Psychodrama Therapy for Substance Abuse

Psychodrama TherapySubstance abuse is a serious issue. Recovery often requires several therapies to treat the condition. One of the essential tools used by therapists is called psychodrama psychotherapy. But what is it, and how can it be of benefit to an individual suffering from addiction?

Psychodrama therapy is an alternative treatment method that uses dramatization and role-playing. It also employs the use of dramatic self-presentation. The aim is to help the patient better understand their life and how to improve It.

Many treatment modalities and therapy approaches can help individuals who are working to overcome addiction. At Harmony Place, we understand this fact and we strive to offer the best therapeutic resources available. Our clients can rest assured that we will provide them with the right types of therapy for them. If psychotherapeutic approaches can help, we will certainly include them in our clients’ rehabilitation!

What is Psychodrama Therapy?

Psychodrama is an action therapy that is beneficial for all ages and populations. Therapists often use it in a group, individual, or family setting. It works by assisting the client’s ability to confront unresolved issues. Trained auxiliaries help carry out the performance in a supportive environment. It also utilizes real-life scenarios to reenact traumatic events.

Psychodrama was first introduced in the early 1900s by Jacob L. Moreno, M.D. He was a practicing psychiatrist who wanted to advance beyond the theories of Sigmund Freud and others. He desired to move from a stale office setting and reach people in their natural daily environments.

One way to do that is to have each individual bring their life experiences to a group setting. The therapist then asks each patient to participate in a dramatization or role-playing exercise. The goal is to use dramatic scenes and self-expression to gain insights into their past experiences.

Although groups can carry out these scenes almost anywhere, there is often a stage setup. Sometimes, lighting and props are used to add to the realism. Also, several participants are typically asked to play different roles to assist with the short production.

Therapy With a Purpose

substance abusePsychodrama group therapy allows the actors to express themselves using dramatic re-enactments of past events. The end goal is for the participant to uncover their spontaneity and creativity. By unleashing both of these beneficial outcomes, people can improve their daily lives and rediscover their sense of self-worth.

One person is assigned to be the protagonist. This is usually the person who is the focus of the therapy. However, other participants are often patient as well. The main objective is for the protagonist to see themselves unraveling old, destructive scenes. The group then encourages the person to replace them with more positive ones.


Therapists use several psychodramatic techniques. Here are a few examples:

  • Mirroring occurs when the therapist selects a protagonist to act out a past experience. Then, another person reenacts the same scene.
  • Doubling is where the psychodrama director assigns another actor to stand behind the protagonist. The idea is to have them say things the protagonist might be withholding due to shyness or suppression of emotions.
  • Role-playing involves the participant taking on the role of someone who may have hurt them in the past.
  • Soliloquy is used in drama to let the main character tell the audience how they feel. When psychodrama therapy involves soliloquy, it promotes the expression of emotions a person may be suppressing.
  • Role reversal employs the use of two participants. The client takes on the role of another person while another actor takes on the part of the client.

These are just a few examples of the techniques used within the practice of psychodrama. Therapists are discovering new methods all the time.

What Happens During a Typical Psychodrama Therapy Session?

A licensed psychodrama therapist usually leads the session. It generally runs from 90 to 120 minutes. And it primarily focuses on the main participant, also known as the protagonist. The other participants listen and support the protagonist through interactions during mirroring, doubling, and role-playing exercises. Sessions are divided into three phases:


During this phase, the therapist introduces the protagonist to the rest of the actors. They also receive information concerning the mechanisms of each activity and their assigned roles.

Action phase

This is where the protagonist and their supporting actors act out the various assigned scenes.

Post-discussion phase

During this last phase, all participants share their viewpoints, experiences, and empathy concerning the scene. It is a general rule that participants are not allowed to critique a performance. Instead, they’re encouraged to show compassion and support for the protagonist.

Is Psychodrama Therapy Safe?

All psychotherapists utilizing this approach are highly trained and certified by the American Board of Examiners in Psychodrama. They must first obtain a master’s degree in a related field and complete 780 hours of training. They also have to complete 52 weeks of supervised practice in sociometry, group therapy, and psychodrama. Once certified, the therapist must complete continuing education credits throughout their career.

Psychodrama builds on the trust and safety of all participants. Therefore, the therapist puts a heavy emphasis on prescreening. Only those who are not a threat to themselves or others are allowed to participate.

The Benefits of Psychodrama Therapy

During the sessions, the protagonist gets to act out emotions that they have suppressed over many years. This method is often more effective than merely discussing problems and feelings. Recent studies show this to be true.

Psychodrama can also benefit the other participants in the scene. For example, some may apply what they learned during the session to their own lives. And they may be more attuned to how others react in real-world situations. The result is an increased ability to interact with others, all while unleashing their creativity and self-awareness.

The psychodrama approach is proven effective for fostering the expression of suppressed feelings and emotions. Surprisingly, it also helps individuals who have trouble containing their emotions. That’s why it’s so widely used. There are a lot of people who benefit from this helpful strategy.

Similar Therapies

Several other psychotherapies are similar to psychodrama. Here are two of the most common examples:

Drama therapy incorporates drama and theater sciences to facilitate personal growth and mental healing. The main difference here is that participants play primarily fictional characters.

Playback theater is where an audience member tells their story and chooses volunteers to act it out. Although it wasn’t originally designed to be a therapy, counselors who are also trained in playback theater find it a valuable tool for their patients.

Psychodrama Therapy and Substance Abuse

Addiction treatmentStudies show that alternative therapies like psychodrama help with addiction recovery. It tends to free the individual from stifling beliefs and attitudes. In relation to substance abuse, it helps in the healing process by building a new relationship with themselves. It also bridges the gap between other people and the community as a whole.

Individuals who go through the process find their voice. As they open up with their personal stories and share them with others, they begin to imagine a better future for themselves. And they’re no longer bound by the limiting beliefs that have been holding them back for so long.

The end goal of becoming more spontaneous and creative assists with long-term recovery. It encourages people of all backgrounds to reach their full potential. Often, participants come away with a renewed sense of being a valuable part of their community. So, they see themselves as being productive and resourceful.

During addiction therapy, psychodrama will often bring problems such as relapse to the forefront. Participants will recognize their past decisions to abuse drugs and alcohol as being destructive. Through dramatic self-presentation, they have the opportunity to look at themselves through the viewpoints of other observers.

After each session, the protagonist will be equipped to deal with the past better. Also, they will be able to settle future conflicts more constructively.

Finally, triggers and stressors that cause the person to relapse can be more easily recognized. It allows the participant to confront the source of trauma without reactivating old, addictive responses.

Better Choices for a Better Future

Grounded in the tenents of psychodrama is the notion that we are the sum of all our choices. And society is made up of individuals within social circles. Further, psychodrama aims to help the individual interact within that social framework.

It does this by encouraging participants to express themselves openly. The sessions often reveal the choices they’ve made over their lifetime. This increased self-awareness consistently triggers positive changes in the individual. Therefore, it also improves the positive workings within their social circles.

A Brighter Tomorrow Awaits You!

Psychodrama group therapy is an integral part of a comprehensive substance abuse treatment program. It allows the patient to confront the past through an engaging process of self-discovery. Fully licensed and accredited therapists supervise the process every step of the way. At Harmony Place, safety is the most important consideration and priority.

If you would like to know more about this and other modalities used in the addiction recovery process, feel free to contact us. We would love to talk with you about the various treatment options available.

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