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Adam Blatner, M.D., TEP

Revised & Re-Posted, April 9, 2010

In addition to the use of psychodramatic methods in psychotherapy, business, education, and other settings, one of its more widespread uses is that of helping relatively healthy people to become even healthier. This paper envisions a re-visioning of this application, considering ways in which psychodrama might function as a kind of spiritual ritual. In one-to-one counseling, for example, there has been a progression from psychotherapy for identified problems to a more health-oriented “coaching.” Some people are doing something similar, working from the tradition called “spiritual direction”–some call it “spiritual companioning.” In other words, the journey of psychological growth becomes for some a normative process, a kind of life-long education that weaves together emotions, cognitive skills, physical self-care, philosophy, love, faith, responsibility, wisdom, and ongoing attitude adjustment.

This life development partakes of elements of meaning-making, spirituality, community-building, and related social functions. I imagine certain community institutions, such as some liberal churches or human potential programs, might well use psychodrama as a vehicle for helping their members explore their life goals. Pastor John Oman in Minneapolis wrote a beautiful exposition on this theme which expresses in Christian terms his actual use of the "Theatre of Reconciliation" at the Wesley United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis
(Oman, 1974).

Spirituality is here defined as any activity that helps people develop a relationship or sense of deeper connectedness with the Greater Wholeness of Being, which for many is associated with  transcendental images, however that may be imagined (e.g., God, Goddess, Great Spirit, the Ground of Being, Ancestors, etc.). The social organization of the spiritual impulse is a major feature of Religion, though it is possible to be religious without being particularly spiritual, or spiritual without being affiliated with any particular religion–or both, or neither.

To the extent that a community gathers to contemplate the verities of life and the universe, one aspect of that is the way each individual’s life is a kind of heroic journey, one in which the challenge is to find meaning, belonging, purpose, and healing, in a world that too often operates to undermine such experiences. Redemption need not require a meta-narrative of the Fall and Salvation (though some find that useful); simply helping people to re-claim their own natural heritage of innocence, vitality, enthusiasm, and other qualities is often enough, and this redemptive process resonates with themes found in the stories from myths in many cultures.

Psychodrama itself grew out of a belief by its inventor, Jacob Levy Moreno, M.D., (1889 - 1974), that helping people to discover and express the creative sources and potentials within them was indeed one way that the “Godhead” (as he called the Divine Source) operated in the Cosmos. Moreno further saw this process as social as well as individual–that is, in the process of authentic encounter, people feel more validated and liberated in their creativity. Historically, Moreno as a young man (around 1909) experimented with some friends in Vienna in trying to create a “religion of encounter” (Moreno, 1989). He had studied comparative religion and philosophy, and wanted to bring this sensibility into a kind of social activism. A few years later he helped to organize the downtrodden prostitutes of the city into some of the first experiments with self-help groups, and soon after that wrote inspired theological poetry, in his own way channeling “higher power” as he experienced it. This was then written in some of the literary journals in the city, which he also helped edit. [Recent scholarship has shown that these writings influenced Martin Buber in the development of his concepts of encounter and the “I-Thou” relationship between a person and God, and between one person and another (Waldl, 2004).]  The point here is that Moreno’s interest in promoting creativity was not only a psychological insight, but expressed a spiritual ideal.

Moreno might be further recognized as being perhaps fifty years or more ahead of his time, in that the dominant zeitgeist, dominated by Freudianism, was more secular. Talking about God was considered to be muddy-minded, mystical, and faintly disreputable. Beginning in the 1980s, though, with the emergence of transpersonal psychology and similar developments, workshops that directly included spirituality began to proliferate and in many quarters, has become mainstream! Moreno’s ideas nowadays don’t seem so weird.

A Ritual of Loving

Psychodrama might be thought of as a kind of community loving process insofar as its goal is the bringing forth the lives of its members into fuller actualization. To bring another person forth represents the healthiest part of parental and even mature erotic love. There’s an enjoyment in witnessing and perhaps even facilitating another’s development, emotional liberation, empowerment, and opening to support.

In our own time, psychology has helped us to appreciate the many components of individuality, and being helped by others, and there is a kind of loving concern in helping others in return to find ways to both celebrate our differences and at the same time optimize harmony with one’s social matrix. Sociometry as a method (associated with psychodrama) may also be used to help people identify those groups with whom one feels most congenial.

