PSYCHODRAMA AS A HEALING ART
(from the book “The Power of Psychodrama”) 2008
The practical magic of psychodrama achieves its most creative effects in one promising area, above all, an area which I have been referring to as the ‘healing art’ for a long time. In this past decade, the development of collective consciousness in the world has shown evidence of an increased use of this term and its gradual acceptance within various lexical concepts. Still, I have to alert the reader that this term is most commonly ‘misused’ or used incorrectly. Moreover, this term is often ruthlessly abused by global totalitarianism—as are all other inventions from the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries—into a trend of ‘abuse’: more often than not, the methods hiding under its wing have intentions which are actually in complete opposition to those that serve the wellbeing of humanity. Sadly, such is the civilization of today, and we are compelled to assemble our own tools to assess the reality and truth about the struggle between good and evil, between health and illness.
To deserve the name ‘healing art’, a system has to meet certain requirements. The first requirement it needs to meet is to have a clear scenario, i.e. a concept which includes artistic treatment. The second requires it to be achievable, able to be realized in its entirety and to have dynamics which can take place in a certain space and time. The third requirement is that it produce a certain and real healing effect which has been defined, anticipated in advance and controlled by the author and the participants during its performance. The fourth requirement demands that the system is managed by true experts, with excellent education and extremely precise training for this kind of activity.
Creating a healing art will soon be one of the leading activities in the attempts of selected individuals and groups to have a positive effect on today’s extremely sick human civilization with the aim of ‘transforming’ it and reversing it back to its natural, healthy modes of existence. Simultaneously, it will serve as a principal tool for the ‘decontamination’ of the mass media and the education of young people which have currently reached a frightful and definitely pathological level of influence on their ‘consumers’. This might help explain, from a clinical point of view, the new form of psychological disorders, especially among children and young people, bordering on qualities similar to those of a mutant or monster.
The role of the leading political, financial, defence and religious communities throughout the world in the creation of this psychopathological model of influence on normal people becomes increasingly obvious. They suffer from a disease which they seem to have contracted long ago: the disease of insane ideas of unlimited power, wealth and persecution of opponents. Being sick themselves, they encourage the creation of a ‘folie a deux’ situation, a shared madness, wherein they play the role of the inductor for normal people. Even though long hidden behind various systems of ‘brainwashing’ and forceful initiation of changes in the world, the symptoms of their ‘inflated’ egos have become more obvious then ever, as have the symptoms of their madness; but so too has the opportunity for their clearer identification and the groups to which they belong.
The very same media which they use to ‘poison’ young and normal people should be transformed into a media of healing. Hence the concept of a ‘healing art’ becomes more and more prominent. Psychodrama is ideal for achieving such an influence and it should be given enough space for application in this area. Let us remind ourselves that Moreno himself foresaw the need for its application in the healing of society through a model which he called ‘sociatry’.
For the purpose of this book, I have chosen two examples of psychodrama being used as a healing art in direct work with groups: the first being a specific scenario applied in a smaller group in a closed space, while in the other example, a specific scenario was applied with an exceptionally large number of people in an open space.
Ten years ago, my Centre for Human Relations was visited by a Japanese non-governmental organization which had a proposal for me and my team of experts to carry out a specific program for a certain target group which should employ primarily artistic means. This idea seemed very unusual for the type of people usually engaged in such organizations and this attracted my attention. However, soon after our first meeting I noticed that the leader of the small delegation was a fervent supporter of the idea of artistic means to be applied in the work with traumatized youth. He arrived with a hoard of materials he had collected from the internet and with which he tried to warm me towards his idea that he did not know how to realize in practice.
To my question as to why he addressed us, he promptly answered that he had long analyzed the programs of the local expert organizations and the decisive factor was that, at the time, some of the activities in my centre were carried out in our ‘Small Artistic Centre’. Within this project, we had already completed several successfully worked out programs for certain target groups in the shape of theatre schools, photography schools, fashion design schools and jazz schools run by prominent masters in those areas. In addition, these schools operated within interdisciplinary and integrative projects, together with the psychodrama groups regularly attending the educative and experience programs in our centre. It seemed realistic that he should have presumed that all this might be an exceptionally rare ‘resource’ capable of creating and implementing a scenario which would successfully realize the initial idea.
