TRANSFERENCE IN PSYCHODRAMA
(from the book “The Power of Psychodrama”) 2008
Psychodrama is an action method of group psychotherapy. It can strongly induce and develop various phenomena of what is called a ‘group process’ among the members of the group. Transference relationships are a part of it. On the psychodrama stage, the protagonist’s ‘introjected objects’ and ‘representations of the self’ tend towards externalization, concretization and transference onto the other participants in the scene: the assistants, doubles, and the director, as well as onto the psychodramatic auxiliaries, using them as ‘transitional objects’. When working on transfer- erence, specific techniques should be used in the psychodrama, mostly based on selected role reversals which serve as therapeutic means for the director in his efforts to achieve ‘reparation’of the internal objects and representations of the self, as well as improvement in the functioning of ‘reality testing’.
Example 1 (1993)
After the completion of a process from the previous psychodrama and the usual break, at the beginning of the session one female member of the group announces that she has ‘…an idea which has resulted from the previous process…’ and that this idea emerged ‘…when the Director [me] said something concerning the protagonist…’. I check whether this could formulate a topic on which this member of the group would like to work and the group and I receive a positive answer. This is followed by an inspection of the level of readiness of the other potential protagonists to work on themselves, which results with this member of the group becoming a protagonist in the current session.
Director: (addressing the Protagonist) - I propose we set the scene in an identical manner to the one that occurred during the process. So, all that were present in the process should come on stage again and position themselves on their chairs in the same places in the circle as they did then. With only one exception: my place in the circle will be occupied by someone else—that is, someone you will select to ‘play’ me.
The Protagonist selects an assistant to assume my role, that is, the role of the Director and leader of the process which took place half an hour earlier. I stand to the side of the group sitting in a circle and instruct them to re-enact the key scene from the process, the one which provoked the Protagonist so powerfully to want to work on it in this session. All who took an active part with their commentaries during the process reassume the same roles. The Protagonist sits in her chair and observes the action. It is evident that the communication taking place in the group has a strong impact on her in the sense that she becomes more and more tense.
Director: What do you feel at this moment?
Protagonist: I feel anger, revolt…
Director: Aimed at whom?
Protagonist: - At the Director (pronounces my name).
After this, I instruct the Protagonist to abandon her role and select someone in the group to take up the role (her). When the assistant assumes the role, I instruct the Protagonist to assume the role of her ‘anger’ and to present it to us. Having assumed the role of the anger resulting from this unconscious reaction, the Protagonist stands behind the assistant who took up her role. I give the assistant in the role of the Protagonist a signal to repeat loudly the messages of the role, and instruct the ‘anger’ to demonstrate its effects.
Anger: (addressing the message to the seated Protagonist) Don’t! Don’t react…!!
This is then followed by several role reversals which lead the Protagonist to the recognition that several months ago, she experienced a similar emotional reaction in a situation at her university. This transformed the transference relationship which started as aimed at the Director (me) into a suppressed content which is translatable into regular stage action!!
In the setting of the space on the psychodrama stage in which the situation is to be enacted, a remarkable similarity, almost identicalness, with the setting of the previous scene can be observed. This was the first discovery of repetition as an indicator of transference repetition. Namely, at one end of the stage is the group of students sitting in a circle, the Protagonist among them, while at the other is the lonely professor. At one moment, of key importance for this scene and the repetition, the professor announces resolutely that students should come back again in a few days time, which students experience as an unpleasant provocation. The Director freezes the scene and asks the Protagonist to focus on her internal experience.
Protagonist: - I feel tension, anger…
The story continues with the professor’s departure leaving the students alone. The Protagonist suddenly stands up and starts organizing the group. Then she goes to another professor, a forty-year-old female whom she experiences as ‘good’, unlike the previous ‘bad’ professor. She recounts the entire incident to her ‘good’ professor, experiencing this situation as beneficial and positive. Having detected an opportunity for deeper psychodynamics through further exploration of this ‘triangle’, the Director instructs the Protagonist to build the following scene.
Following the Director’s instructions, the Protagonist sets the scene by adding the ‘bad’ professor and ‘good’ professor to the group on two opposite sides and then joins the group. At the Director’s signal, assistants playing the professors address the group with their different messages and opinions about the same event, while the Protagonist simultaneously focuses on her internal experience of that communication. At one moment, guided by the Director, the Protagonist recognizes that behind this play of roles ‘between the one who protects and the one who rejects’ lies the basic relationship between herself and her mother and father. An association emerges concerning a recent situation which occurred in her home, similar to the one just enacted.
This situation occurs in a domestic environment where the whole family is gathered in the living room. Father watches television, the Protagonist sits next to her mother on a nearby sofa and her sister sits on a chair far away in the space. Stage action mostly revolves around the Protagonist’s need to convince her father to let her get a job in an antique-shop while she is still studying. The father is against it, the mother is silent and, as if not there, the sister is completely neglected in the space. The main messages of this scene are:
Protagonist: (a message for her father) - I would like to talk to you about this private antique-shop!?
Father: (states his message still watching TV) - There is nothing to talk about. You won’t do that! I will give you money.
Mother: (message for the Protagonist) - Don’t oppose him. You know that he will start yelling. You should resign yourself…
Sister: (internal speech) - As if I don’t exist for them at this moment. They talk to each other and I just keep staying out of it. It is a common course of events…
During the events that follow, the Director guides the interactions on stage through the main messages so that they can fully develop, which provokes ever-stronger reactions of powerlessness and anger in the Protagonist. Scene ends with the Protagonist intently staring at her mother demanding help from her in support of her plea with her father. Mother remains silent. Following the discovery of the Protagonist’s ‘essential experience’ in relation to this scene, the psychodrama continues into the next scene which conveys the same ‘triangle’ relationship, as well as the unconscious fixations which transfer onto particular situations in her life involving her relationship with authority and her emotional reactions to those relationships.
