To return to Top
TO PLAY IS
(This was a
lecture given on August 29, 2009, at the IAGP congress in Rome.
(Posted on Adam Blatner's website with the author's permission, 6/30/11)
AN UP-TO-DATE "DISORDER-SPECIFIC PSYCHOTHERAPY"
WITH PSYCHOSIS ACCORDING TO MORENO
Reinhard T. Krűger
Author’s address: (Riethof 7, D-30916 Isernhagen,
In the 1930s
Moreno developed the “auxiliary world technique” for the disorder-specific psychotherapy of
people with psychosis. This method treats what he considered to indeed
be the central disorder of people with psychosis. That can be
considered by indications of neuropsychology, ego psychology, conflict
psychology as well as of psychodrama theory. Unfortunately, Moreno did
not mention something essential in the description of his cases: In the
disorder-specific psychotherapy of psychosis the therapist himself
needs to adopt a changed stance that goes beyond reality, a “trans-real
therapeutic stance,” and he needs to become more or less continually an
auxiliary ego and double of the patient. This changed trans-real
attitude of the therapist is the basis for an approach, adapted to
today's conditions of the treatment of people with psychosis, for the
emergency doctor, the psychiatrist or the psychotherapist.
In this lecture I ll tell
you about how I came to practice what I call a disorder- specific therapy in the
treatment of psychotically ill patients by using a particular
therapeutic stance; I’ll further describe how to apply this stance
in practice and about the theory of the disorder- specific
therapy of psychotically ill patients.
1. What are the
effects of a disorder-specific psychotherapy in
people with psychosis?
Disorder-specific therapy of people
with psychosis can achieve important therapeutic goals:
1. It can improve diagnostics;
2. It can aid patients insight into their own condition
3. It can help avoid residential psychiatric care
4. It can improve the relationship between therapist and patient
5. It can reduce the cost of medication
2. My own journey of
developing a particular therapeutic stance in the treatment of people
During my training to
become a psychodrama psychotherapist from 1971 onwards, I heard of
Moreno's methods in the treatment of people with psychosis. Moreno has
experimented with psychodramatic methods from 1936 onwards within the
context of his own private clinic with 12 beds. There were no
psychiatric drugs at that point in time. Moreno developed a method,
which he named the "auxiliary-world" method. This is a particular form
of psychodramatic individual therapy, by which a patient is treated by
a team of several therapists. I will give one of his case descriptions
here in a shortened version (Moreno 1975, 193 ff).
Case illustration 1: At the beginning of World War II a man with a
small moustache on his upper lip came to Moreno's practice. Moreno
asked him for his name. The man became angry: "Don t you know me?!"
Moreno was shocked, but then he remembered: The wife of the patient had
phoned and told that her husband believed to be Adolf Hitler. Moreno
therefore immediately identified himself within the patient's symptom,
his delusional belief: "Of course, now I recognize you! You are Mr.
Hitler, Adolf Hitler!"
The patient complained bitterly that the man in Germany, who calls
himself Hitler, was taking everything away from him, his soul, his
inspiration, his energy. The man in Germany even pretends to have
written the book "Mein Kampf". Moreno took hold of the telephone and
ordered two male nurses to come. When they arrived, he introduced them
as Mr. Goering and Mr. Goebbels. The patient had actually arrived at an
inconvenient time. Moreno was due to speak to some students in a
lecture theater. However he seized the opportunity with both hands and
invited the patient to give a speech to his people. The patient
followed this invitation straight away.
In the case illustration Moreno describes how he treated this patient
in regular individual therapy sessions over a period of three months.
During these therapy sessions, the two nurses who played the roles of
Goering and Goebbels continued to play these roles without role
reversal and without discussing it afterwards. The patient changed
gradually during the course of this treatment. Eventually he shaved off
his moustache, starting to cry bitterly while doing so, and later asked
to be called Karl and no longer Adolf. After the treatment the patient,
a master butcher, was able to integrate well socially, and a few years
later returned to Germany.
I found these case examples from Moreno fascinating. But I knew my
patients would never allow such a procedure. They would feel they were
being made fun of. I did not even try it. Even so, the knowledge of
Moreno's special method of psychotherapy with people who were
psychotically ill, unnerved and tormented me. I know today that back
then I had not yet recognized the central basis of disorder specific
psychotherapy for psychotically ill people, namely, the changed
trans-real shaping of the therapeutic relationship.
