict, backbiting, and sabotage occur. Unexpressed conflicts even attack Group cohesiveness and break the Group into factions. This may lead to the formation of in-groups and out-groups and the reliance upon authoritarianism. Ostracism and loss of members may occur concurrently with rigidity in those who remain yielding a Group dogma. The Group has, in effect, become similar, in form, to the commonly portrayed Antagonist: the internal conflicts of, and between members, are played out in projected form in Group interaction—regressing to the crowd—as individual members regress to primative defense postures.

            We see that “A” is in an immovable position: the power of veto. Often “A” seems to project a self-righteousness and scathing tone of condemning judgment that devastates and reduces “P’s” effectiveness and power of choice dramatically. Jean-Paul Sartre’s phenomenological description of relations with the Other from his philosophical work, Being and Nothingness, gives voice to the horror of alienation that may be experienced by “P” at this point: “The lie is also a normal phenomenon of what Heidegger calls the ‘Mitsein’ (97). It presupposes my existence, the existence of the Other, my existence for the Other, and the existence of the Other for me” (205:49)... “The Other appears as being able to effect the synthesis between the unconscious thesis and the conscious antithesis. I can know myself only through the mediation of the Other, which means that I stand in relationship to my ‘id,’ in the position of the Other” (205:51). (An irony! Often Sartre is portrayed as an extreme critic of psychoanalysis. Here he uses its constructs (to attack it?). Possibly, he is portraying—giving life to—“The Other“ or as might happen in Living Theatre: “A” in your face!

 Being beyond any knowledge which I can have, I am this self which another knows. And this self which I am—this I am in a world which an Other has made alien to me, for the Other’s look embraces my being and correlatively the walls, the door, the keyhole. All these instrumental-things, in the midst of which I am, now turn toward the other a face which on principle escapes me. Thus I am my Ego for the Other in the midst of a world which flows toward the Other. Earlier we were able to call this internal hemmorhage the flow of my world toward the Other-as-object. This was because the flow of blood was trapped and localized by the very fact that I fixed as an object in my world that the Other toward which this world was bleeding. Thus not a drop of blood was lost, all was recovered, surrounded, localized although in a being which I could not penetrate. Here on the contrary the flight is without limit; it is lost externally; the world flows out of the world and I flow out of myself. The Other’s look makes me be beyond my being in this world and puts me in the midst of the world which is at once this world and beyond this world. What sort of relations can I enter into with this being which I am and which shame reveals to me.  

Being and Nothingness (205:350) a shock that seizes me when I apprehend the Other’s look, this happens—that suddenly I experience a subtle alienation of all my possibilities, which are now associated with objects of the world, far from the me in the midst of the world. 

Being and Nothingness (205:354)  

At the same time I experience the Other’s infinite freedom. It is for and by means of a freedom and only for and by means of it that my possibles can be limited and fixed. A material object cannot fix my possibilities; it is only the occasion of projecting myself toward other possibles and can not confer upon them outside

Being and Nothingness (205:362)

Thus myself-as-object is neither knowledge nor a unity of knowledge but an uneasiness, a lived wrenching away from the ekstatic unity of the for-itself, a limit I can not reach and which yet I am.

Being and Nothingness (205:367) constant concern is to contain the Other within his objectivity, and my relations with Other-as-object are essentially made up of ruses designed to make him remain an object. But one look on the part of the Other is sufficient to make these schemes collapse and to make me experience once more the transfiguration of the Other. Thus I am referred from transfiguration to degradation and from degradation to transfiguration without ever being able to get a total view of the ensemble of these two modes of being on the part of the Other—for each of them is self sufficient and refers only to itself—or to hold firmly to either one of them—for each has its own instability and collapses in order for the other to rise from is ruins. Only the dead can be perpetually objects without ever becoming subjects—for to die is not to lose one’s objectivity in the midst of the world; all the dead are there in the world around us. But to die is to lose all possibility of revealing oneself as subject to an Other.

Being and Nothingness (205:394)

In our examples “P” is launched into feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Professor Persecutor, our adolescent’s parents, the woman’s aloof husband all seem out of reach, in control beyond our influence. Such is the experience of alienation for Group members who take the Protagonist’s seat. You’ve always swallowed it all and its led to stress and strain. Such is the problem we must deal with to bridge a seemingly impossible chasm. 2   


•  Alter-Ego Pro: As all looks darkest in the old movies, the enemy is about to overrun the stockade; we hear the bugle of reinforcements. Although this scene has become a cliche to us on the screen, a highly idealized view of reality that seems to happen only in Hollywood, the process has validity for our Psychodrama (Remember: It is drama!). If we are to plunge the players into the depth of despair that they feel in certain real life situations, we must offer strength and hope for the process of change to come about. Such is the role of the “Alter-Ego Pro”.

            It does seem to be true that the ego, while guarding against destructive forces, both blocks out but may also be the source of many healthful, creative impulses from within. 3    “Alter-Ego Pro” gives voice to these internal impulses toward life. The Alter-Ego Pro may out-reason or out-argue “A” while “P” feels overwhelmed with “A’s” seemingly omniscient logic. Better for Round 1 is for Alter-Ego to express the rage that Protagonist is inwardly holding, binding free emotional expression and consequently Freedom of behavior. In other words, Alter-Ego Pro BLASTS THE HELL OUT OF “A”. Alt Ego-Pro tells “A” what “P” really feels but has been careful not to express in real life as this would be too dangerous. “P’s” hidden fear is that expression of this rage may result in “P’s” loss of control, “P” being consumed in murderous anger or crushing “A” and as a result either being left with guilt and remorse or precipitating a fight that cannot be won (This being a fear left from childhood experience when adults were overwhelmingly huge—and potentially dangerous!). Often “A” is pummeled with batakas and more than one card table has been destroyed in both McAfees’ Group and on the Neuropsych Unit!

The dynamics of our opening example become clearer. As Shirley Martin’s voice lowers, “Oh,” is all that she can reply. She may be thinking: “He’s right. How stupid and thoughtless of me to bother him.”   Or even simpler but closer to the surface: “Shit! Blocked again by that arrogant S. O. B..”  Another Group member steps up to help, blowing Professor Persecutor away with a well developed barrage of rage and even obscenity. We now understand what this member has expressed. He or she (Did you imagine Shirley’s Alter-ego as man or woman?) is tapping an inner well of anger that somehow has been frozen, probably by training, trauma, and Double-Bind hypnotic programming: “...good girls and proper ladies never even think of getting angry and are always helpful to those big, important authority figures... You are a proper lady, aren’t you?” etc.) Shirley can now rally and take over from her Alter-Ego. As her expression is found, Shirley feels her own strength develop and she begins to perceive her Antagonist as the small, less powerful presence that he is. She may also begin to experience the rage that troubles her, saps her energy, undermines her self confidence, and results in her withdrawl and sense of helplessness. Often the Protagonist takes over with statements that leave the Alter-Ego Pro’s screaming rage sounding like a recital of a sacred catechism—the quiet melodious chants of distant monks. The Alter-Ego representing the members of the Group is here to *POWERFULLY* cover Protaganist’s back. Possession may be what has been the controlled, sub-conscious rage—held in so tight—but now, suddenly let go.


            Much of our impotence in the face of this rage comes from our isolation and our sense of alienation. As we receive empathy of other members of the Group, we also receive a sense of Forgiveness for the Guilt that we feel, the awareness of the emotions that have bound this rage within. While the Group extends Forgiveness, the members are also helping Protagonist work to develop a strengthened sense of self.