This is a childhood scene. The Protagonist is in the back of the car with her sister, her mother and father are in the front. The Protagonist persistently demands something from her father and expects support from her mother, who remains silent. Sister is also silent in this scene, as she was in the previous. The scene ends with her mother’s message addressed to the Protagonist.
Mother: - Why are you getting angry when you know that you will have to obey your father. Don’t oppose him!
The essential experience of this scene is similar to the previous, amplified to utmost proportions. This puts the Protagonist in touch with an old memory from her early childhood, at the start of her schooling.
This is a scene in which the Protagonist strongly opposes the teacher and his instructions. The scene ends with the teacher slapping the little girl on the face and provoking a state of anger in her which she suppresses at that moment and later adds onto it a state of powerlessness to fight back. This reinforces the ‘fixation’, previously produced by the ‘Oedipal triangle’ in the family, which later in life ‘transfers’ unconsciously onto all relationships with authority. The Director also detects defence mechanisms of suppression, evasion and projection, which he introduces in the following scene in a psychodramatic manner in order to eliminate them and release the ‘conserved’ energy and transmit it into a more spontaneous flow.
In the scenes that follow, the Director first allows satisfaction of the Protagonist’s internal ‘act hunger’; that is, the release of a flow of suppressed anger and elimination of the mechanisms of evasion. Psychodrama is always powerful in such situations and allows for realization of such aims through creative and safe stage actions.
After the recognition and insight into the unconscious dynamics of this transference, the Director instructs the Protagonist to encounter her mother and resolve the mechanism of ‘anaclisis’ which has also transferred throughout the Protagonist’s life onto female authorities with demands for understanding, support and permission from them.
In this final scene, the Director creates for the Protagonist a situation of ‘surplus reality’ for an encounter with her father and an attempt for resolution of the relationship of ‘repetition’. The Protagonist manages to reach a certain level of spontaneity to start establishing a different relationship through reversal of roles with her father during which she gets his support.
As a result, this psychodrama, which started with a transference relationship with the Director, was successfully translated through specific psychodramatic techniques into stage contents, accessible for further deeper treatment through the usual techniques of role-playing.
I would like to stress for the reader that, at the beginning of the first scene, a very specific technique was applied, in which the transference onto the Director is translated into regular psychodramatic action. This technique I am proud to refer to as my own innovation, which I introduced into psychodrama in the early 1990s at a certain moment of spontaneity, working as a director on the treatment of a transference relationship which at that point was strongly directed at me. By doing so, I have confirmed in this psychodrama the power of psychodrama techniques in the process of detecting and treatment of transference contents which are usually the most difficult for working through in all other psycho- therapeutic techniques except for psychoanalysis. This deep psychological work requires good theo- retical and practical knowledge of psychoanalytic psychotherapy on the part of the director.
Example 2 (1997)
This example originates from the demonstrative workshop I held at the Balkan Psychodrama Conference in Ohrid, Macedonia, in 1997, which I attended in the capacity of the President of the Organizational Committee. Its title was “Working on Transference in Psychodrama”.
This warm-up was a continuation of the group process which had developed in the previous TA workshop at the conference. In it, the group underwent a ‘discounting interaction’ in which the members of the group assumed the roles of ‘discounters’ and addressed messages of this type to each other.
At the onset of the psychodrama session, the director focuses the members of the group on sharing experiences incited by the previous workshop. After a short sharing, the director instructs the members of the group to assume the same roles which they had in the previous workshop and play them by stating their message to their neighbour on one side after they have heard the message from their neighbour on the other side in the circle. After the end of the first round, the director instructs them to re-enact the same messages in the second round, but this time with ‘amplification’ through body language and intonation when stating their messages. In addition to this, he also instructs the members of the group to use their real-life experience of people who remind them of the roles which they have chosen when stating their messages. In the following ten minutes, the group undergoes a lively play of roles with released spontaneity in their enactment. In the short sharing which followed, members of the group share their predominant feelings provoked by this warm up. Several potential protagonists emerge and the group selects those most ready for a short work on stage.
The first scene begins with a physical sensation overcoming the protagonist, which is basically a pressure she feels in her chest. Applying focusing psychodrama techniques, the director amplifies her internal experience, which results in the release of a great emotional charge. The director then instructs the protagonist to place these emotions in an adequate space and time and in their adequate balance.
In the second scene, the protagonist’s sister appears on stage which translates the previous unconscious transference onto the intonation and behaviour of the member of the group during the group experiment into a real relationship wherefrom the transference originates. A ‘prototype’ relationship between two sisters is constructed and explored on the stage.
The psychodrama is then enacted in several scenes, in which the protagonist struggles with powerful, physically ‘incorporated’ feelings in order to establish a new stance and style of communication with her sister. She also goes through ‘corrective emotional experiences’. Throughout the entire process, the protagonist, guided by the director, confronts the recognition of her own ‘transference’ of such contents onto others in her life.
In the last scene of ‘surplus reality’ the protagonist manages to ‘repair’ the prototype relationship with her sister. This incites a release of the physical block and suppressed aggressive feelings and establish- ment of more spontaneous communication and more creative behaviour.
In this stage, the other members of the group, inspired by the protagonist’s work on stage, share similar experiences with important persons in their lives.