Adam Blatner, M.D., TEP

First on May 2; then June 1, 2012

This  builds on a paper published in February on this website; as another preliminary paper, I am very open to your comments. Just email to 

I am proposing a more widespread adoption of the term “action exploration” as a general category that includes the following: psychodrama, drama therapy, sociodrama, sociodynamics (also known as sociometry), role training, drama in education, role training, role playing, simulations, spontaneity training, imagination development, developmental transformations, warm-ups and experiential techniques, action methods, other forms of applied theatre, and so forth.

These fields as methods can be used to investigate or build skills also in related fields such as:
 - spirituality and new approaches in theology, bibliodrama, axiodrama (works with semantics)
 - applied sociology, role theory, more axiodrama (working with words for social norms)
 - constructivist types of therapy, dialogic therapy (Hermans)
 - dialogic types of therapy (Harold Stone’s , Gestalt therapy; Internal Family Systems therapy; others—anything where one par of the personality encounters and dialogs with another part.)
 - role training, occupational therapy
 - role expansion, recreational therapy, therapeutic recreation, positive therapy
 - spontaneity training: theatre games for warming-yourself up, for building group cohesion
 - learning about practical psychology, nonverbal communications, better types of communications
 - group work, more active group involvement, explorations, organizational development
           encounter groups, personal growth groups, T-groups, human potential movement
    self-help groups
 - ritual studies, community-building (overlaps with spirituality), creating rituals,
 - semantics, axiodrama (mentioned above, but here just as a way to promote critical thinking!

Reasons for this:

   1. These have many significant common elements and those commonalities merit the recognition of a name for what they share: I call this meta-field “action explorations.”

  2. It’s mostly psychodrama in the broadest sense of the world, but it also includes and derives from a number of innovators besides Moreno—people like the major figures in drama therapy, in drama in education, improvisation, etc. Some names that should be included are Viola Spolin, Richard Courtney, Dorothy Heathcote, and so forth. Even within the field of psychodrama there are many whose contributions transcend anything Moreno thought about.

3. In a narrower sense of the word, “psychodrama” refers to the use of action explorations as focused on the particulars of an individual’s life—and in that it contrasts with sociodrama, which focuses more on what certain types of people (any category or qualities in common) share—which can have enough depth and variation to earn a method that seeks to clarify what’s going on.

    There’s also the problem that the term has a broader sense that has come to stand for anything Morenian, even though many of Moreno’s activities don’t directly require each other to be used. However, they have a few common elements, such as a vague goal of promoting creativity and promoting spontaneity in human affairs. (I’ll be writing about how they do this in the re-write of Foundations of Psychodrama—an updating, re-ordering, and of course re-titled “Action Explorations Explained.”

4. Yet even that can be used also for personal development, to help healthy people get healthier. Psychodrama is not necessarily a primary form of treatment for mild or more severe mental illness, although that has been a dominant form; yet it is declining and other applications are more widely used. So the term has several meanings. (Various types of psychotherapy may indeed be adjunctive types of support with people who have suffered through the trauma of psychosis and also what is occasionally the trauma or at least stress of dealing with psychiatric professionals and systems.)

5. One of the more pervasive meanings in the culture is that the word “psychodrama” has come to be used by journalists to describe any dramatic situation in which psychological infused. Nothing therapeutic is implied. Journalists seem to be rather unaware of he idea that people can deeply grow from reflecting on their folly. This growing usage further distorts the professional meaning for “psychodrama.”

6. That psychodrama is also a term used to describe the role playing in some sexual services may be too trivial to include, but I think it reflects an associated problem. That it is the name of a rock band that works on the “dark side” also doesn’t help the semantic associations called up.

7. People have a general association of the word “drama” with its most pervasive form, which is traditional:
- scripted by a playwright other than the players
- directed by a director who has his own interpretation or approach—not working much from what the actors have to say
- acted by professional or amateur actors who audition for the role
- parts are memorized and rehearsed
- performed, pretty much the same, every performance / night
- for a relatively passive audience
- for purposes of entertainment, catharsis, shock, political propaganda, amusement, etc.

8. In contrast, action explorations:
- are improvised by the people for whom the situation is most relevant
- directed by a director who is far more of a facilitator of what the main players or group need to have happen
- acted or played by the people themselves for whom this situation is relevant
- improvised (this is a big difference!)
- the discovery process is closer to early phases of rehearsal, awkward, exploratory. Who plays which role shifts.
- the audience is often a small group who may also generate supporting players for the exploration; future main players for subsequent explorations; and sources of active involvement,  authentic feedback (sharing), encouragement, and so forth
- and the purpose is in the service of discovery, learning, correcting misunderstandings heightening awareness of others, empathy, insight, self-expression.

The differences are so great that they merit a distinct category that differentiates action explorations from traditional theatre. The use of the word “drama” as a common element is valid, but as partial as noting, as an analogy, that both a horse-cart and an off-road SUV both have four wheels.