            The Alter-Ego Pro is the ally of the Protagonist representing the strength of the entire Group helping “P” toward the climax of Round 1, the Catharsis. As “P” is experiencing Guilt for the boggled interaction, the Group is beginning to extend Forgiveness.  

            To play these roles successfully, Group members must develop greater depth of empathetic understanding. Playing the role of Alter-Ego is helpful in itself. The Alter-Ego player may also gain Catharsis by expressing “P’s” extreme feelings. This is especially true when the role played by Antagonist for “P” is also close to an actual person toward whom Alter-Ego Pro and members of the Group audience experience conflict. Group members in the audience of a Psychodrama may also experience Catharsis This is similar to the experience described by the ancient Greeks resulting from observing an enactment of drama or certain cult rituals. 

•  Alter-Ego Ant: Briefly, the Antagonist’s Alter-Ego functions in a parallel way to “A” as Alter-Ego Pro does to “P”. Occasionally two or more voices may help to establish the Double-Bind or feeling of being trampled. 4   This is the experience that “P” is working to resist.  

            At times an Antagonist player feels uncomfortable being as mean to “P” as is required to enact a conflicted interaction. The Group members can come up and help, playing auxiliary Alter-Ego Ants, when they feel demonically inspired enough.


As can be gathered from the preceding, Psychodrama is a method which can be used for emotional release and to improve on very difficult, often dangerous, inner attitudes. It also is a type of rehearsal for improved reaction and communication in difficult social situations. Because of the potential danger involved, it is important to set a definite, firm structure to the action; this is to give safety to the participants and also give security to the person who takes the seat of the Protagonist. If these impulses that we are calling up have been rejected from consciousness and expression previously, there is no reason to think that a participant will allow their expression without, at least, a certain method of control available.

            The role-playing is divided into two rounds with Group discussion at appropriate times during Time Outs. So far, the First Round has been described in the most detail. The Second Round is of equal if not greater importance. Sometimes the First Round is carried out more easily because it is often highly energetic, even entertaining, and does not require the concentration and work of the Second. Philosophically, we do not see that the goal is merely to help Group members become aware and express their dark side and then go on their way being able to assert themselves, expressing anger toward anyone with whom they feel a bit annoyed. In fact, it is made clear to the members who take the Protagonist seat, that if they can fully express their inner anger during Psychodrama, they will feel and be controlled by it less in real-life interactions. Firm instructions are given: “The anger you feel toward-----(mother, father, boss, lover, husband, wife, children, therapist, …fill in the blank…) is to be expressed here, not directly to them (except possibly therapist).” This adds to the security that allows fuller expression during the Psychodrama. 5    For this reason there is an injunction regarding marriage partners participating in Psychodrama together except when role-playing an outside event, for instance, a wife acting the part of her husbands employer or verse visa. (Although sometimes husbands or wives can act the part of parents or in-laws. These portrayals can be very fruitful for couple and family therapy but require very careful refereeing by the therapist. Role-playing, itself, is a very effective technique to teach and practice new, growth enhancing communication interaction with couples.)

            Round 2 is a Resolution phase. The many theories of therapy that hold that insight, self-understanding, satori, field-ground shift, or various types of ‘ah-ha’ experiences are enough for improvement are incomplete. Certainly the perceptual shifts that accompany these revelations are gratifying and important, but they lead to the next step. First Round completed ushers us to the door of the Work Group. Practice of a new interaction takes us inside.

            Before we cross the threshold, let us understand an important part of the structure in which we are working. It seems that Second Round is more productive after full experience of Round 1. I will elaborate on the important process of Catharsis before venturing onward.


Carl Rogers writes of Catharsis:  

Catharsis . Another psychotherapuetic approach of ancient lineage is the technique of confession or catharsis. The confessional has been used by the Catholic Church throughout many centuries. It has allowed the individual to talk out his problems to an individual who provides a certain defined type of acceptance. Both the Church and individuals outside the Church have found this method helpful. Psychoanalysis has taken this concept of catharsis and made much deeper use of it. We have learned that catharsis not only frees the individual from those conscious fears and guilt feelings of which he is aware, but that, continued, it can bring to light more deeply buried attitudes which also exert their influence on behavior. In recent years we have learned new ways of using this old approach. The whole technique of play therapy is based on the fundamental principles of catharsis; the use of finger paints and psychodramatics and puppet shows all have a relationship to this old and well-established category of psychotherapy.

Counseling and Psychotherapy (190:21-22)

Freeman, Sadock, and Caplan define Catharsis:

Catharsis; Release of ideas, thoughts, and repressed materials from the unconscious, accompanied by an affective emotional response and release of tension. Commonly observed in the course of treatment, both individual and group, it can also occur outside of therapy. See also Abreaction, Conversational catharsis.  

Modern Synopsis of the Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry (67:757)         

I would also add two other views, one ancient and one modern. These are even more to the point of the experience. Philip Wheelwright, in his synopsis of ancient philosophy, The Presocratics, writes:

…the idea of katharsis (purification as the washing away of unnatural and injurious superfluities), whatever its drawbacks and uncertainties in relation to effective medical practice, became in its metaphoric extensions a powerful and indeed an archetypal idea in the formation of religious imagery and myth.
            …a symbolic act of katharsis is called for—not as a washing away of physical blood or any other physical superfluity, but as a symbolic and penitential removal of something that is morally evil.  
            The penitential character of katharsis, which thus involves ritualistic and spiritual absolution, becomes further developed, particularly in the Orphic tradition of ancient Greece, into a notion of washing away of sin generally, the washing away of one’s personal and tribal past or of some repugnant aspect of it. The higher forms of mystery religion, such as the Eleusinian cult, conceived of cult-initiation in this manner. The initiate renounced with proper ceremonies his old life and solemnly received admission into the inner membership or the cult. And such initiation involves a further result of deepest importance. For as the religious initiate sheds the husk of his former life and enters fullheartedly into a shared life of the cult, he acquires not only a new pathos but a new gnosis as well: which is to say, he steps not only from a state of being which is evil and unhappy into one that is blessed and pure; he steps also, according to metachthonic doctrine, from the darkness of ignorance and confusion into the light of true and divinely revealed wisdom. The higher rites of religious initiation all involve in some way the assumption of a new gnosis opened up to the initiate by his conversation.

The Presocratics  (240:22-23)   6  


This view also establishes the need and purpose of the Second Round. This is the Resolution, the healing part of the ritual in which the “new life” is practiced.    

           Some Groups, whose structure is derived from Alcoholics Anonymous, develop ritual reminiscent of Wheelwright’s characterization and tone of the Eleusinian Mysteries: the recognition of the need for penance (Hello. I’m ------. I’m an alcoholic.), the Twelve Steps and recitation of how a member applies them to their lives and interactions with others being the ceremony of membership—the derivation of Catharsis.

            The common way that the term catharsis is used in the medical field today is also very relevant. To the Medical staff, in the hospital, a catharsis is a synonym (or floor slang?) for a bowel movement, usually referring to the relief obtained after a bout of constipation. If we can imagine the Protagonist suffering from emotional constipation–often many years standing—we can also glimpse how good and even freed up “P” feels after full Catharsis. In more concrete, behavioral terms, Protagonist is encouraged to let his or her buried anger and rage fly. Yell, scream, pound the table, hit the Antagonist with batacas. Let it all out! Yeah! “P” is now ready to try a new approach to that old impacted interaction.


