Posted: April 7, 2008
Adam Blatner, M.D.
Axiodrama involves using psychodramatic
methods to explore the underlying and often unconscious assumptions,
expectations or definitions associated with the abstract ideas that
govern so much of our thinking.
Individual psychology overlaps with social psychology and culture, and
people’s individual problems are often significantly affected by how
they think about their social roles and cultural ideals. There are
often many issues at all three levels—the individual, social, and
Psychodrama reflects the dynamics at the individual
level—what are my relationships among parts of myself and with those
with whom I have my closest relations—and also the images or
expectations I have of those others (i.e., the internalized “object
relationships,” as they are called by psychoanalysts).
Sociodrama addresses the dynamics that people in various
groups, categories, or general social roles have in common. These might
involve such themes as what is “cool” or high status, what is “tacky”
or “unfashionable” among my larger circle of peers—such matters are
more the subject of examination in sociodrama. Sociodrama addresses the
depth of roles—the many definitions, conflicts, expectations, and
attitudes attendant on one’s most relevant social relations:
– what is appropriate effort in one’s subgroup, and
how it might differ depending on whether one is a middle-class wage
earner, a housewife in the 1950s, a teen gang member
– what are the appropriate expectations for sexual activity in one’s peer group
– which kind of politics or other social norms are respectable, and what is fringy?
– what kinds of eccentricity makes for one
being “interesting” and which kinds are “too far out” and make others
uncomfortable... and so forth.
Axiodrama, though, addresses issues a bit more
encompassing, higher on the level of abstraction, perhaps more
philosophical, global or fundamental. For example:
– What do we mean when we call on certain ideals?
– What do we mean by God? Do we mean a being that is vaguely male, somewhat judgmental?
– What do we really mean by heaven, justice,
the devil, hell, strength, weakness, maturity, wisdom, goodness,
wickedness, foolishness, acceptable and unacceptable types of ignorance?
– We are supposed to be loving, but what does
that mean? Whom does it include, and what kinds of people do not
deserve to be loved?
– What is edible and not edible (or at least
disgusting)? What is alive and not alive? What merits consideration
about feelings and are there animals, plants, or “inanimate” things
that you can chop up or attack and there is no sense of moral
– What is God’s relationship with you?
How can you clarify this? What if it were represented not as the top,
main God—that would be too overwhelming—but a diluted representative, a
saint, ancestor, guardian angel, “avatar” (i.e., expression or
manifestation of divine will), or something that could be portrayed in
an enactment, something that would respond to your questions and
possibly challenge you in turn?
– What is democracy? Who
should be included in being able to vote? What age? What sex? (You mean
you think women should be included? Wow, next you’ll suggest that we
include slaves! Oh, was that settled a century or two ago?) How much
property should a person own to participate in the democratic process?
What are the requirements for voting regarding immigrant or citizenship
status? Mental competence or sanity? What kinds of crimes should lead
to a forfeiture of voting rights? So you see, democracy is not just a
simple principle, but is full of edges, qualifications, sub-component
These themes can also be enacted and their underlying assumptions
brought into consciousness. It turns out that many of the ways we think
we might desire to re-think in light of present levels of maturity,
present circumstances, and the freedom to review these issues in our
own minds. Without that help, a context and method for doing this
review, we tend to continue to live according to a wide range of
attitudes that have been picked up in childhood. Some have been
inherited from parents or have been adopted as reactions to parental
attitudes. Some reflect the overall worldview of one’s ethnicity,
tribe, neighborhood, historical era and circumstances.
(Indeed, it seems to me that every cultural background is laced with at
least a third and sometimes two-thirds of superstitions, residual
prejudices, subtle rules, customs, and the like that interfere with
adaptation to the circumstances of today’s changing world. While there
are some of these elements that contain some wisdom in that they run
counter to or resist the more foolish role elements of the postmodern
dominant culture, there are also elements that are at odds with some of
the wiser, more inclusive ideas of our evolving civilization. It takes
some judgment and struggle to differentiate what to jettison so that we
don’t throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.)
