AdamBlatner, M.D.,TEP

Updated 4/21/2011    Also see paper on sociodrama in education on this website.

Sociodrama is a method for exploring the conflicts and issues inherent in social roles. It is an extension of psychodrama, a method developed by J. L. Moreno, M.D. (1889-1974), a psychiatrist who invented these methods in the later 1930s and early 1940s. Moreno was also a pioneer in the fields of group psychotherapy, social psychology, improvisational theory, and the philosophy and theory of spontaneity and creativity.

This webpage is being updated partly in celebration to the recent publication of a new anthology, Sociodrama in a Changing World (in which I have a chapter). Others who have contributed to this volume include Herb Propper, Valerie Monti Holland, Nina Garcia, Rosalie Minkin and Eva Leveton. Eva has also edited another anthology published a year ago (see references below). On April 30, we are holding a panel on sociodrama at the 2011 annual meeting of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama (held in Clearwater, Florida, near Tampa.)

In addition, there have been several international sociodrama conferences held in the last half-decade! Maurizio Gasseau, the director of our International Association of Group Psychotherapy and Group Process discussion website wrote recently about some history: He noted that the 1st Sociodrama Conference was created by Manuela Maciel in Carcavelos near Lisbon in October 2007; a 2nd Sociodrama Conference was organized on the Boat between Stockholm and Helsinki in March 2009 by Monica Westberg, Kerstin Jurdell, Eero Julkunen, Per Henriksson, Judith Teszary. A 3rd Sociodrama Conference was organized in Patgonia, Argentina by Monica Zuretti, and plans are being made for a 4th Sociodrama Conference that will be held in Iseo Italy in September 2013! (This group includes Luigi Dotti, Clelia Marini, Paola De Leonardi, Leandra Perrotta, Tony Zanardo, Wanda Druetta, Chiara de Marino, Maurizio Gasseau. Manuela Maciel, Monica Westberg, Monica Zuretti and Ron Wiener—all will be consultants of the 4th Sociodrama Conference in Italy. You can find more about these conferences by googling "sociodrama conference."

So this approach is gaining traction. Personally, I think that in the long run sociodrama may influence the evolution of consciousness on this planet more than psychodrama as a clinical modality---but this is so only in the sense that public health measures applied widely and in a preventive fashion have more aggregate impact than medical treatment of the individual patient.

Sociodrama is similar to psychodrama in that both utilize group dynamics, enactment, and psychodramatic methods. They differ in the focus of the problem being addressed. Psychodrama deals with the problems that an individual person (i.e., “the protagonist) faces in dealing with real life situations. Those problems involve several levels—the general cultural milieu, the interactions of the social roles, and the particular forms those roles take in the real people involved. A person is a nexus of many roles and, more, in that process of coming together of many qualities, embodies a particular way he or she expresses each role and works out ways of integrating them. The problem is complexified by the fact that the individuals in the protagonist’s life are also particular people—not just roles—and so they play their roles in certain ways.

Some of the ways people play their role are consistent with how most people might expect that role to be played, but a fair amount of the interaction is also affected by idiosyncratic elements, certain qualities that express creativity, wisdom, foolishness, neurosis, quirks, and so forth.

To restate: Psychodrama addresses both the role conflicts and the individuality of the people playing out those issues. Sociodrama in contrast focuses on explicating the depth of complexity and conflicts at the level of the social roles involved. Consider for example a teenaged girl interacting with her father. There are general issues that might be shared by many of the people in the group, people who have been in the role of fathers of teenaged girls, or who have known men in that role (and by extension, parents of teenagers, and teenagers in relation to parents—there are over-lapping issues in all of these realms), and exploring such issues would be more sociodramatic. On the other hand, the peculiarities or quirks of this particular teenaged girl and that particular father, dealing with, for example, the daughter’s areas of talent, or the financial considerations of the father at the time of the enactment, or issues that concern also the individual qualities of the mother, who happens to be mentally ill—these issues make it more psychodramatic.

In terms of role theory, an individual may be imagined to be a combination of multiple roles, and the way they interact as a “nexus.” This interaction of many roles and role components mix also with the various elements of individuality—abilities, special interests, temperament, genetic make-up, life history, cultural circumstances—, (see my webpage on considering the components of individuality and another webpage on the factors involved in human development) and this is further compounded because one person’s individuality plays of the equally complex and unique individuality of others in the social network. Who I am is a product of not only my individuality, but the quirks of who each of my parents were, and for that matter other key players in my development. All this requires an examination at the level of the protagonist’s own experience, how she interprets perceptions, and what patterns of reaction she has developed.