After the full expression of pent-up feelings, “P” experiences more freedom of action, perceptions, and emotion. After successful Catharsis an individual is more aware of the feelings and needs of others. We may say that “P’s” interaction has moved closer to the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Rather than the other subtle maxims with which it is often confused: “Do unto others as you would,” or “Have others do unto you as you would have others do unto you.” “P” is now beginning to work toward the process that Wallace McAfee describes and names “Becoming Fully Human”; Maslow’s description of Self-Actualization (SA) includes examples of some of the qualities of the person who he describes as the: “Fully Developed Human”: 

To summarize, SA creativeness stresses first the personality rather than the achievements, considering these achievements to be epiphenomena emitted by the personality and therefore secondary to it. It stresses characterological qualities like boldness, courage, freedom, spontaneity, perspicuity, integration, self acceptance, all of which make possible the generalized SA creativeness, which expresses itself in the creative life, or the creative attitude, or the creative person.  I have also stressed the expressive or Being quality of SA creativeness rather than its problem-solving or product-making quality.  SA creativeness is “emitted,” or radiated, and hits all of life, regardless of problems, just as a cheerful person “emits” cheerfullness without purpose or design or even consciousness. It is emitted like sunshine; It spreads all over the place; it makes some things grow (which are growable) and is wasted on the rocks and other ungrowable things.

Toward a Psychology of Being (144:145)

We also envision “P” moving toward a healthier balance of the poles of Erikson’s identity stages, discussed in detail in the last chapter. As I have suggested earlier, these changes do not follow automatically. As all habits, destructive as well as constructive, have taken many years to learn, we cannot assume that, just because harmful habits are expressed and fully understood, healthy habits will suddenly appear. Often the most difficult, and potentially fruitful, part of the Psychodrama is Round 2.

Antagonist once again attempts to double-bind “P”, but “P” is able to respond in a fresh way to “A”. “P” listens to “A” and responds with understanding.  “P” does not argue with or berate “A” but listens to what “A” is saying and responds in such a way that “A” feels understood. As Group extends Forgiveness to Protagonist, Protagonist extends Forgiveness to Antagonist. This is no easy task, especially when “A” is laying guilt and rage really thickly onto “P”.  “P” is taking responsibility for the interaction with “A”. There are three levels on which“P” may respond to “A”:

1) Facts, 2) Feelings, 3) Empathy.

1) Facts: “P” may reflect or talk with “A” non-committally about the subject matter that “A” is discussing. Methods of expressing understanding of facts include repeating ideas back to clarify meaning or carefully reframing to emphasize features important to “A”.

2) Feelings: “P” may reflect, showing an understanding of feeling that “A” is expressing. 

3) Empathy: Communication of facts and feelings leads to communication of empathy. Protagonist may communicate an understanding of how Antagonist is experiencing the issue(s) that he or she (“A”) is discussing.

The reason behind this style of response is that “A” is attempting to Double-Bind, holding power over “P”. (“A” may not admit to this.) 7  If this is the case, “A” is angry, uncomfortable, insecure or even harmful or sadistic. Therefore “P” is the most rational, responsible individual in the interaction. “P” may be able to help “A”. If “A” is openly irrational and angry, this is not a good time for “P” to press his or her own point, even if this point is technically or factually correct.

Examples of possible Round 2 responses follow:

1) Facts: Rather than withdraw, Shirley Martin could answer Professor P: “Wow! It sounds like you're really busy.”  She then might engage him in conversation about how the grade standards were set. Even if he did not directly give her the information she requested, she may find an answer to her question in a discussion instead of getting in an argument that would certainly not serve her purpose.

2) Feelings: An adolescent may reply to his parent’s demand to know where he has been all night with the reply: “You seem worried about me.”  This may also be an opening for further conversation. Although Group members and the therapist may agree with the parents’ concerns, establishing clearer communication between parents and adolescent is the initial goal at this point. The Group may have an opening here to explore “P’s”, i. e. the boy’s, feelings. These issues may include his reaction to responsibilities, sense of rebellion or needs for individuation, and even response to his parents’ communication of rational authority. Parents responding with comment on the boy’s feelings may also be an introduction for their communication of concern.

3) Empathy: A wife whose husband withdraws in front of the TV has a difficult job starting conversation with him. It’s easy to become discouraged or angry. Rather than react with anger and depression, she may break the ice with: “I’d feel exhausted if I had all the responsibility that you’re faced with all day.” Sometimes such recognition will soften an armored stance and conversation may continue. Recognition of stress that another person experiences may be an invitation to talk. Even if the husband does not immediately respond, repeated replies may impress him beneath his conscious level of awareness. [Note 2009: I recently viewed a training video for police and correctional officers for California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as part of an inservice training. It presented this issue, the marriage partner, usually husband, but now more frequently the wife or both, with a high stress and high stimulii occupation, who comes home and does not want to interact. There are many small types of communication that can open up conversation after a rest and re-entry period. Rest, meditation, a nap or stress reduction-relaxation exercises, or just quiet time, is important before the demands of family and socialization (even pleasant ones) present themselves. Empathy, in this case, is an evaluation of the situation and a plan with which to start experimenting with supportive communication when the time is right.] 

            The Group can support the woman while she tries to improve communication by practicing an empathetic response. Following similar Psychodramas, I have witnessed several instances when Protagonists have found that, once their anger has been vented and reduced in Round 1, they have been able to communicate much more directly with the real-life person that Antagonist modeled. A man who came to Group with his wife after a long series of arguments, practiced Round 1 for several weeks and then one long Round 2 session with other Group members. (His wife was not in these particular sessions.) Following this he reported that he was able to tell his wife something to the effect of: “This has been miserable for you. Let’s talk together now.” He said that he felt calm and even friendly toward her. Because the tension had been reduced his demeanor was straight forward. Conversation continued without enmity or an overload stress.

These are not easy responses, especially when a person is the focus of another’s anger and accusations. They may develop conversation, however, rather than ending one in argument. These are only opening responses and the dialogue often must be extended. They represent a tone of approach. This is the work of Round 2. It often takes the entire Group to develop these responses and then practice them in Psychodrama. The Group practices empathy and support for “P” as “P” practices new interactions and sometimes deals with rebuff from real life Antagonists that has taken place outside the Group. This is therapeutic work for all members.

            What we are developing and practicing is constructive communication. The Group is there to help practice these responses as well as promote communication. The point of these comments is to turn blocked and hostile communication into an interaction with some resolution. The temptation for “P” to set themselves right and “A” in the wrong should be avoided even if this is truly the case (or appears so to “P”). These replies must be given with an understanding tone of voice. Any tinge of anger on “P’s” part will give the impression of sarcasm or mockery.  

            Practice of Second Round interaction in Psychodrama leads to a Group discussion about methods and strategies for the person playing “P” to deal with the real-life person or situation that “A” is meant to represent. It is not easy to develop Round 2 responses and for this reason full Group discussion between rounds is necessary and important. As individuals of Group come to know one another, members become aware of one another’s potentials, as well as the blocks that are the ingredients of future Psychodramas. This is an opportunity for all Group members to work with “P” to develop untapped sources of healthy feelings and responses toward others. This helps “P” and all Group members to develop these responses.