9. Drama is problematic also in the public mind as being histrionic, exaggerated, unnecessary, trivial, self-indulgent, and not widely respected. Again, misusing the term, fully expressive drama is often mislabeled “melodramatic.”

10. Psycho- as a prefix calls up interestingly contrasting associations:
  - it’s psychotically and dangerously insane, as in the Hitchcock movie, “Psycho”
  - and it’s weirdly psychoanalytic, where it’s both self-indulgent and “messing with your mind.”
People on the whole don’t like similar-sounding words. A minority of people do like anything psychological—but again, few of them want to see the word combined with (of all things) “drama”!

11. So as a word, psychodrama has an uphill battle. Many of our colleagues seem to believe that through the power of their authenticity, virtue, and patience, they can succeed in changing the afore-mentioned cultural associations, correct misunderstanding. Frankly, I doubt this. Better to use a new term.

12. Interestingly, there is a paradoxical grounding of this re-naming effort in deep tradition. Before drama became a commercial enterprise, when it was still a form of extended tribal story-telling, there was more interactivity. Sometimes stories were told because what had been presented to the tribe, in terms of weather, food, individual misbehavior, the death of a great personage and so forth, called for a story, something to help the people become grounded in their past and their future destiny.

      Interestingly, I put at a little distance from action explorations an activity that has a somewhat blurry boundary—i.e., scripted, rehearsed theatre, putting on plays. Admittedly, some forms of theatre are provocative, elicit feelings, evoke discussion at home—occasionally there with other specators in the theater, in the aftermath of the play. There are also many forms that involve a bit of improvisation or interactivity. Still, all this is only a tiny percentage of the ways theatre is organized. I wonder if practitioners of applied theatre so dearly love the theatre that they deny how marginal these more uplifting and involving approaches are?

Contextualizing This Name Change

To contextualize is to put something within a cognitive framework of a greater dynamic. It also has elements of the function of metaphor. There are several wider functions within which this proposed name-change of action explorations fits:

1. It speaks to the larger context of the evolution of consciousness-raising, a process that has emerged in part from the field of psychotherapy, and also from many other sources—feminism, a critique of power-politics in psychotherapy and other contexts, the formulation of disease as partially due to ignorance and the need for education, the broader idea that consciousness itself can evolve to more complex and yet more inclusive and in other ways “higher” or “better” levels.
2. Within that, this name change speaks to a need (I think) to bring the best of psychology into the mainstream, away from the periphery. It has been moving in this direction for a century. Before that psychology was a rather rare and peculiar category for a few academics.

3. This move also fits with a trend towards integration, holism, inter-disciplinary studies that has been happening in many fields, from philosophy to the applied sciences of technology; from medicine to hygiene (what do we need to do to prevent illness?); and so forth. It affects the way we run organizations and businesses as feminism and other changes humanize the trend towards mechanic-ization (and bureauricrat-ization) of the early  19th through the mid-20th centuries.

4. In an even larger sense, I am envisioning a revision of the nature of spirituality and religion in the next century, in the directions of more openness to the more behind the surface, the spirit, mixed with a postmodern thrust that takes in individuality of temperament and interest. Instead of monolithic ideologies (everybody must believe the same dogma), I see the promotion of a meta-myth that includes individuality, the need for people to actively participate in constructing their own philosophy of life within a fluid context where most people believe what works for them. (I didn’t say this was going to be easy.) But that’s a myth, too. (It also speaks to the challenge of using action explorations to help individuals identify what does work for them in their mythmaking.)


This is a work in progress. I invite a thoughtful critique. Mere familiarity with the old terminology, or statements that are prefaced by “I feel” or “I believe” don’t carry much weight as reasoned arguments. I certainly respect that many in our fields will have such feelings, and by no means do I discount them. They are the result of a significant “cathexis” or emotional investment in the status quo, in the relationships to and often roots in scripted, rehearsed forms of theatre.

Nor am I dismissing theatre: It is an art form that performs a significant function in culture, and lots of people with the right blend of temperament and ability deeply enjoy that form. It offers great vitality to their lives, and for some, a living income. Still action explorations is aimed more at bringing the main bulk of the population forward into more participation and consciousness, it’s not for those perhaps 10% who already have the talent for theatre. I make these point because I want to honor those who truly enjoy and love more complex forms of drama. But my point is that the field is bigger than that—and I think that’s what John Bergman was getting at in his keynote presentation at the national drama therapy conference in November, 2011 in San Francisco.

Nor am I dismissing psychotherapy—which was a major foundation for my own practice back in the olden days of the 1960s through the early 1990s when most psychiatrists did psychotherapy. My earlier books were more targeted for psychotherapists, and psychodramatists who thought of themselves in that light. However, I’ve moved beyond the context of treating those in the sick role, I’ve envisioned the potential of these approaches as ways to increase mental flexibility, deepen self-awareness, amplify communications, and enhance socio-emotional problem-solving.

So let’s see where all this leads.   Email to