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Recovering feelings from past trauma to process and release them

Understanding Psychodrama

Psychodrama is a role-based therapy that helps to remove emotional scar tissue from the patient’s inner world. When trauma occurs, the body can shut down the thinking and processing part of our brains and activate our fight-or-flight limbic nervous system. We may remember moments of trauma only hazily because our processing brain was shutting down and our reactive brain was gearing up. Because of this, our bodies may record the feelings that accompany trauma without the inner narrative that helps us understand them.

The purpose of psychodrama is to go back and recover those feelings. Why would you want to revisit past pain? Because it’s only by processing the experience that you’re able to assist the body in releasing the feelings associated with it. Unresolved trauma can lead to a host of physical problems and increase the likelihood of relapses in patients dealing with addiction. Psychodrama is an important tool in “unlocking” the body and mind from these experiences and moving beyond them.

The History of Psychodrama

Psychodrama was developed by Jacob Moreno, MD, as a therapeutic technique using guided dramatic action to examine events or relationships and correct issues or problems that have arisen because of them. Meadows Senior Fellow Dr. Tian Dayton is a board-certified trainer in psychodrama, sociometry, and group psychotherapy, as well as the director of The New York Psychodrama Training Institute and a fellow of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. The practice is used in Meadows Behavioral Healthcare’s inpatient treatment programs as well as in some workshops at the Rio Retreat Center.

Tian Dayton Joins

How It Works

Traditional talk therapy asks patients to explain experiences and feelings, which isn’t always possible with traumatic experiences. Psychodrama allows patients to embody experiences and interact with them, rather than just talking about them. Typically done in a group session, a psychodrama involves choosing roles – a protagonist and auxiliary players, guided by a director – and re-enacting a scene of a charged memory that the protagonist chooses.

The re-enactment focuses on unearthing the feelings of the protagonist, working toward developing an “action insight” that gives them clarity about the experience. The scene may be repeated with altered ending/s for the protagonist to understand and resolve some of the issues embedded in the memory upon which the scene is based.

When we move a traumatic experience from our inner world into our outer world and deal with it in the here and now, it changes the way it lives inside of us. “We develop what we call in psychodrama ‘action insight,’ where we see with clarity what has been foggy and indistinct, giving shape and form to something that has felt shapeless and formless,” Dr. Dayton explains.

For more on how psychodrama can heal trauma, read this blog post by Dr. Dayton.

Beyond Theory Podcast

Meadows Senior Fellow Dr. Tian Dayton discusses why role-playing is a core element of psychodrama and how it helps people externalize inner dynamics to see issues from different perspectives. Later, she explains why it’s important for therapists to trust the process and remember to be of service to the client.

Featured Article: How Psychodrama Heals Trauma

Learn more
Psychodrama heals trauma


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