            Sometimes Round 2 is seen by Group members as “P” giving in to “A’s” demands. In fact this has often been the topic of Group discussion. Wallace McAfee addresses this issue in his interview in the previous chapter. Capitulating or giving in to “A” is not the purpose of this process. “P” is to take a more integrated, more mature view of interactions; “P” should not do what “A” wishes if this would be improper but instead communicates understanding to “A”. If “P” feels that this is giving in, “P” may still be harboring wishes to fight with “A” and a return to Round 1 is indicated. It is not unusual for “P” to practice a Round 2 and discover a new well of anger and, therefore, return to First Round. “P” may have initial experiences in Psychodrama where he or she feel enraged, even out-of-control. First Round may also surface feelings of despair and hopelessness: e. g. “ If you don’t agree with me, I feel panic or enraged!.” (This may lead to a Time Out to discuss the source and how to calm these feelings.) After several episodes of Psychodrama and much support from Group, “P” begins feeling a sense of wholeness, personal strength, and integration. “P” is the person in control during the interaction. “A” can remain belligerent towards “P”, but that’s Ok! “P”, with the strength of Group, is calmly extending a sense of Forgiveness to “A”. “A” is calming down and at least beginning to feel a sense of empathy from “P”.


Psychodrama is a very lively event in the Group. It involves all the members in one capacity or another. At this point I will discuss some of the trends that take place on the group process level.

1. INDIVIDUAL-GROUP EFFECT:  Although it is most obvious that Psychodrama re-enacts an interpersonal situation, it may also be viewed in psychodynamic terms. The Psychodrama may be described as a re-creation in space and time of what is taking place in the mind of the person playing the Protagonist. In psychoanalytic metapsychology, “P” represents the ego, “A” the punishing super-ego or the irresponsible, over-demanding id. Sometimes Antagonist seems to be both of these voices at once, a clear characterization of a Double-Bind. (In Beyond the Pleasure Principle and the studies that followed in the late 1920s including GP&AE, Freud indicates that the source of the super-ego is closely tied to the id.) At best, Protagonist responds with self-protective rage. If “P” becomes stumped or overwhelmed (mystified, dissociated, intimidated) by “A”, Alter Ego-Pro gives voice, in the First Round, to those preconscious drives toward health that have festered into rage from repression. “P” being effectively placed in a helpless position, is even reminiscent of Freud’s description of the ego:

The proverb tells us that one cannot serve two masters at once. The poor ego has a still harder time of it, it has to serve three harsh masters, and have to do its best to reconcile the claims and demands of all three. These demands are always divergent and often quite incompatable; no wonder that the ego so frequently gives way under the task. The three tyrants are the external world, the super-ego, and the id.

New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (77:108)

Whereas psychoanalysis often leaves humanity in this rather suspended state of tension and helplessness, this use of Psychodrama seeks to go beyond these constructs and may be following Freud’s more hopeful dictum: 

For (the psychoanalyst’s) object is to strengthen the ego, to make it more independent of the super-ego, to widen its field of vision, and so to extend its organization that it can take over new portions of the id. Where id was there ego shall be.

New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (77:111-112).        

In Round 2 the tenor of the Psychodrama changes. Rather than a helpless ego, whose ultimate goal is to give voice or defend against the angry id, often with incoherent rage, “P’s” goal is an integrative one. Alter-Ego Pro’s goal, similarly at this point, is to help reinforce Protangonist’s new perceptions of Antagonist. “P” practices seeing and interacting with Antagonist as an equal, not only as a pitiful child barely able to protect oneself or as an enraged contender who must crush “A” in order to possess the tremendous power that “A” seems to possess.

            This practice of Psychodrama, then, is a fundamental extension of a basic psychodynamic-therapeutic viewpoint. It allows the individual, with the help of the Group, to communicate with and change relations with problematic parts of the self. Often defined as repressed or unconscious, these drives are usually difficult to bring to awareness. The entire Group, when involved in Psychodrama, is a symbolic representation of the workings of our central player’s mind. Even during Psychodrama, however, the Group maintains its own integrity. This lends a sense of strength and organization to the central individual.

2. GROUP-INDIVIDUAL EFFECT:  The concept of space gives an interesting comparison between the effects on the individual of the usual Group interaction and Psychodrama. When a Group member is speaking about themselves while sitting on the periphery of the Group circle, he or she may talk to individuals across the Group as shown in Figure 2:


A Group member may talk to several other members:


There is also a possibility that other Group members may talk to one another about a third member, leaving them an observer:


During Psychodrama the rules of the game structure the conversation so that the central individual (“P”) must recreate, using the Group members as players, the subject of his or her communication. This actually places the Protagonist at the center of the Group, physically as well as symbolically:


“P” (returning to our opening example, Shirley Martin) is allowed and encouraged to reproduce her own thoughts and mental scenes with the help of of Group members. She is involving them in her thought process. “P” incorporates this with the Group process in this manner. These procedures are also structured by the rules of the game. In Round 1 “P” is confronted by her Antagonist. She responds poorly. Her inner feelings only confuse her actions and perceptions toward this imagined person. With the help of her Alter-Egos she develops a strengthened response: anger and rage instead of passive withdrawal. Sometimes this act must be repeated many times, like exercising a muscle to improve its strength and tone. A cathartic effect is achieved that seems to drain the rage and anger and unblock these tangled feeling toward the person she experiences as her tormentor. As she expresses these emotions, she communicates an experience that has been largely rejected from social communication and consciousness. The members of Group respond in an accepting, therapeutic manner of empathy and warmth but also with a challenging attitude. In later Psychodramas she takes on the Antagonist herself. (She may have gone on to other problem people in her life, often more personal, often parents.) In this way the Psychodrama experience strengthens her sense of self.

            In Round 2 “P” practices a stance of viewing the tormentor with heightened reality and appropriate emotions. This action is also encouraged even shepherded with the help of Alter-Ego Pro and the empathy of the entire Group. In this enactment the person who plays “P” also discloses herself to the Group. In these ways “P” becomes more fully a member and receives the strength and healing forces of the entire Group on deeper levels of herself. Group members who form the audience and Alter-Egos work on their own issues vicariously as they work to help “P”.

           It is essential that the trend of the Group is toward improvement and health. There is a high probability that in a group characterized by destructive values or alienation, (This may be a contradiction: Can a “Group” be characterized by alienation? A highly competitive classroom situation with instruction to interact as a supportive group might fit this discription and is likely to produce aberrant fruits. “Let me help you cross this street by pushing you into traffic.” (Or at least publically embarassing you.) “This is for your own good.” “This hurts me more than...” You know the rest [ref. “double-bind”, “mystification”, R. D. Laing: Politics of Experience, Self and Others, (127, 128, 129)]. Cf. chapters on mystification and collusion. “P” may come out worse for the experience. 8

            There are instances when the actual person represented by “A” is intractable or as McAfee might assess: Compulsive, to the point of needing a large portion of Excuse. This does not mean ignoring them. They may be in a power position or even dangerous to “P”. In extreme cases they may expect “P” to carry out dangerous or unethical behavior. At this point I recognize these potential issues and recommend that this be a discussion in Group. These may be times when other authorities or consultants should be involved. Role playing allows rehearsal for these extremely difficult interactions and the involvement of others as distant witnesses may be helpful. Discussion of dangerous situations which may involve legal issues, administrators on jobs, parents for juveniles—as well as experiences adults may have had as children in similar situations—are forms of empathetic understanding that the entire Group participates in. These portrayals can also be developed into role plays for problem solving.

3. PRESENTATION: The actual implementation of Psychodrama in the Group does not run quite so smoothly as implied by just reading the theory. This is especially true with a Group of inexperienced players. Initially, when I teach and demonstrate Psychodrama to a new Group, I set up the chairs as in Figure 1 and briefly explain what each of the parts is to consist of.  Sometimes I stand by the chairs and even act out a prototypal Psychodrama, playing all of the parts. This actually presents this movement oriented action technique for Group members to model. 