Psychodrama offers a more specific redemptive process than what people may experience as side effect of traditional practices of liturgy or common traditional community activities. I envision a spiritual center sponsoring one or several weekly psychodrama groups where participants draw each other forth using the classical psychodrama process. That is, participants would warm up to a theme or the situation of one of its members, an enactment would be facilitated with the help of a trained director, using other group members as auxiliaries, and afterwards, in the sharing and closing, the experience would be digested to the benefit of all. The themes would be recognized as operating not only at the level of the individual’s personal situation, but also as reflective of everyone’s life struggle, common themes, cultural issues, and even religious concerns having been recognized as being operative in the drama.


To make a psychodrama a ritual, I imagine the director or group leader beginning with an invocation (Blatner, 2000b). This would acknowledge the spiritual intention of the group’s process. Spirituality is here defined as an activity in which one (or a group) develops its relationship with the Greater Wholeness of Being, whether that be personified as a single entity, such as God, Jesus, Goddess, or by some other name, or left more impersonal, as Tao, Spirit, etc. It is possible to allow for a wide diversity of personal symbol sets–i.e., those images by which one structures one’s sense of meaning–while yet agreeing on a common goal of drawing each other forth as an expression of personal, community, and divine love.

The word, invocation, implies a calling in, an invitation to the transcendental realm to witness, protect and guide. (Note that it is not necessary that anyone be forced to affirm any literal belief in any identifiable representations of “beings” or spirits in the transcendental realm!) It’s more a ritualized way to affirm the values involved. I imagine the group leader saying something like, “We are gathered here for spiritual purposes, to help each other, an act of loving, to bring our minds to the challenge of helping our group members become a little more free, a little wiser, a little stronger. Each protagonist’s psychodrama is a gift to the others, will have certain elements that will speak to aspects of all the participants’ deeper processes of healing.”


Psychodrama involves an enactment of a person’s situation that may include scenes from the past or the future, but all are enacted as if they were in the here-and-now. Psychodrama as a process is structured sufficiently to contain the dynamics evoked, yet also flexible enough to address a very broad range of situations that can arise in the course of the action. This flexibility is part of the spirit of encounter, a recognition that each person is intrinsically spontaneous, not programmed, and open to shifting frames of reference, needs, evoked memories, and so forth. The process of spontaneity then is open to the needs of the moment, rather than being overly dependent on any set of fixed expectations.

The idea of encounter, of what the Jewish theologian Martin Buber meant by the “I-Thou” relationship, is predicated on the capacity for all parties to give up sets of expectations and to be able to respond to the spontaneity of the other. (An I-It relationship, in contrast, is one in which the other is granted no spontaneity, no capacity to be surprising. It is then treated as a thing. But a true “Thou” can surprise us–it is recognized as being free and having its own agendas.) Part of maturity is learning to deal with the actuality of other people, and this is cultivated through the art of encounter. (Interestingly, as Robert Waldl [2005] discovered, Buber was significantly influenced in the development of his thinking in this way by Moreno, with whom he had contact around 1919.)

To promote the fullest encounter, all parties should ideally be in a continuous process of self- and other-discovery, which is also an implicit goal in psychodrama. We discover that we have many intentions, many conflicting goals, and through this process, a more coordinated and self-reflective consciousness can begin to coordinate these many parts of the personality.

The encounter process is ongoing, and to the extent that it is aimed at bringing others forth (as well as respecting the different parts of oneself), it is loving. In this sense, love should be recognized as a verb, not something you “have” but something you “do.” Sometimes what’s up is to love even when you don’t feel like it. Imagine, then, that loving, and also other nouns-turned-into-verbs–faith-ing, wisdom-ing, doing responsibility, cultivating cheerfulness–that these require a continued engaging of the present moment–again that core idea of spontaneity (Blatner, 2005). Another related idea is that of mutuality (Blatner, 2002).

Will in the service of love includes a high degree of mutuality, of finding out what you need moment by moment, and intelligently responding. Sometimes that response involves listening attentively, simply being present, a witness. Perhaps I may feel more respected or loved when you withhold from your own need to intervene, however helpful your intention. Your wiser recognition that at this moment, simply being present suffices. Not doing should be acknowledged to be a kind of positive action at times. Also, helpful actions may be very subtle, receptive, hardly noticeable as “action.” For example, one of the more courageous kinds of loving involves letting someone else feel effective in doing something for you! (People when they’re sick or dying might benefit from opening to this message–it’s part of what was publicized in the “Tuesdays With Morrie” best-selling book [Albom, 1997] and video.)