3. The different
attitudes of the therapeutic relationship in the
treatment of psychotically ill people
In the disorder-specific
therapy for people with psychosis the
therapist has to change his attitude towards the therapeutic
relationship. I differentiate the psychiatric shaping of relationship
and the disorder-specific shaping of trans-real relationship. I call
this shaping of relationship trans-real, because the therapist stays
neither in ordinary reality nor fully in the fantasy, but rather he
moves beyond reality and fantasy.
The usual psychiatric attitude of relationship:
In the psychiatric therapy of the psychotically ill the therapist and
the patient get into a tragically blocked relationship:
1. The patient tells the therapist of his psychotic
experiences or he or she behaves crazily.
2. The psychiatrist on the other hand, tries to empathize
with the patient.
3. However, he realizes that when he starts to
empathically relate to the psychotic experiences, that he himself
is in danger of going crazy.
4. This causes anxiety in the therapist.
5. The psychiatrist therefore distances himself from the
psychotic experiences with the help of the psychopathological
terminology developed by Bleuler (for example: hearing voices,
de-realization or depersonalization. "Do you hear voices?" "We call
that derealization!" "We name that depersonalization!")
6. The psychiatrist more or less directly fights his patient's
psychopathology, for example the hearing of voices.
7. Through this, however, the therapist takes on from a systemic
viewpoint, the sole reality- playing role, and the patient takes on the
sole craziness playing role. A mutually complementary blocked
relationship develops between the therapist and the patient and results
in a common resistance against true progress in therapy.
8. The psychiatrist acts out a counter-transference.
9. In the end the patient has only the choice between two
negatives: Either he flees from all relationship into isolation,
perhaps even into homelessness, or he blindly takes on the view of the
psychiatrist and learns to live with his mental illness, takes the
medication handed out to him by his doctor and excludes his psychotic
experiences in his communication with the therapist. This is comparable
to a traumatized patient who would not talk about his traumatic
experiences in his therapy.
In spite of being a psychodrama therapist I myself used the usual
modern social-psychiatric therapy during my first 25 years working as a
psychiatrist. I worked hard. The patients recovered in parts. But I
never succeeded in treating the heart of psychotic illness and the
central psycho-pathology didn’t go away.
The trans-real attitude of the
therapeutic relationship in
the treatment of psychotically ill people
Twelve years ago I
finally understood the basic
principles underlying Moreno's disorder-specific
psychotherapy of the
psychotically ill and I became able to practice psychodramatic
disorder-specific therapy of psychosis and to teach it to my
therapeutic pupils too. It was a true “aha” experience, a
creative jump in my understanding of psychosis!
In a working party of psychodrama friends on the subject of a therapy
of psychosis we had the idea to replay Moreno's method
psychodramatically, as it was reported by Raoul Schindler (Moreno,
1959, p.85; Erlacher, Farkas & Jordan, 1996, p.9):
Case example 2: At the beginning of the 1950s Moreno came to the
university clinic in Vienna in order to demonstrate his method of
therapy. However for the demonstration the psychiatrists had chosen a
patient with a depressive stupor. The doctors were unable to reach this
woman through questioning or by conversation as, due to her psychotic
illness, she was mute. Despite this, Moreno refrained from seeing this
woman prior to the demonstration. Schindler reports: "When the woman
was led into the lecture theatre, she stopped walking after a few
steps. But without hesitation Moreno stepped up next to her, greeted
her and took her hand. Then he stepped up next to her and explained to
her that the doctors in the lecture theatre were some kind of students,
who should understand from her, her own view of her situation.
Moreno began to act as a double. By acting as a double the therapist
doesn’t stay any longer facing the patient opposite, but he positions
himself at the patient s side taking the same perspective as the
patient. In Moreno’s case example of Adolf Hitler, I presume that
Moreno did not just introduce the two male nurses: "Mr. Goering, Mr.
Hitler! Mr. Goebbels, Mr. Hitler!" I think that Moreno himself turned
towards the nurses and acted as a double of the patient: "Mr. Goering,
we are waiting for you! Why are you late? And Mr. Goebbels, you too!