            Instead of using terms like Protagonist or Antagonist, which are derived from Moreno’s original terminology which, in turn, comes from classical drama, I describe the roles in common language such as “Hero” and “Villain” which come from classical melodrama.  I then describe the two rounds. In the First Round the Villain is to make the Hero angry and the Hero has a chance to vent. It is important for the Hero to express rage. If the Hero cannot get angry, then members of the audience come up to the table and help. I make a point that the anger is to be expressed only in the Group and not taken out on the actual person who the Villain represents. If the Hero was to leave and blow up at the Villain’s real-life counterpart, it would be acting on only half the Psychodrama and would likely make the relationship worse.

            Once the Hero has vented and released some of this anger, he or she is ready to practice Round 2, designed to improve relations. I now present my version of active communication: reflecting 1) Facts, 2) Feelings, 3) Empathy with Villain. I also explain that this is probably the most difficult part of the Psychodrama and will require much work and Group discussion.

            I present a Psychodrama using a fictitious example. I play all the parts or have members sit in the chairs while I stand behind them and speak for them. In producing the example, I try to use what seems to be a focal issue for all Group members. This increases Group Cohesiveness as well as personal interest. The Hero-Villain terminology also activates certain archetypal themes facilitating Universality. Some examples of these themes that I have used for demonstrating Psychodrama in psychiatric hospital in-patient Groups include husband-wife interactions with a Group largely composed of depressed wives or alcoholic men, or depressed husbands and alcoholic women. (Sometimes its hard to tell the difference! This may be an area to experiment with role reversal.) Other themes are parent-child interaction for Groups of adolescents and young adults. If the members are sensitive to the issues, I have even done Psychodramas with psychotic patients, although the roles and themes must be much more closely tailored and controlled with the leader keeping track of boundary issues and keeping the interaction at a level that the patient can understand or not misconstrue too badly. I have seen ‘psychotic’ responses in Group that actually initiated new, fruitful directions of discussion.  

            Initially I try to portray the Villain as a real jerk: “A Number One Asshole.” Yes, swearing is encouraged and is an important part of Round 1 Catharsis, often almost lubricating the process.. A breakthrough came in one in-patient Group when a very withdrawn young woman was able, with much encouragement from other members, to yell at the person playing her mother, calling her: “Bitch!” This was after two weeks during which time she called the nurses “bitch” with little hesitation. This usually happened when she did not get her demands met immediately by the nursing staff while she was an in-patient. She was discharged from the hospital much improved, a week later. She had made some fairly important life decisions which seemed to the staff and her psychiatrist to be in a positive direction. These included Second Round rehearsals for meeting her mother in family Group described below. I do not claim that Psychodrama was the cure. She had many different forms of treatment while hospitalized, but it appeared to help her communicate in the daily patient Group sessions. Her more extraverted and accurately placed expression may have been indication that she was improving psychologically. 

            I often show the Villain as initially winning the battle and then demonstrate the Hero’s Alter-Ego coming to the rescue and reinforcing the Hero. Then the Hero takes over and ultimately is successful with expression of anger or rage.

            I make a point of the importance of Round 2. Round 1 is cathartic, generating interest and energy it can be fun and highly motivating. Occasionally the audience cheers a sincere Round 1 cathartic portrayal or an important breakthrough such as with the young woman just cited. Round 2 requires concentration and is work, albeit creative work. Round 2 definitely has its benefits and satisfactions. The withdrawn woman who I just described practiced ways to tell her mother “No!” when the Antagonist playing her mother attempted to boss her. She had to practice saying “No!” in a non-alienating manner.  

            I present examples of possible Round 2 responses. The Hero neither agrees nor disagrees with the Villain but listens and replies with reflection of Facts, Feelings, or Empathy. I will present an example from one of the Psychodramas in which our withdrawn woman participated. (Call her “Janet”.) This is a Round 2 interaction with another patient playing her mother and eventually an alter-ego helping. Round 1 has already taken place. After several practice Round 1 Psychodramas during the previous days, Janet was able to yell loudly, even hitting the table with fury. This was directed at another patient playing her mother as Antagonist. Janet surprised the Group with a barrage of very insulting swear words. Group discussion included empathetic responses from other members about issues with their own mothers or their roles as mothers. These led to a discussion about Janet’s mother’s mixed motives; her “help” had a high price for Janet. It too often fostered a debilitating dependency. This Psychodrama attempts to deal with this issue:

M (Antagonist as Mother): “When you get out of the hospital you can stay with me.”

J (Janet):  “Mother! I told you that I was going to stay with Sally. (Sally is a collegue from her work.) She has...”

M (Interrupting):  “You know that’s not going to work. I have room. You don’t have to pay rent and can get on your feet. You don’t have to go back to work right now.”

J: “Stop!....I can’t deal with this.” Janet is visibly upset. I ask her to take some deep breaths and put the interaction out of her mind for a minute or two.

After a Time Out during which the Group discussed whether a return to Round 1 may be needed, Janet decided that we should continue with Round 2 and an Alter-Ego to help her speak calmly to “M”. In previous Groups, especially during Round 1, Group members had noted how much of “M’s” communication was disconfirmation of “J’s” competence.

M: “You know that the stress is too much for you. You’ll just end up back here.”

Alt-Ego J: “Thank you for all your concern and offers to help, but I’m a lot calmer now than when I came in. I’ll be fine. You don’t have to worry.”

TW (group leader, to Alter-Ego J):  “You don’t have to explain or waffle around.”

The psychiatric nursing staff had had previous treatment discussions and the consensus was that Janet needed help focusing her anger on its source rather than on them. Helping her set boundaries and making her own decisions was a part of Janet’s treatment plan that I, as group leader, was trying to accomplish. The other patients also seemed to understand this intuitively and played their parts effectively as alter egos or giving Janet encouragement and support. Most of the patients had met Janet’s mother and watched them interact during visiting and Patient-Family Group.

M:  “Yes.  Why don’t you just come home?”

Alt-Ego J: “I really appreciate the offer.  You’re really trying to help, but I..uh...(rushed) I don’t want to!”

(Group laughter.)

TW:  “You don’t have to explain, even if it seems that she demands it. Just keep answering by reflection. See if you can just acknowledge what she said by repeating it back. It’s OK to be repetative. It’s like you’re trying to drain off her bossy energy without a fight.”

After Group discussion of what reflection would be like.

M:  “Just come home with me. You’ll be fine.”

Alt-Ego J: “I appreciate your concern. Your offer to help is—helpful. I don’t know what else to say.” (Group laughter.)

TW: “Try repeating word for word.”

M:  “OK, Start again. (In role—loud deep commanding voice.): You’re not ready to be on your own. You don’t need all the stress. Come stay with me.”

Alt-Ego J:  (In a loud, deep parody of “M”) “You say I’m not ready to stay on my own!! I should come stay with you!” (Lots of laughter.)

TW: “ Yeah, OK! Very good! Now, do you want to try it the way you actually might do it?”

       (After a bit of tangential conversation during which another Group member coached J and rehearsed with her on the side, individually.)

TW: “ OK. Let’ gather together and rehearse it as a Group. ”

M: “I know you’ll be much happier at home.” 

Alt-Ego J:  “You’re trying to help me make it through with all the stress.”

M:  “Now quit all this fooling around. Just make up your mind and come home with me. You can leave as soon as you sign out.” 

Alt-Ego J:  “I understand that you want me to come stay with you. I just have to think. I appreciate the offer and concern.”

Alt-Ego J practiced several different rounds. Another Group member played Alt-Ego J for a round, then Janet took over:

M:  “Don’t be stubborn. You know that you’ll do better if you come home and stay with me.”