In addition to the dynamics of spontaneity and encounter, another interesting one is that of playfulness–not as superficial frivolity or mere distraction, but rather as a way to allow situations to be tentative, the “as if” that allows for explorations. Moreno was the first person in psychology that I know of who contemplated the nature of spontaneity, and he recognized that it emerged as a fragile dynamic, only when anxiety was lower, when the person felt truly safe. What could best help people feel safe? The context of play. Children in the act of pretending generate this context so their minds can feel safe and free, because actions don’t really count (Blatner & Blatner, 1997). For adults, the equivalent of pretend play is drama.

Moreno recognized, though, that drama could and should transcend its cultural traditions–which had become that of actors rehearsing and enacting memorized scripts written by others. He envisioned a re-energized type of theatre that was more improvisational and interactive. In 1921 he formed one of the first improvisational theatre troupes, “The Theater of Spontaneity,” and explorations in impromptu theatre continued to be one of his interests.

While mutual encounter in dialogue is good, drama offers a number of additional dimensions, such as the power of place (setting a scene); body position and relationship–those nonverbal dimensions of communication; the power of action, of doing, of actually saying things or moving one’s muscles; the directness of encounter–rather than talking “about” a relationship–; the use of other people to play counter-roles, the power of an audience, the capacity to abruptly shift roles, the weaving in of humor and practical concerns–these and other elements make drama a more effective “laboratory” for exploring personal experiences. The element of play leavens it, also, so for example, participants can feel free to break the action and take care of their needs, such as by saying, “Time out; I have to go to the bathroom.” The point is that the stage, a place for enacting one’s story and exploring alternatives, may be closer to real life and more effective than the analyst’s couch or the simple process of talking in a consultation room.

A Heroic Journey

From the individual’s standpoint, the various situations in life may often be framed as part of a mythically heroic journey. (More about this idea on my paper on the heroic journey elsewhere on this website   adam\psyntbk\hero’sjourney.html.)  This is another important metaphor for life (see webpage on metaphor).

Many people go through a series of experiences that partake of some of the elements of such a journey, from encountering allies to recognizing those who are really the opposite of helpful. Psychodrama further partakes of this mythic process, drawing also on elements related to rites of passage. This recognition that our lives may be appreciated as having trans-personal resonances, expressive of archetypal roles, thus reminds us that our living also can have spiritual depth. Healing itself should be recognized as a spiritual process, part of the archetypal journey of the creative, growing soul.

Psychodrama then functions as a kind of religious ritual through which people enact their own awakening, healing, re-birth, role transition, and this also within a supportive context. That caring for each other may further be understood as expression of the spirit of Divine love, even as the activities may also partake of elements of play.

As participants are warmed up to spontaneous interactions, they bring to bear the action of their creative subconscious–a realm that in the past was associated with that of the muses and spirits. The point here is that fully spontaneous enactments serve to help connect everyday mind with deeper soul and spirit. That the subconscious mind may be a repository of that which is disowned and anxiety-producing was recognized by Freud; his student, C. G. Jung, though, expanded the view of the subconscious to recognize that it can also function as a source of innate healing, creativity, and self-actualization. Using a spiritual metaphor, then, Divine energy, spirit, may be imagined to be working in and through our corroded, split, complex egos, seeking to align and bring forth healing.

A View of Sickness and Healing

Wholeness involves bringing together that which has been separated, and this is the meaning of integrity and integration. The psyche is one dynamic process that slips frequently into splitting and compartmentalization. We don’t know what to do with certain new stimuli or learnings. They overwhelm our circuits and we just bury them under the carpet, incorporate them in undigested form, or try to expel them by playing them out in repetitive action. We often project them onto others or make the others the source of our salvation. True healing involves helping the person to gradually re-own and re-integrate these split-off parts. That’s what happens in shamanic healing, too.