Certainly this is complicated, but it’s made even more so because of the social roles embodied by each individual player. In psychodrama, both the roles being played and the individual ways people play those roles are explored.

Sociodrama, on the other hand explores the general nature of the social roles—which are themselves quite complex. Many social roles are being redefined in each age group, with each generation, so that, for example, the expectations associated with being a “good” kid have changed several times in the last century.

Sociodrama acknowledges that it is worthwhile addressing these shifts, the issues associated with social roles in general. In certain situations it becomes worthwhile to examine the nature of various social roles and how they play out, how they interact with those in other social roles, or people from other cultures, and so forth.

These roles might involve age, religion, ethnic background, perceived racial differences, gender, sexual preference, vocation, economic and social class, political orientation, national loyalty education, and so forth. Also, there are often more subtle differences within large groups that can generate a great deal of tension. (Examples: Those Christians who believe in Hell as a real consideration in life and those who would prefer to exclude that category from their belief; those of African-American heritage with different skin tones; and (less true in this country now, but not insignificant in the past, Jews immigrating from Germany versus Eastern Europe; and among the latter group, those from the region around Lithuania (“Litvaks”) versus those in the regions around the Ukraine (“Galitzianers”). Sometimes these differences were the basis of jokes, and sometimes these differences became the source of truly unpleasant conflicts.)

Each role has levels of associations, disagreements as to how it should be defined, what qualifies as performing well versus performing poorly in that role. Each role tends to evoke other deeper associations, thoughts and feelings—and sociodrama aims at bringing these elements into consciousness.

Each role tends to generate certain particular dynamics when associated with another role, so, for example: middle aged fathers and sons; fathers and daughters; father-husbands and mother-wives; fathers and new stepmothers, and so forth. Other variables include:
  – the role in a historical era, teenage girl in the 1940s versus in 2010, minister in 1940 versus 2010... etc.
   – the role at a certain age: a 20 year old new father;   a minister at age 80 with 60+ years of experiences, including the changes in his denomination, trends in theology, etc.
   – the role in relation to another role:   A young father of a newborn boy; a middle-aged father of a teenaged girl—in relation to that girl... etc.
   – the tensions of the individual in relation to the majority in that group: a teenaged girl who feels different from what she perceives is the norm for her age and gender; a minister who is at odds with what he perceives to be the mainstream of his religion.
Roles, then, have their own depths. In any given role, for any particular situation or relationship, there are five levels of thoughts and feelings: (1) what is expressed openly; (2) what is thought explicitly but can only be shared with close friends or a therapist, if anyone; (3) thoughts and feelings that slightly register in consciousness but are mostly pushed away—this is the “pre-conscious” level; (4) thoughts or feelings that are repressed, that remain out of consciousness; and (5) those ideas that have never been considered—they may exist in other cultures or elsewhere in society, but would be experienced as absolutely new and barely conceivable (e.g., “What, women vote? But this is 1842! Never heard such nonsense!”)

In addition, people in roles—even fully immersed in just one role dimension—nevertheless experience much of the turbulence of multi-role psychology—including all the mental maneuvers (including the “defense mechanisms described in psychoanalysis) designed to reduce feelings of emotional discomfort.

A key point of this paper is that in addition to bringing out the various component attitudes of any single role, sociodrama also should present the various avoidance and adjustive mental maneuvers, the little voices that go along with the processing of interacting complexes within any given sociodramatic conflict: e.g., I don’t want to think about this. It’s all their fault. Why does it have to be so complicated? I’m not going to give in, I’m going to protest! Well, maybe I should just keep quiet.

People’s lives are enormously complex. There are conflicts among the parts of the self, the different motivations and preferences. There are conflicts and allegiances with others, and among different groups and even whole cultures. There are conflicts between what an individual might prefer and think and what they and others think should be felt and thought—the group norms.

Every psychodrama has elements that really relate not just to the particulars, but what most people in that role might be thinking and feeling—that is, every psychodrama contains a variety of implicit sociodramas.

In any sociodrama, all people involved also have aspects of their particular lives that exemplify aspects—sometimes a lot, sometimes only a tiny bit—of whatever is being explored as the themes in the sociodramatic enactments.