Mr. Hitler here is waiting! I hope you’ll bring good news to Mr.
Hitler!" Then the two male nurses began to act their roles. In the
second case example reported by Raoul Schindler Moreno also created a
scene by taking the same perspective as the mute woman at a concrete
level and by looking at the audience side by side.
Schindler continues to report: Case example 2 (continuation):
"Almost as a side remark Moreno asked her for her name. To our
amazement she told her name as if she had no inhibitions. Moreno
repeated her name slowly and found it beautiful. He tied an association
to it, which I forgot and which did not fit. The woman corrected him,
and he took on her view immediately, and offered an extension. Through
this, a trivial conversation developed with the atmosphere of high
importance, carried by an expression of personal interest and without
any objectifying reasoning. The stupor appeared to have gone and a
conversation about her life's situation developed. Moreno hardly ever
asked questions, instead he offered her thoughts and ideas and let her
guide him by her corrections. So actually it was him who was being
helped by this.
Family members emerged who were trying to get away from her. Not she,
but Moreno did not want to tolerate their refusal." In this
working party with friends we applied Moreno's method in fictive role
plays and also in the treatment of our own psychotically ill patients.
Through this we recognized once again the central therapeutic element
in Moreno's method, namely the changed trans-real shaping of the
therapeutic relationship within the dialogue by acting as a double.
In his case examples Moreno forgot to write about the technique of
dialog-by-acting-as-a-double as the the basis of his procedure in the
therapy of psychosis. Probably he regarded it as a self- evident part
of his auxiliary-world technique. In the dialogue by acting as a double
the therapist does not ask any questions. To succeed in this requires a
very inconvenient and difficult skill in fine communication, because
normally people ask, if they want to know. Instead the therapist
playfully takes part in the patient’s delusional production and
actively verbalizes and names the experiences of the patient. During
this, of course, the therapist repeatedly takes a wrong turn.
This gives the patient, who knows his reality better than the
therapist, the opportunity to describe his view of things. The
therapist lets himself be corrected again and again. Through this the
patient becomes the one who knows and the therapist the one who does
not. That is very difficult for a psychiatrist and you will have to
train it! It is important to develop the art of failing.
When acting as a double the therapist as a catalyst takes part in the
process of resolving the delusional conflict empowering the patient to
orientate and to create. The dialogue by acting as a double
systematically changes the patient’s experience of delusion into a role
play of the delusion in the role of self. The therapist stabilizes the
role play of the patient and helps to act it to its end. By this the
patient wins the aspect of creator (Moreno 1970, S. 78) in his delusion
and experiences himself as being self-effective.
While applying the dialogue as a double, the patient together with the
therapist substantiates what belongs to the delusional reality and what
not (see diagram, left lower quadrant). In addition they actively
organize the sequence in time and the logic of the delusional reality.
The patient, experiencing the doubling therapist in vain struggling for
reality in the delusion, feels accepted in his central suffering and
sees his own craziness like in a mirror. Thus the technique
of dialogue by acting as a double paradoxically strengthens the insight
of the patient in being ill. That isn t only a theory. I experienced
it. And you will experience this paradoxical outcome in using the
dialogue by acting as a double too. The increasing insight in being ill
improves the therapeutic relationship and the therapeutic compliance,
makes the patient more accessible for therapeutic interventions and so
helps among other things, to avoid or to reduce psychiatric residential
admissions and to save the use of medication.
4. The application of
the trans-real shaping of the therapeutic
relationship in practice:
I would now like to show
you, how one can
apply the trans-real shaping of the therapeutic relationship in a
crisis intervention of emergency medicine. In the following case
example the dialogue by acting as a double helped to avoid the use of
force in the course of sectioning a patient and thus prevented
additional traumatisation of the patient:
Case example 3 A doctor, a general practitioner, is called out to an
emergency at night. In front of the patient’s house an ambulance as
well as a police car are already waiting. In Germany it is the task of
police officers in the worst cases to apply force in order to get the
patient to enter the ambulance. The doctor is informed and walks
through the house to the garden at the back. A 50- year old man is
standing there looking up into the sky. He seems to strenuously observe
something up there. The doctor positions herself next to him on his
left and also looks up into the sky: "There are plenty of stars
tonight." The man: "Yes." The doctor: "You have to be alert." The man:
"Yes". The doctor: You have to be careful that the celestial body up
there (she is pointing with her hand to the visible stars in the sky)
does not crash down on to the earth."