In the stage of assessment of the problems and needs important for the development of this project, I learned the important information that our target group was a group of about thirty children refugees at the ages of between eight and sixteen who had lived for ten years with their parents in isolation in an abandoned chalet at a lakeside in a remote region near the crossing of three state borders. This was accompanied with the information that institutions of the state were not providing any care for their social needs and that the major problem with these children was their feeling of real ‘exclusion’ from their environment with a tendency of non-attendance of the existing schools in the nearby settlements and almost non-existent interpersonal communication with the other children in the area. This resulted in a manifest passivity in their choice of games and rare outings from the camp. In addition, the team of this Japanese organization, which provided them with basic supplies, was often approached by the mothers of these children with appeals to organize some sort of event which would motivate, engage and cheer up their children.
Considering the concept of this project, after my interviews with the people in charge, I directed the planning of the scenario towards the state of emotional isolation which I had diagnosed as a group disorder which tended to become an inbuilt segment of those children’s personalities and which emerged as a result of the experience of unjustified rejection and disaffection both in their previous and their present environment. This scenario was also to pay special attention to the lack of motivation to communicate with the environment, which led to a block in these children’s spontaneity and creativity. All this resulted in the conception of a scenario in which psychodramatic play was methodologically connected with the use of artistic means, with different teams running separate sections of this ‘performance’. I also realized that I should anticipate the moment of ‘first contact’ with these children, who had already developed a high degree of mistrust and reactive defence mechanisms of rejection of everything that ‘entered’ their territory from the hostile outside world…
In practice, the scenario adopted the following course. We set out on our journey in two large jeeps which were big enough to fit the guide, the members of my team—that is, the performers of this ‘travelling show and the equipment necessary for its performance. My team consisted of several musicians, renowned international jazz artists given to art therapy and several psychodramatists trained in play therapy with children, with me as their leader. Our equipment comprised two tam-tams, percussion instruments, tambourines, guitars, numerous toys, a large number of sheets of paper with crayons and felt tips in all colours, several balls of wool and rope, various masks, decorations, etc.
The performance started while we were still driving, half an hour before our arrival, when, to the surprise of my team, I produced a bag which contained several hundreds of deflated balloons. I handed out the balloons to all performers and asked them to blow them up, tie them and throw them in the boot of the jeep. The same thing happened in the other jeep in arrangement with my assistant. All members of the team accepted the game enthusiastically, warming up for the awaiting performance and gradually releasing, through laughter and banter in the group, their spontaneity and creativity. As I anticipated, t hrough this game they had also ‘blown in’ a part of themselves into those balloons, whose aim was to establish a non-verbal ‘bridge’ in communication with the children and the youths who were expecting us at the camp.
Our arrival and the first moment of establishing communication happened as predicted in the scenario. The two jeeps drove through the gate of the camp and stopped in the parking space surrounded by children who, with their bearing and distance, demonstrated non-verbally their mistrust and ready resistance to establishing communication with us. Only the drivers got out of the jeeps and opened their boots. Suddenly, to the children’s astonishment, balloons in different sizes and colours started pouring out of the boots of the jeeps—hundreds of them! In less than a few seconds, the children started chasing them with exclamations of excitement. They were all running around the car park trying to catch them. This was a signal for all teams to get out of the jeeps inconspicuously and bring all their instruments and other props into the large room where we were to enact our specific performance.
The stage was constructed with great speed with the art section at one end, with large sheets of paper and colouring pens strewn around them, while at the other end, a small stage was created for the younger children, scattered with toys. In the middle, between these two stage spaces, we placed both tam-tams and the rest of the instruments, including a large number of toy instruments. The teams of performers took their respective positions on the stage and we all stopped to wait for the children’s spontaneous arrival in the room.