J: “I know that you want me to stay with you. It seems that I’m being stubborn. I really appreciate your offer to help though.”

M:  “And...”

J:  “You’re expecting me to come stay with you, but I have to work things out myself.”

M:  “Well, shouldn’t you?  You don’t need to go right back out and face all that trouble.”

J:  “You’re trying really hard to help me.”

M:  “Yes. And...”

J:  “I want to put this decision on hold. I’m going to talk with Dr. G- about this.”

M:  “Well, I think that you can decide right now.”

J:  “No. I know I was really a mess when I got here, but I’m lots better now. I want to talk with the doctor and we can wait. I don’t think there’s anything else to say right now.“

M:  “You can see him in his office. It would be easier for you if you come stay with me. You’ll be fine.“

J:  “I know you’re concerned and I appreciate the help. I just have to make my decision with the doctor about leaving, so let’s end the conversation about this right here. There’s nothing else I can say.”

M:  “Well, you can just discharge yourself right now. What do you mean there’s nothing else to do? Just do what I say and come home right now.”

J:  “I know you think that it would be best for me to come to your house. I need to plan this carefully. Thanks, but I will talk with Dr. G-. There’s nothing else to say right now.”

M:  “Just stop this nonsense and come home.”

J:  “No more talk about this.”

At this point Janet is encouraged to repeat this response—including firm direction for her mother—with little variation and without further conversation. She is being helped to stand her ground with others to back her up. In a Group session this reply could be provocative in itself. Janet has had several sessions of Round 1 where she has had the opportunity to express her full anger and experience empathy and concern from the Group. Even then she may feel pressured to give in to her mother’s commands. She may become angry at the Group leader for suggesting this procedure. This often leads to Group discussion during a Time Out from Psychodrama. In this instance, other Group members praised Janet for her effort after the Psychodrama. Janet herself related that she began the Psychodrama with a feeling of fear, but she felt stronger as the role-play progressed. Although the interchange may continue for awhile longer, if the Hero continues in this same vein, the person portraying the Villain has soon expressed themselves fully and a potentially destructive interaction has been defused. It is difficult for the provocateur to keep up their momentum if Hero or Protagonist does not fight. Sometimes they will become enraged at the Group or the leader. We are allowing the angry Villain or Antagonist to express themselves and drain off some of their anger.  

            As it turned out, Janet initiated a discussion with her mother the next evening during Patient-Family Group. Her mother did not argue and agreed fairly easily that Janet should plan her discharge with her doctor and arrange appropriate supports. Janet was clear and straightforward with her presentation. It appeared that a new frame-of-reference in which their communication could take place had been established.   

            The Hero maintains an even, calm emotional stance. She does not admit wrong doing even if the Villain expects this. In the ideal interaction Hero encourages mother to feel warmth and concern. If she is able to experience this successful communication, it may help her to resolve some of her frustrations and anxiety, even fear, that leads her to be overcontrolling. Like Hero, we are all attempting to develop ourselves as therapeutic agents.

           Often the outlook of the Hero before Psychodrama is that the Villain must understand and acknowledge his or her point of view.  Afterward this outlook changes. The Hero takes responsibility for the interaction rather than blaming the Villain. In this manner Hero’s Freedom has grown.  9  

While these samples are very simplified examples, they are ways of presenting Psychodrama to Group members who are inexperienced. With the actual participation of Group members, and some guidance with the process, Psychodramas become complex quite rapidly. The effectiveness of Psychodrama grows as members of the Group become better and better acquainted with one another and as understanding and experience with Psychodrama increases. In the early stages anger is expressed only with difficulty and is carried over into Round 2.  

John Kluthe has conducted Psychodramas with high school students, primarily exploring parent-child relations. He relates that initially the students see this technique as a means of learning how to control their parents rather than learning how to improve the quality of interaction between themselves and parents. He observes that this indicates a contamination of Round 2 by anger and desire for power that has not fully been expressed. It takes a good deal of discussion of the background philosophy by the leader, relating increased Freedom with acceptance of responsibility. There is a great deal of student venting, especially in Round 1, as well as redirecting and repeating Psychodramatic scenes, before they start to work on Round 2 goals. Adolescence is a time of great experimentation with taking control of life and evaluation of the responsibility this entails, as is adulthood in droves! Psychodrama is one method of rehearsal.  10 


A new participant in an experienced Psychodrama Group can be encouraged to work on too much, too fast. This sometimes has a boomerang effect similar to a person having their defenses exposed too rapidly. At the beginning of this chapter it was noted how new people attending an experienced Group have described it as “weird” or left almost speechless and refused to return after only observing. It is important that the leader take note of anyone who, not understanding or not being prepared for a new experience, may be put off or even harmed by participating. Sometimes new Group members have entered right in to a Psychodrama unprepared, expressing emotion that has been held in check and felt a rebound rush of guilt. Response like this can even follow an experience that initially feels exhilarating. If the leader and other Group members are sensitive and have developed a degree of empathy, they are able to help one another, and particularly a new member, integrate these newly conscious emotions. Although the Group philosophy presented in the previous chapter recognizes Guilt as a step toward Freedom, a new Group participant may not understand this connection. Experienced Group members discuss—and struggle with these concepts repeatedly—developing new insights and depths of awareness.

            On the other hand, as Group members become more experienced and the Group more cohesive, the responsibility of leadership is taken over.  The Group members become very creative and therapeutically effective in staging and method.

            Certain other techniques or variations are sometimes useful.  Examples that originated with Moreno included “Soliloquy”, the Protagonist playing both roles, and “Role Reversal”, when the Protagonist takes the part of the Antagonist, sometimes changing seats to play both roles. These procedures are helpful when the supporting Group members can not reproduce the tone of the Antagonist to the Protagonist's satisfaction. The Protagonist can demonstrate how the Antagonist communicates and the verbal interchange between them. This exercise is often cathartic in itself, helping Group to empathize with Protagonist and helping Protagonist to develop empathy with Antagonist.  

            Other variations include the ‘Hot-Seat’ techniques identified with Fritz Perls. He elaborated on the ‘Hot Seat’ to become one of the mainstays of Gestalt Therapy. In this method Protagonist talks to an empty chair then sits in this chair and speaks for the Antagonist. One person can develop a complex dialogue by changing chairs in this manner. Perls uses this technique to explore the various roles of dream content. A single person speaks for different objects or characters that appear in their own dream thereby developing the symbolic meanings and/or reincorperating these symbols. Perls also has players act out different parts of their personality that have been neglected or denied–often the source of troubling symptoms. (Cf. Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (171)).

            Group members develop the most interesting variations and scenarios as they become experienced and get to know one another. Over several years the Group in which I participated developed an unnamed Round which preceded Round 1 that McAfee dubbed “Round 0” (Round Zero!). Round 0 seems to function as a warm-up round, in which the absurdity of the situation is enacted, usually cracking us all up into laughter. We have seen Greek chorus-like choirs of muses walking around the room singing the praises of love, while the poor Protagonist tries to explain how hard it is to ask a girl out for a date. (With a good deal of laughter and kidding.) In later rounds these same muses become ‘allies’ helping Protagonist become more comfortable communicating with women. 

            In another Psychodrama, the Group room was turned into a machine shop. While the Protagonist attempts to inquire about a job with the foreman (in this case the Antagonist), forklifts drive through the room, between the players, over the table, while forges roar and metal is hammered into shape, interrupting (a bit of understatement!) the conversation. The Protagonist, who is an experienced player, finally shouts down a whole industrial operation. Then Round 2 comes—the real challenge: presenting one’s excellencies and securing that job.         