The man: "No, there are U.F.O.s landing". He makes a big movement with
his arm from the sky to the ground on his right. The doctor imitates
the movement by doubling: "You are showing the U.F.O.s where to land".
The man: "Yes, I am directing them in." The doctor: "You carry a lot of
responsibility there. That is bound to be exhausting". The man sighs,
continues to stare into the sky: "You can believe that!" The doctor
also continues to observe the sky. Suddenly, she points with her hand
to the left: "There, there is still another U.F.O. You forgot that
one". The man: "Oh!" With a big movement of his right hand, he directs
the U.F.O. to its landing place. After some time the doctor:" I cannot
see another U.F.O. Do you see another one?" The man: "No". The doctor:
"Can we go now?" The man: "Yes". He walks with the doctor through the
house to the ambulance and sits down inside it without any resistance.
The policemen do not need to take any action. I understand the
lines of action in psychodramatic therapy by a theory of the eight
central techniques of psychodrama, a theory of creativity and a theory
of the creative Ego. These theories enable to assign a special function
and indication to each of the eight central psychodrama techniques.
see these in the picture to the right, in the circle F. From
these theories it is
possible to derive disorder-specific procedures.
You can see it in the picture in circle B. Psychotically ill people
confuse their experience of reality caused by splitting, introjection
and projection. You see these defense mechanisms in circle E at the
picture below. There in the left and right lower quadrant you can
conclude the central psychodrama techniques setting the scene, doubling
and role play in role of self in circle F to the defense mechanisms
splitting, introjection and projection in circle E and to be specially
indicated in the therapy of psychotically ill patients in circle B.
These three psychodrama techniques specially strengthen the ability to
organize the system and the reality of patients. You see it below in
The method of the
dialogue by acting as a double is also valuable for
diagnostics: Case example 4
During supervision an
experienced psychiatrist describes the case of a
25 year old female patient with serious depression, states of anxiety,
many serious suicide attempts and personality disorder. In the 5 year
long therapy partly outpatient, partly inpatient there was no pointer
towards a psychotic illness. Despite this and because of the chronic
and severe symptoms of the illness, we came during the supervision to
the conclusion that the therapist should try to apply the method of the
dialog as a double. We practiced this together in a role play. In this
the therapist took on the role of her patient, and I took on the role
of the therapist. At the next supervision session the therapist amazed,
happy and relieved reported that through the dialogue as a double she
had for the first time gained insight into the decidedly destructive
delusional experiences of her patient. For the first time in 5 years of
therapy it was possible to appropriately treat the patient with
One can also use the dialogue as a double to start a longer individual
psychotherapy. In that case Moreno’s “auxiliary world technique” will
be included in the procedure. For doing so you have to change it,
because the efforts required would go beyond any of today’s therapeutic
settings. To do this, the therapist lets the patient concrete parts of
his self and his delusional figures in the form of empty chairs and as
hand puppets, playfully including them actively again and again into
the psychotherapeutic communication of the patient s experience of
everyday life, thereby going beyond reality. By doing this it is then
helpful to divide the reality of the psychotically ill patient in which
reality mingles with fantasy into "the ordinary-world" and "the
dream-world" and to concrete the truth of the psychotically ill patient
by placing two separate chairs in the therapy room as the "chair for
the ordinary-world" and the "chair for the dream-world".
Case example 5
A 32-year old handyman, Mr. C., had been living for six months
with the delusional belief, that he was being bugged and filmed in his
flat. With the help of the dialogue by acting-as-a-doulble it was
possible within the first therapy session, to convince the patient,
that he should take medicine for four days as a trial "against his
extraordinary great sensitivity". In the second therapy session Mr. C.
reports:" It has become much quieter now. By the way, I also went to
the police, but they said that they need proof or a witness." The
therapist:" Yes, of course. That is reasonable!" Mr. C.:"But I don't
have any! " The therapist: "Oh, yes, - shame!"