Any psychodrama has the potential to transform into a sociodrama, and vice versa. This can be most valuable in helping protagonists realize that aspects of their problems are not an expression of individual idiosyncracies or weaknesses, but are the product of cultural issues, types of oppression, conflicting norms, and those issues are shared by thousands or millions of other people.

A caution, though: If the group exploring a sociodrama has come together to explore an issue and not feel that their own personal lives will be disclosed, the group leader should realize that there is a slight to moderate tendency for sociodramas to drift into psychodramas. A protagonist begins to create scenes that have elements that aren’t built into the general role, but express rather the problems in dealing with a particular other person.  A girl with a teenage pregnancy has problems with parents, but a scene in which the father uses that predicament to behave in individual, unusual ways would need to be excluded. It would be that girl’s own psychodrama, not a sociodrama. The auxiliaries need to continue to behave according to the average expect-able social norm for that culture, and the director should not allow such an enactment to proceed: “No, Julie, that’s not sociodrama. That may have to do with your own family—or perhaps you’re playing it the way a friend of yours experienced it—but we’re not going to pursue that. We need to explore what most girls go through in this situation.”


I think sociodrama may in the long range have more applicability and do more good for the society’s development than psychodrama! Similar techniques are used, but the focus is different. The reason I consider this possibility is that sociodrama is a great way to learn to be empathic with a wider variety of situations, to learn the skills of  psychological literacy or emotional and social intelligence, and to think more sharply, clearly, and critically about current social problems.

The world is changing faster, accelerating in the social responses to technological innovations. Cultures are mixing more, people traveling more, immigrating and emigrating, subgroups are seeking more “rights,” social norms are shifting. The general ability to be mentally flexible is becoming a necessity for adaptation, though this wasn’t so true two or three generations ago.

Education, also, needs to become more attuned to what is relevant to the students. In the more stable past education could be driven by a curriculum designed by wise elders who were working from values and cognitive sets that were—well, by definition, old-fashioned!

Sociodramas have been conducted internationally and in many settings. They have addressed socio-economic issues in the nation or the city, social conflicts in communities, professional sub-groupings, and so forth. The whole idea of identifying subtle sub-groupings, just noting their existence explicitly, is an element in some forms of group work (e.g., Yvonne Agazarian’s approach.)

There is some overlap in methodology and goal between sociodrama and Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, as well as its offshoots, Forum Theatre, Rainbow of Desire, and so forth. There is a slight overlap with other forms of applied theatre (Blatner, 2007).

I envision this methodology as becoming a core part of the curriculum in higher education (Blatner, 2006). I am interested in other approaches and if you write to me and make suggestions, I will cite your name and your point in this paper.


Sociodrama is making gains and promises to offer an important extension of the vision of Moreno. He never intended his ideas to be confined to the hospital or the clinic. When he wrote as the first line of his magnum opus, Who Shall Survive, "A truly therapeutic procedure cannot have less an objective than the whole of mankind," he meant that really good tools---and I consider his contributions to consist of a goodly number of such tools---have applications in all domains. I hope this introduction stimulates your interest!


Blatner, A. & Blatner, A. 1997. Applying sociodramatic methods in education Chapter13, pp. 124-133, in The Art of Play: Helping adults reclaim imagination and spontaneity. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Blatner, A. (2006). Enacting the New Academy: Sociodrama as a Powerful Tool in Higher Education. ReVision: A Journal of Consciousness & Transformation. (This article is on another webpage on this website) .

Blatner, A. (2007). Psychodrama, sociodrama and role playing. In A. Blatner (with D. Wiener) (Eds.) Interactive and Improvisational Drama: Varieties of Applied Theatre and Performance. Omaha, NE: iUniverse.

Leveton, E. (2010). Healing collective trauma using sociodrama and drama therapy. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Minkin, Rosalie. (2001a). Linking the generations through sociodramatic improvisational theatre. The British Journal of Psychodrama & Sociodrama, 16, 89-96.

Minkin, R. (2011). Sociodrama for our times: the A, B, C of sociodrama. Contact author.

Sternberg, Patricia & Garcia, Antonina (2009). Sociodrama (Chapter 19), in D. R. Johnson & R. Emunah (Eds.), Current approaches in drama therapy (2nd ed.). Springfield, IL: C. C. Thomas.

Wiener, Ron; Adderly, Di; & Kirk, Kate (Eds.). (March 2011). Sociodrama in a changing world.  See also the table of contents on this website.
Also, there are many other references to sociodrama through the search function at the internaional psychodrama bibliography online