We did not have to wait long for the children to start coming in, one after another, hugging balloons in their arms, losing them on the way and running back to fetch them again. When they saw the stage overflowing with new toys, instruments, decorations and interestingly dressed people, they started, one after another, dropping their balloons and running towards their new targets. It was then that we moved towards the beginning of the main performance.
This performance ran in the following order. The children first made a circle with help from my assistants, standing with their backs to the centre where the musicians were standing among the tam-tams and other musical instruments. They were tightly tied to each other with their elbows intertwined and their upper arms touching. My assistants ‘fastened’ them to each other additionally, with woollen thread which ran across their chests and around their shoulders. This was a symbolic representation of the ‘wall’ of their defence mechanism of isolation, which hid their emotions, spontaneity, motivations and instinctive reactions. I placed the rest of the adults present around this circle to represent symbolically the surroundings which they needed to ‘conquer’. The task was to achieve this through spontaneous and creative performance.
At my signal, the musicians started building up a rhythm with their instruments, quietly at first and then louder and louder. The children stood immobile for a while, holding each other very tight. As time passed, it became evident that the rhythm of the music, charged with a high dosage of instinctive energy, caused a spontaneous movement of their bodies backwards and forwards. This movement was asynchronous at first, but then became more and more synchronized and rhythmical until they started directing their gazes with more freedom and motivation towards the ‘environment’, eventually focusing them on the playing objects which awaited them in the space around them.
At a certain point, when all participants had reached the stage of high enthusiasm and spontaneity, with a small facilitation by my assistants the children resolutely moved ‘forward’, freeing themselves from the state of entrapment within their defence mechanism and simultaneous group fixation at that level. The tearing of the woollen thread signified the fall of their ‘wall’ and coming out through the ‘environment’ to the desired objects in the room. The younger children moved towards the toys and the older ones towards the painting and musical part of the scene, picking up the colouring pens, instruments and other objects strewn around that space.
The goal of following part of the performance was the creation of artistic work with aid from my teams of assistants. The children first enjoyed these activities and were then fascinated by the works they created themselves, whether compositions, paintings or short dramatic pieces. In the meantime, the younger children were invited to enact their stories with toys and dolls on the small stage, devised and prepared for this purpose.
In the following part of this performance, all ‘creators’ had an opportunity to exhibit their works to the ‘audience’ in a manner which, through application of psychodramatic practical magic, exposed the participants to experiences identical to those from outside reality. The performance was concluded with a stage of ‘correction of emotional experiences’ and acquisition of new ones in the place of the old.
The end of the performance was indicated with a new joint circle with the participation of all present. In this circle we all danced to the rhythms of our travelling band of musicians to a full physical and vocal release. Our released energy filled the enormous space and an emotion of utmost personal freedom and happiness was evident on the faces of all present, who had let their expression reach a level of maximum spontaneity. This lasted as long as it was necessary for all present and then the atmosphere in the room began to defuse to a level of satisfied tiredness. With the announcement of our departure, we enacted the ‘tropical rain’ with the participation of all present in the production of the sound of rain by knocking on the floor with our fingers and hands. After this, the group was ready to separate from us and at the same time, to retain the energy level achieved previously, together with the newly acquired experiences.
We parted, of course, with emotions related to an experience of closeness, but also with an unconcealed joy shared by all. Our two jeeps left the car park of the camp with empty boots, but leaving happy people behind. Psychodrama demonstrated yet again its power to create a role play in a performance in which people simultaneously feel freer and more connected with each other. In the service of good, of course!
Psychodrama can also be employed as a healing art for large groups, that is, for masses of people. Let us not forget, though, that it must be based on previous careful diagnosis of the problems and needs of the target group and that its realization must meet the four rules which apply to all ‘healing performances’ And, finally, it must serve the common good against evil…
(See the complete article in the book “The Power of Psychodrama")