            The staging of Psychodramas, while usually fun and sometimes very difficult for the Protagonist, shows a depth of understanding and communicates Empathy of the Group. This deeper understanding of communication issues must be developed by Group members for successful portrayals. The therapeutic quality of Meaning Attribution recognized by Lieberman, Yalom, and Miles is developed by Group members in the planning and execution of Psychodrama. We become aware of problems and develop solutions for others and ourselves. These experiences are intellectually and Emotionally Stimulating. While not always obvious, the fun as well as challenge is a type of Warmth and concern. Recognition of the need for structure and rules as well as discussion that includes ethical approaches to our lives and the lives of others, demonstrates Executive Function, often taken over by the Group.

            In a Psychodrama that is somewhat reminiscent of the opening of this chapter, an applicant to a college is faced with a room full of bureaucratic secretaries whose interest in gossip is far greater than their interest in potential students. Once this hurdle is overcome, the applicant must face a gravely harried administrator. Although these situations sound rather gruesome on the surface, the empathetic fun of reenactment helps lighten the general awfulness. The Group members recognize their own situations in the Protagonist. Communication of this common experience is a major ingredient of Empathy. These players are experienced and Group members know each other pretty well so jokes and challenges are part of the scene. Humor often is the best medicine. It is only when a new member seems to be comfortable with a challenge that they would be pushed or thrown into an advanced Round Zero straight away. Usually new people watch for awhile with a great deal of interest or uncertainty, until they feel comfortable to venture into Psychodrama. Perhaps I have made it sound more of a venture than it really is. If a member of the Group is nervous, we can also help them break the ice, so to speak. Alter-ego can help ease unsure people into a Psychodrama.

            After participation in Psychodramas where irrational bosses, unconcerned teachers, distracted receptionist, as well as angry policemen, judges, persecuting nuns, priests, and ministers who even speak for God, are portrayed and answered to, first in anger then with empathy or at least a degree of understanding, the next challenge is faced. {Even empathizing with God may be possible. Although it is not Psychodrama, an example of deep role playing is presented by Desmond Tutu. During an interview with Amy Goodman he describes how he feels God must feel at times. [... On the Week of His 75th Birthday... (]}. We then go back to the source. Parents, the primal authorities, are portrayed and real-life situations from childhood, or even more recently, are reenacted. First, Protagonist tells them what he or she really wanted to say in those situations. Then, Second Round is practiced. This is what could have been said with an attitude of integration and strength. Once again, therapeutic work takes practice, usually it takes repeated practice.

            If anger or rage is too difficult to work through, a recess round is sometimes called when hypnosis, desensitization, or redirection techniques similar to those more recently developed and taught by Beck in Cognitive Therapy (14), are practiced—changing inner responses and the direction of previously accepted but compulsive behavior. Psychodrama is then resumed and new healthier communication is practiced.  

            Psychodrama can also bring poorly understood issues into consciousness and clarify them by dramatizing them for us all to understand and work with. Humor and play, drama and ritual, have repeatedly been referred to by other therapists and students of human development and healing traditions. Erickson and Piaget, Lifton, Bateson and Haley, Mead and Cooley, Yalom, Rogers, Cousins, Freud, Jung, Konner, and Adler have all identified these processes as powerful sources of therapeutic and maturational activity. Psychodrama brings them all togethter in a very unique and interesting event.

            Participation is often a ritual or ceremony of entrance to Group membership. “You’ve weathered exposing some of yourself and we’ve all become a part of your life. You’ve become part of ours. Welcome!”

NOTES      Chapter Four

1  Whiteneck, Theodore K.: Role Playing, Sociodrama, and Simulation Games:  Implemenatation for the Life Science Curriculum: Master of Science thesis, University of Southern California, 1972 (246). 

2  The harshness of Sartre’s phenomonological description should not be taken as his final word. He has written a prelude to an approach to human choice sympathetic to our own purposes, describing in a later essay how “...people...accuse existentialism of being too gloomy... I wonder whether they are complaining about it, not for its pessimism, but for its optimism. Can it be that what really scares them is...that it leaves to man the possibility of choice?” [Essays in Existentialism (204:33)]. Relevant to our study of the cathartic effect of drama, he is a play-write as well as a philosopher and novelist who wrote much of Being and Nothingness while surviving in the French underground with his existential colleagues Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus, among others, during WWII. Rollo May also weighs in: “The fact that existential psychotherapy places emphasis on these tragic aspects of life does not at all imply it is pessimistic. Quite the contrary. The confronting of genuine tragedy is a highly cathartic experience psychically as Aristotle, and others throughout history have reminded us. Tragedy is inseparably connected to human being’s dignity and grandeur, and is the accomplishment, as illustrated in the dramas of Oedipus and Orestes and Hamlet and Macbeth, of the person’s moment of greatest insight” (148:34). William Ofman develops a counseling-psychotherapy approach for Humanistic-Existential perspective largely centered on Sartrian and allied philosophies: “...I am making a rather explicit statement about the nature of man. I am positing that the concept of intentionality-which-is-consciousness means that in addition to brute reality, man tends to invent meaning and that this is his very nature. Man is intentional: he is orientation and directness to the world. To confront...encounter...and thus, to impart his task in life” [Affirmation and Reality: Fundamentals of Humanistic Existential Therapy and Counseling (165:33-34)].

3  David Rapaport writes in The Autonomy of the Ego: “The developing ego then integrates these structural apparatuses and re-represents their discharge-limiting and regulating function in the forms usually desribed as defenses...These defensive apparatuses come to our attention in the form of motivations of behavior, such as denial, avoidance, altruism, honesty, etc.” (186:254-255).

4  Gregory Bateson is one of the leaders of the research team that recognizes and establishes the importance of the Double-Bind for therapeutic work. He credits Jay Haley with naming this situation. Cf. Steps to an Ecology of Mind (13:202) and Watzlavick, Beavin, and Jackson: Pragmatics of Human Communication (238:8). Haley’s works include Strategies of Psychotherapy (88) and writings on patterns of family communication (88), as well as expositions and interviews with Milton H. Erickson, a master of multilevel hypnosis and therapy (89, 91). Erickson is a favorite of Wallace McAfee. Explanations and summaries of the Double-Bind are presented by various therapists in Berger, Milton M. ed., Beyond the Double Bind: Communication and Family Systems, Theories, and Techniques with Schizophrenics (18).

5  It is a fairly common discussion in Group (often heated) around the question of expression of anger outside Psychodrama. Especially hot are the issues of when and to whom expression of anger is appropriate. I would refer back to Wallace McAfee’s interview in the previous chapter for fuller discussion of this issue. McAfee takes the radical view that the person who is angry is allowing the other who is the object of this anger to control the interaction. In blunt, first person terms: “If you are angry at someone, you are allowing them to control you through your emotions. You are giving up your Freedom.” Group members including the present company, often become angry at this idea!

6  Aristotle’s view of catharsis in Poetics is also relevant to our therapeutic goals. The witnessing of drama, even tragedy, provides catharsis for the members of the audience. There is the traditional dramatic process of tension leading to crisis, followed by resolution. We have here a bit of foreshadowing of the final chapter of this study.