The process of becoming ill, in a somewhat shamanic view, arises because a soul under stress sacrifices part of itself, in order to buy some safety: I’ll give up my sexuality or independence or power if you’ll just love me! Other qualities that get split off include self-love, courage, a sense of empowerment, sexuality, spiritual connectedness, grounding, humility, surrender, tenderness, even thinking independently. For a young child, the need to maintain a relationship with a protective other is primary. Under stress, kids split off parts of themselves, and as life goes on, there are both pressures and opportunities for healing–and psychodrama is one of those opportunities. Having split off those parts of self, and developing a mixture of numbing and a shell of character defenses, for many if not most people, this sealing-over works okay for a while. Then new changes in life, new roles, and the process of maturation in general begin to demand a wider range of functions. The brittle shell of character cracks, and dis-order, discomfort, or even disease results (Blatner, 2004a).

The shamanic model of healing suggests that those vital capacities that have been split off, repressed and compartmentalized need to be recovered and reclaimed. Psychodrama simply offers a ritual process for that re-integration and healing.

Because the mind and development may involve the interplay of hundreds of sub-routines and dynamics, the process of re-integration cannot be achieved in a single healing process. In the drama of a psychodrama, significant gains may be made as the individual begins to recognize and re-own some disowned emotion, but this is just the catharsis of abreaction. There are many further challenges: How can I work this fearsome yet needed quality back into my life? An internal paradigm shift is needed. Can I function with anger or aggression as part of my being? or conversely, without it?  Discovering such approaches leads to a further catharsis of integration. (Moreno emphasizes the need for a catharsis of abreaction, of emotionality, to be followed-up by a working through, a catharsis of integration.)

The value of psychodrama as a group process is that it offers something more than the validation of that which can be given by a single other person; one person can be too easily discounted, but a group offers a stronger feedback. The vulnerable protagonist–the person who is going through the process of the exploration in a psychodrama, facilitated by the director and others playing supporting parts (i.e., “auxiliaries”)–asks questions such as, “Can I be assertive, or vulnerable, with other people?” This is the next level of catharsis–the social catharsis–that responds to the question: Can I be more whole and still be acceptable, even loved? The healing that comes from discovering this is part of the ritual power.

And furthermore, Moreno suggested yet a final level of healing, through what he called a “cosmic” catharsis. (His use of  “cosmic,” was his slightly more scientific way of expressing a spiritual insight in a time when religion was not all that respectable in intellectual circles.) Today, spirituality is once again fashionable, because with the help of C. G. Jung, Joseph Campbell, Huston Smith, professionals doing transpersonal psychology, and many others, it’s possible to recognize that spirituality can be enjoyed within or beyond the confines of any particular religion. A deeper level of dynamic is being elucidated. Cosmic catharsis deals with the question: How does the new me, the more whole me, fit - not just in this hermetically-sealed supportive group, but in the wider world? How does it fit with my greater sense of what it is all about? What is my purpose, where and how do I belong in the universe? Can God love me if I’m more whole in this way? How can I re-vision God so that I can feel more a part of the universe? When people experience this, integration and healing become more complete.

In mythology, the Hero’s Journey involves the call to healing and wholeness. We may find ourselves diminished, in need of someone or something, and gradually, in our travels, we meet people who offer clues (Blatner, 2006a). The journey may become more complex and sometimes impelled by emotional or physical pain. In psychodrama, you find yourself in a sacred space with fellow travelers, each a hero in his or her own right, on his or her own quest. There might be similarities and differences–but the quest is towards healing, towards identifying and re-claiming that which has been lost, or split off. The process is tricky, infinitely varied, yet certain commonalities serve as archetypal supports, offer energy, love, and a matrix for rediscovery and healing.

A personal example: In the early years of my training, I was seeking to work out my ambivalent feelings to my mother. At one point, I confronted her in “surplus reality”– she wasn’t really there in the room, but her part was played by another group member as “auxiliary.” I brought up the courage to say what I had never consciously thought: “You never validated my individuality!” (It was good for me, a small catharsis, just to be able to name what it was that I wanted; I hadn’t known this before.)

The director then said, “reverse roles.” (In this technique, I then become the other person–in this case, I physically move to where my “mother” was standing and become her. The auxiliary playing her moves to where I was standing and becomes me.) I found myself in the predicament of my mother. The director said, “repeat the last line.” The auxiliary as Adam said, “You never validated my individuality.”  I was my mother, at that point, in her predicament, a nice Jewish mother with little higher education. I heard her answer in my head, with the slight inflection of irony and a gradually rising pitch of indignation: “This is what you learn in college? To talk to your mother with no respect? What? I don’t feed you, I don’t put a roof over your head? What is this individ-whatever? I don’t even know what you’re talking about!”

