The Matrix of Psychodrama: Family Therapy and Psychodrama

This conference celebrates and explores the complex and rewarding interaction between psychodrama and other schools of therapy.

The second day of the conference has a focus on mentalization and attachment theory with a Plenary Address by Professor Peter Fonagy, Freud Memorial Professor of Psychoanalysis at University College London and one of the co-creators of the theories of mentalization.

The fourth day of this conference opens with a Plenary Address by two world famous professors of family therapy, Rudi Dallos and Arlene Vetere whose book Working Systemically with Families: Formulation, Intervention and Evaluation (2009) is now a classic in its field.

Arlene Vetere and Rudi Dallos now write:

This plenary explores the use of action techniques in contemporary attachment narrative therapy with couples and families. Action techniques have been part of systemic family therapy from the beginning, with the major schools of thought developing their use to explore and emphasise different theoretical aspects of lived experience in close relationships. For example, enactment and re-enactment were central to structural family therapy; gestalt informed approaches, such as that of Virginia Satir, utilised sculpting; and ‘internalised other interviewing’ was developed in post-Milan approaches. Action techniques are both the vehicle for change and a powerful medium for supporting change in relationships. Attachment narrative therapy is an integration of attachment theory with narrative theory and systemic theory and practice. Intervention is rooted in integrative formulation and action techniques are at the heart of our approach to theory-practice linking. Within attachment narrative therapy we adapt these action techniques to focus on the attachment meaning and significance within interactional patterns. For example, within the secure base of therapy they support us in taking emotional risks in our relationships, they can address experience across all representational systems, and they help us integrate experience into a coherent narrative. Action techniques, such as sculpting with objects to explore attachment connections in families  can be used collaboratively and adapted to family members’ particular circumstances and emotional needs, providing the means to help people calm down and self-soothe when unhelpfully aroused, and to ‘warm up’ and explore and illuminate previously warded off feelings and experiences. Thus they help create a safe context for reflective thought and effective problem solving.

The links between psychodrama and other therapies have always been there. Indeed in the book published to mark the first BPA international conference in Oxford in 1994, Psychodrama Since Moreno, the editors (Paul Holmes, Marcia Karp and Mike Watson) placed psychodrama within a conceptual matrix of therapeutic space occupied by other schools of psychotherapy. Psychodrama fell centrally surrounded (on two dimensional axes: the conscious / unconscious and the psycho-spiritual) right in the middle.

This year’s conference is celebrated by a new book Empowering Therapeutic Practice edited by Paul Holmes, Mark Farrall and Kate Kirk. 


Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 13.28.01

Psychodrama is in many ways always about exploring families. In classical protagonist-centred psychodrama the ‘family’ is held internally with the group members’ minds, and then externalised onto the stage. However some psychodramatists much more actively involve actual members of the family. Two workshops at this conference explore these issues.

Inara Erdmanis, a clinical psychologist, certified psychotherapist, psychodramatist and President of Latvian Moreno Institute. She was trained primarily by from Zerka Moreno in psychodrama and Virginia Satir in family therapy.

In her workshop Psychodrama in Family Therapy she explores how the process of Family Reconstruction can be used in educating family therapists, in psychotherapy and in various self-experience groups. The aims include: finishing unfinished business, beginning, ending or rejuvenating current relationships. Using action, it is possible to discover different family structures, repeated patterns of behaviour and seeing the influence of 2 or 3 past generations on our lives today. In this workshop, we will look at how family reconstruction differs from social atom, networking and ghost analysis.

Chip Chimera, a psychodramatist and a leading British family therapist, also has a workshop on the fourth day of the conference. She is currently engaged on work for a clinical doctorate on action methods in family therapy. In her chapter in the new book she writes:

Psychodrama and systemic family therapy often fit together perfectly. …… Psychodrama’s ability to ‘surprise the mind’ of clients and therapists alike brings the potential for an added dimension of ‘sparkle’ to the therapy room where clients and therapists can become bogged down and, to use a phrase popular in narrative family therapy, ‘problem saturated’.

She continues:

At least a decade before the conception of family therapy as a separate discipline, J. L. Moreno was working with couples and families. Moreno addresses interpersonal relationships; he documents the treatment of a ‘matrimonial triangle’ in a 20 year marriage. The wife suffered from ‘hysterical attacks, insomnia and suicidal ideas’ and the husband was having an affair. Moreno undertook a form of couple therapy in which he saw each of them individually acting as an ‘auxiliary ego’ for the other until they were able to meet therapeutically together in the same room. Though Moreno used the language of psychoanalysis, he saw the ‘neurosis’ as existing in the system of the three people and not just in the symptomatic person….

Moreno describes avoiding diagnosis and treating the relationship; this was revolutionary thinking and practice for the time. He defined the auxiliary ego, a central construct in psychodrama, as having two functions, first as a representation of the present client, and secondly as a representation of the absent person. In this way he hoped to break the ‘isolated treatment in a psychiatric or psychoanalytic office’……

Moreno proceeds more like an artist than a therapist ‘not like an advocate who tries to influence an opponent for the sake of his client, and not like a laboratory scientist who presents his findings as objectively as possible, but like a poet who enters with his feelings and his fantasy into the dramatis persona of his hero.

In her workshop Systemic Family Psychodrama – Passion in Action Chip will give participants the opportunity to explore the connections between systemic family therapy and psychodrama allowing an exploration in action of how the two methods can be combined in practice and the mutual influence of each upon the other. A sociodramatic meeting between Gregory Bateson and his followers and the JL and Zerka Moreno and their followers will take place.

Don’t just read the books – come and enjoy hearing, meeting and working with senior professionals from another therapeutic field first explored by J L Moreno.

Paul Holmes, Blog Editor