Four weeks later Mr. C. starts to doubt: "Perhaps I just imagined
everything." But the therapist deliberately continues to create the
therapeutic relationship as trans-real: "Do you think so!? I think that
what you have experienced continues to be valid and meaningful." The
therapist places a second chair to the left next to the patient: "I put
this chair next to you for the part within you, which has experienced
the bugging and filming. You can call it your dream-world. With nightly
dreams it is also the case, that the content of the dream appears
unreal during the day and totally true in the night."
During the next four weeks the patient with great effort draws up a
record of his experiences and arranges them according to what he
regards as "real," and next to that, what he called "imagined." The
technique of the psychodramatic externally positioning of dream-world
and ordinary- world makes it also easier for the therapist to playfully
accept the co-existence of the two worlds of the patient side by side.
Things are what they are. By doing so the therapist turns the patient's
fight for reality back into an intra-psychically occurring fight with
himself. This frees the therapist from his fear to become crazy himself
and from acting out a counter-transference, and helps to resolve the
tragic dilemma of the psychiatric shaping of the relationship.
5. Theory of the
disorder-specific psychotherapy of psychotically ill
A disorder specific
therapy of the psychotically ill, needs to respond
to its central disorder. For psychotically ill people the central point
of suffering is the confusion of experience of reality. An individual s
experience of reality is always a subjective construction. Every
individual organizes his experience of reality in the working memory of
his brain. The working memory is that part of our brain, which works
similarly to the working memory and processor in our computers. In the
processes of conflict resolution our working memory integrates
meaningfully our thinking, feeling, acting, remembering, perceiving and
In psychotically ill people these processes of conflict resolution in
working memory are disintegrated by strong affects and highly charged
conflict material. Data will no longer be processed correctly. But a
human being cannot stand meaninglessness. He desperately tries,
therefore, to find meaning and will create in the extreme case, in form
of a vicious circle, the delusional experience.
There are indications that in the psychotically ill the processing
ability in the working memory is disordered (Frith, 1992;
Goldman-Rakic, 1994). For example Schneider et al. (2007) have found in
brain imaging studies of schizophrenically ill patients dysfunction
(shown by lower activity) in relevant working memory structures.
Interestingly these disturbances were smaller the more the
psychopathological state of the patient improved in the following year,
and on the other hand stronger the more it worsened in the following
In therapeutic psychodramatic practice, disturbances in the working
memory are shown by psychotically ill people amongst others in that
they cannot play. They do not understand for example, jokes or depth
psychological analysis. They do not grasp as-if situations and
metaphors as symbolic as-if-pictures, but understand these concretely.
When psychotically ill people act a fairy tale in group therapy, then
this will take 5 to 10 minutes, then it is over. Neurotically ill
patients on the other hand need 60 to 90 minutes to do so.
It is obvious that the central disturbance of psychotically ill people
cannot be healed if the therapist opposes the process of delusional
development in the working memory of the patient. In the
disorder-specific therapy of the psychotically ill, one has to go into
the deficient integration process and into the process of delusional
development, in order to change it.
The psychodrama psychotherapist understands the patient's delusion as
an unconscious role-play. With the aid of the dialogue by acting as a
double and the auxiliary-world technique he systematically transforms
the process of delusion into a play. The therapist then tries, together
with the patient, to take the role-play further and to take it to its
end. The creative playing systematically imitates the processing work
of the working memory in all its complexity and by this integrates
disintegrated processes. The ability to play is the ability to create
and to integrate by means of a process. In role-play in the role of
self the patient regains the functional roles of the creator and of the
double within his own life by organizing space and time (see circle C
in the picture). So he regains control over space and time within his
The psychotically ill patients shall not learn to live with their
illness, but they shall regain the ability for self governance within
their symptoms. If someone is able to start and to stop hearing voices
of one’s own free will he or she is not psychotically ill. (This you
can see in the case example 6 below.)
Moreno (1939), who developed psychodrama, and later others such as
Benedetti (1983) and Casson (2004) made this method the basis of their
method in therapy of psychosis. Fitting these theoretical
considerations, in the 1940s and 1950s of the last century, when there
were no psychiatric drugs, Moreno (1945, p.5) made two important
1. The therapist has to shorten the intervals between
sessions in psychosis therapy depending on the acuteness of the
2. As a therapist it is important to consciously and
repeatedly shape the therapeutic relationship actively trans-real, and
to improve the self-governance of the patient in his past delusional
experiences as well, even if the patient is symptom free at that time.