7  Bateson (13:206) and his co-workers, including Haley (88), Watzlawick, Beavin, Jackson (238:8), et al., identify the Double-Bind as a source of extreme confusion, often leading to mental illness. They study schizophrenia in particular. The Double-Bind is also implicated in a number of other psychological syndromes leaving the Protagonist confused and disheartened, and often dysfunctional. It may approximate a feeling of “Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t...and it’s your fault. You just want to blame me for all your issues. You know exactly what I’m talking about and what to do about it. You’re just trying to get me to take care of you and solve all your problems. So you sit there while the situation deteriorates, and you won’t let it go.” This may be spoken or, even more difficult, implied—a truly ‘crazy making’ experience. Haley also shows the presence of the Double-Bind in many therapeutic interactions including hypnosis, psychoanalytic transference, prescribing the symptom, and power-control issues involved in such admonitions as telling the client: “You know exactly what I’m talking about and what to do about it.... Good! Be yourself. Be natural and all else follows.” Of course it does. The client has succeeded. And so has the therapist! Cf. Strategies of Psychotherapy (76). Bateson and his coworkers Jackson, Haley, and Weakland identify the ingredients that produce a Double-Bind: 1) two or more Persons, 2) repeated experience, 3) a primary negative injunction, 4) a secondary injunction conflicting with the first on an abstract level, 5) a tertiary injunction preventing the victim from escaping, 6) the complete set of ingredients is no longer necessary when the victim has learned to perceive his or her universe within the Double-Bind perspective. In Berger, Milton M. ed., Beyond the Double Bind: Communication and Family Systems, Theories, and Techniques with Schizophrenics for a variety of perspectives and summaries (18:9-11).

8  This comment was inspired by my own experiences as student in classes that were supposed to operate as personal growth groups but were competitive at base, i. e., not everyone would pass the class—and you don’t even get your tuition back! Talk about a Double-Bind. Some teachers dealt with this in an up-front manner and the competition became an issue to work with therapeutically. In classes where these issues were not addressed openly, hostility often broke out between students and even between students and faculty. Rumors among students were that you had to sue the department or school to finally get your degree. Talk about a toxic crowd—posing as a group environment. At one point when the professor was meeting with the whole class, a student criticized his ideas. This resulted in the professor screaming (literally) at the student: “Get the fuck out of here! I don’t need this!” She got up and left (but returned the next week with no incident). Ideas that she was trying to get across got lost in the drama. It seemed to be a continuation of a previous conversation. Perhaps this was an undeclared Psychodrama. In L. A. at that time “Living Theatre” was popular as well as confrontational approaches to ‘therapy’ such as Synanon. I asked this fellow student about whether she was concerned about the professor’s outburst. She said she wasn’t. She commented that he just has trouble dealing with strong women and especially Jewish mother figures. (This is a paraphrase of an actual statement.) She was a middle-aged woman with a great deal of therapeutic experience as both a school counselor and, later, a social worker, as well as being a parent, now working on her Ph. D. The topic of the popularity (if this is the correct noun) of therapy with Jews—and especially their activism in the development of this discipline—had frequently come up in class discussions—the Prof also being Jewish—this usually discussed with a sense of pride and sometimes collegial humor. The student later had civil conversations with him in class. Anger in this and other instances continued for much of the semester. Its expression did not lead to any healthier level of interaction that I could identify, other than possibly entertainment. On the other hand, perhaps involvement in this type of event sensitizes students to aspects of the experience of being brainwashed—a topic in a Sociology of Education class that I was also taking—the experience of involuntary “psychotherapy” as may happen to patients who have been committed. Both of these last topics were issues discussed both professionally (hospital staff) and in class at that time. University students were often attracted to libertarian views, e. g. Thomas Szasz and sometimes R. D. Laing. Hospital staff concerns were for people whose behavior could cause danger to themselves or others. We often discussed Laing and Szasz—even attending a lecture by Laing as a group, but Dr. Szasz’s view of having a person arrested if a danger, even due to mental illness, seemed to us a inhumane, especially when many of our patients thanked us after recovery for helping them regain control of their lives. The issue seems to be whether a psychiatrist then a panel of psychiatrists should make a determination of whether a person is held and treated, or whether a judge should decide this sans treatment, often deferring to a psychiatrist in the end.
         Sometimes senior graduate students were instructed to lead groups of more junior students in styles and techniques with which the senior students were not skilled or comfortable. Junior students often also had more therapeutic experience, like our Jewish mother above, than the senior students. Research studies were also conducted without the subjects (these same junior students) being adequately informed.  All of these procedures may be in the fine old traditions of the academy, the behavioral sciences, and the initiation of grad students, but in the end there seems to be some grave ethical issues involved with a lack of responsibility for the often powerful effects of our “therapeutic” approaches. T-Group research shows similar issues when employees were encouraged to be open about their feelings toward their supervisors, but confidentiality was later violated with destructive results [Cf. Bradford, Gibb, & Benne, (22)]. My hunch is that the source of many group failures in the Stanford Encounter Group Research cited in Chapter 2 may have had related origins. Even if the groups were not presented as competitive, the general academic atmosphere would be present as a matter-of-course. Also an issue: while an instructor imparts information, it is the responsibility of the student to study and learn the subject. In my academic experience, some instructors were personable with students while others would not be bothered. (Notice how this theme has appeared and reappeared in the clinical and psychodrama chapters and probably several other places as well. This may be my own ax to grind.) In my understanding of counseling and psychotherapy, the therapist should maintain communication with the counselee to be aware of any deleterious effect that may develop. There are procedures that surface anxieties and other uncomfortable, sometimes disorienting experiences including past traumas (PTSDs) and crises experiences (Ch. 6). Becoming aware of Compulsions and conversion of these to Guilt with increased Freedom, as described in the previous chapter, may be accompanied by similar awarenesses. Granted, this is not always easy, but it is part of the “therapuetic relationship”, and follow-through and follow-up may even be presented, and necessarily agreed upon, as a “therapuetic contract” by some clinicians. This is one of the reasons therapists claim themselves as experts; although not all therapists agree, Fritz Perls, for example.(Cf. “The Gestalt Prayer” Cf. “Fritz Perls” entry Wikipedia.) for comment of therapeutic responsibility (171). He seems to function as a “stage therapist” like a “stage hypnotist” demonstrating to admiring workshop participants during his last years at Esalen. In spite of denials of concern at times in his presentations, at other points he seems to express helpful interest. This may be Perls’ Therapeutic Double-Bind. In the Clinical Chapter 2 above, there are indications in some of the encounter group narratives that follow-up, as would have been part of a therapy group or crisis intervention as described in Chapter 6, would identify participants who have negative results, concentrating on resolution to these issues.

9  During rewriting, after 30 years of experience, this account of transformation in relationships seems too breezy, easy, and just naïve. I would point out, however, that it does represent the model of Psychodrama technique and procedure accurately. The work and support that a couple or family needs, whose members may have severe symptoms and fairly entrenched habits, or what I termed in the previous chapter (following McAfee) “compulsions,” is greater than implied above. There are types of interactions that are so disturbed that other treatment approaches need to be undertaken before Round 2 can be successful. For example, a woman may be depressed or a child may develop disturbed behavior due to abusive relationships. The victims’ safety must be addressed before communication styles can be practiced. An alcoholic or addicted family member may have to address his or her chemical dependency before effective interpersonal counseling can begin. Sometimes what seems to begin as communications counseling uncovers these deeper, more entrenched issues. Intervention must come first. Family members, rather than the identified patient, may need help with developing an intervention. Functional family members may benefit more rapidly from therapeutic process. Role-playing and Psychodrama may help them deal with emotional reactions as well as rehearse methods of intervention. Although I have implied it, the importance of repeat practice of new communication styles should be emphasized. Sometime clinical vignettes highlight breakthroughs, but as with every new learning experience: reading, writing, music, art, dance, etc., these do not improve without this practice.

10  John Kluthe, Ph. D., personal communication.