The ideal of preserving diversity and cultural identity is problematic
when a significant portion of what that identity involves includes
elements that are imbued with the values of fifty, a hundred, or even
two hundred years ago, many of which are outmoded. “Preserving culture”
is itself an axiom that could become the subject of an axiodrama! It
turns out not to be an either-or proposition, but an invitation to a
good deal of discernment.
Axiodrama: The Method
It’s very similar to sociodrama. A theme is identified by the group and
personified. Someone takes the role of the value. The group identifies
one or a few opposite values, and these are further personified, made
into roles that could be played. The people playing these roles begin
to argue: “Strength” speaks up for why it is good, needed, virtuous.
“Weakness” speaks up and asserts why strength is at times foolish, how
there are occasions that certain kinds of weakness need to be
recognized as in fact another kind of strength.
The group might recognize this argument by splitting the antagonist
weakness into two or more separate roles—one being a wiser kind of
seeming weakness, another being a more foolish or craven form of
weakness. Strength might also split into sub-roles, a kind of strength
that all might agree is wise and virtuous, and some other kinds that
are not so virtuous—indeed, some pretensions to strength, some ways it
is expressed may give the illusion of virtue but really express
wickedness or another kind of weakness.
This process of analysis through identifying different types,
sub-types, all are brought again and again into more concrete form by
being led to enact scenes in which their quality is manifest. This
movement from abstract or general to concrete or specific is most
important. Axiodrama in this sense is a form of applied semantics—a
“what do we really mean by the use of this or that
To be emphasized again is the psychological and philosophical principle
that in fact many people haven’t thought through what they mean by
certain words. They’ve lived in groups that seem to agree with them,
and many religions, schoolteachers, and others seem to imply that
questioning the meaning of words is subversive, vaguely wicked. “We all
know what we mean by liberty!” suppresses earnest and actually needed
inquiry into the edges of how that word is being used.
Liberty. Freedom. Americanism. Patriotism. Nobility. Honor. Truth.
Falsehood. Reality. What if in fact people actually mean rather
different things when they use these terms and don’t want to experience
the deep discomfort have being invited to question certain assumptions.
Folks are tempted to say, “The meaning seems obvious! Why are you
Of course the courtrooms are the locale where drawing fine distinctions
about such matters as what the limits of freedom should be, or
what are the appropriate prerogatives of owning property. It turns out
that there are many occasions in which generalities are insufficient in
themselves to resolve finer points of dispute.
In every psychodrama there are some elements that are really more
sociodramatic in quality. In every sociodrama there are also the
problems of applying the issues one addresses within the particulars of
the lives of the group members, so one might say that within any
sociodrama there are also some implicit psychodramas. This overlap may
extend also to axiodrama, because in a personal psychodrama, the issues
involve some role definitions based on personal temperament, even
somato-psychic variables that are quite unique; but also there are
other role definitions that are held in common with a peer group, such
as “In our family, we show more respect for the elders.” This theme
might clash as one explores a psychodrama of a marriage to someone with
a different set of social norms.
In the same way, people’s attitudes about what is or should be a proper
degree of religious observance, or what success entails affects
behavior at the personal and the group level, but is based on
assumptions that are more global, cultural, archetypal. A person might
say, “The individual has more value than the needs of the community,”
as if it were an eternal truism. Perhaps that person has never
encountered an alternative idea. If he meets one who says, “No, the
community is more important,” an argument ensues. Nowadays, people are
beginning to recognize some of these points of conflict as expressions
not just of truth or error, but of different cultural viewpoints.
As one explores an issue axiodramatically, the way this plays out in
one’s own social network as a norm, or in one’s personal life, becomes
more apparent. The point is to identify the underlying attitudes, and
it helps to realize that some of these attitudes are not just a
personal neurosis, but may represent a social norm, a sub-group
fashion, or a cultural absolute.
Your input welcome. Email me.