The patient should not report from his delusion, he should act within
it! Then, according to Moreno, the apparently healthy sick person
usually tries to anxiously preserve his freedom from symptoms. But only
if he undergoes this psychodramatic shock therapy, the patient is able
to gradually integrate the psychotic contents and gain control over the
roles, which he played during his psychotic decompensation (Moreno,
As long as such disintegrated parts exist outside of the control of the
patient, similarly triggering events can bring the patient out of
balance again and again (Moreno 1939, p.5).
6. Case example of
healing of a psychotically ill woman using disorder-specific
Case example 6: Mrs. E.,
a 35-year old good-looking, professional, intelligent,
sensitive woman, had sometimes been hearing voices of neighbors in her
very poorly soundproofed flat. These voices complained about how
noisily she trod or how loudly she snored at night. During the last
three years she had moved four times because of "poor soundproofing" of
the flats. During psychotherapy together with the psychotherapist she
worked out different parts of her Self opposing each other: on the
subject level, the "friendly, soft Renate" and the "obnoxious person".
In close relationships she was unable to maintain for long her
friendly, conformist stance and with un-intentionally strong emotional
outbursts, withdrew herself. On the object level, self-parts of her
delusion existed as the neighbors whose voices she heard again and
again. During the 28th session, the patient was by then symptom-free
and also without medication, she reported that she was feeling well. In
her relationship she had been able to talk in a new way openly with her
boyfriend about the motives behind her actions and through this had
been able to find error free friendly compromise solutions.
Mrs. E.:"In addition I now use ear plugs, because Robert snores so
loudly. Then I don't hear any voices any more either. That would not be
possible." The therapist is shocked by the naivete of the intelligent
patient, nevertheless immediately he takes on a trans-real attitude:
“And what do your neighbors say? Simply to use ear plugs? Then you
don't hear them when they are complaining about you!. Don't you find
Mrs. E.: "No, they don't really complain about me any more. They simply
make nasty remarks and gossip about me!" The therapist positions at a
short distance two empty chairs for "the neighbors", and asks the
patient to describe these two. They are successful, intelligent, good
looking and have no problems. The "presence" of the couple promptly
evokes old feelings of inferiority in the patient: "Since my time at
secondary school, I have felt insufficient with regards to people who
have a good education, who are in control of their life, and with whom
everything is okay." At the end of the session she emphasises:"Today
you hit on a weak spot!"
According to my experience, psychotically ill people by playing in
trans-reality integrate split-off parts of their Selves and so gain
control over them. Those who have control over the figures of delusion
and can let the puppets dance, as it were, can also stop delusional
experience and are disorder-specifically viewed healthy.
Case example 6 (continuation):
For the 35th therapy session, Ms. E. comes back from
a 14 day holiday looking exhausted. She begins disheartenedly: "I was
on holiday with my boyfriend. Two days were like hell again. The voices
were back. I thought that I would have to be admitted to a Spanish
hospital." During the following conversation Ms. E. reports: "I had
forgotten my tablets. Here at home I haven't taken them for a long
time. During the fourth night I really heard the neighbour say to his
wife: 'I know the company, she works for. That with her boyfriend is
also a wild story!'" The patient further reports: "First I was shocked
and full of anxiety. But then I thought. That is impossible,
there can’t be someone of my company here! I became angry and
deliberately thought about a lie: “And certainly you also were with me
in the Kindergarten in Celle!” Ms. E went on: I repeated this sentence
again and again. And then the neighbour really said to his wife:' And
you know, I also was with her in the Kindergarten in Celle!' Then I put
one more on top and thought: “Yes, and then my mother was on holiday
together with your mother last year in Turkey!” There really came
the voice of the neighbour saying: " By the way, my mother was on
holiday in Turkey together with her mother, too." Then I realized that
I had control over what happens. That was a big relief!"
Upon enquiry by the therapist, the patient confirmed that she herself
had so far not been aware of this: "No, from then on there was silence.
I never again heard anything from the room of the neighbours." Mrs. E
since three years lives without taking any psychochemicals and has been
without psychotic symptoms.
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