I then laughed–and laughter can be a catharsis as much as tears. In role reversing this way, the catharsis of integration was enriched as I realized that I could forgive her in a new and deeper way, because in her role, certain kinds of love were never modeled or talked about in her own life.

If psychodrama were to be imagined as a ritual, then, imagine yourself as the person who is the focus of the life-exploration, the protagonist: First you enact some scenes closer to the present, then go back and enact scenes in the middle or more distant past that may have influenced your attitudes and reaction patterns of the past. In this sense, it may be imagined as a spiral path, spiraling in, first, re-encountering the demons of the past. And yet in this journey you are strengthened by the present moment and a lifetime of memories–the positive ones are drawn upon–to serve. You have the help of others in containing the energies so you don’t have to be overwhelmed. You have the magic of pretend, make-believe, fiction, drama, the role-distance that again makes the encounters, while heartfelt, yet not ultimate. You can explore alternatives, because, as Moreno put it, “Every second time is a liberation from the first.”

In the ritual of psychodrama, by exploring the memories and situations in the past that fed into the what you’ve been carrying in your mind as inner rules, attitudes, and behaviors, you discover the disowned parts. You also discover in the psychodramatic process of the catharsis of integration that in the present these disowned parts contain life-giving energies, types of intelligence, values that you’ve needed and can use now. They may be mixed with other qualities that are childish, short-sighted, foolish, petty–but all-too-human. You weave in self-forgiveness
or self-discipline, or a new resolve, and always, in the social catharsis, a flood of soothing okayness, acceptance, love– with the help of all the others.

The psychodramatic process moves into the present and the future, and in creating and trying out new attitudes and reaction processes, you engage the alchemical process of differentiating what you want to keep with what you want to discard. There might be elements that you want to put away, consciously, to use in certain situations, but not others. You may make all sorts of creative compromises and syntheses from this highly conscious present moment. Through the psychodramatic technique of replay, you can do it again and again, practicing like a fine musician refining her part.

This ritual also serves the others in the group. In your struggle as protagonist, other group members experience resonances with their own inner dramas. Just by being yourself, and in the course of becoming even more your (true) self, you give to others, help them, serve as an example of both foolishness and wisdom - in an occasion for both forgiveness and encouragement. In another session, you serve as audience member or supporting player (auxiliary) in another group member’s drama. People share when they are ready. Each struggle also lifts the other, so it is a group ritual in truth.


The ritual is not only for the individual struggle. We are at a time in history in which humanity has the tools–and psychodrama is one of them–to participate consciously in its own evolution! To do this, it must subject the collective to the same process! We need to re-evaluate not only the individual decisions–including the mistakes–that we’ve made and proceed in healing, but also our collective decisions–our social norms, traditions, everything we’ve created–especially in the political, social, economic, religious, symbol-filled world of all our institutions–and question them, heal them (Blatner, 2006b). It’s a challenge that may take hundreds, thousands of years–but it begins now–well, now is all we have, isn’t it? Sociodrama addresses the role definitions. What should a real man be, anyway? Or a real woman? How should a parent behave? What do we expect from a successful person? a fulfilled one?

A spin-off of sociodrama was called axiodrama by Moreno: What are the axioms, the fundamental ideals or taboos of our culture? What do we mean by freedom, by strength, by love, compassion, enlightenment, goodness, beauty, art? All these words can be and in some sectors are being challenged. Even the word “God.” For lots of folks and some who think they’re religious, God is an it, not a thou. You do this and that and you can be assured God will respond this way. Or: that’s the way it’s supposed to be. God is a judge that operates along fairly clear lines. Or perhaps not, as Job discovered. Can God be a Thou?

I venture into these spiritual realms with the tool of drama because it is arguable that even God is in an ongoing process of creative discovery. Omniscience sounds like a compliment, but it deprives God of the aesthetic enjoyment of ongoing discovery, waking up, being reborn again, in every universe, in every baby, in every moment. Should we presume to deprive a creative spirit of this enjoyment in the preposterous belief that we know what’s good for God? –that it is better to be perfect, finished, according to our definitions of potency, action, value? Or might we do both God and each other greater honor and respect by stepping back and saying in full humility, “Wow, maybe there are aspects of you I don’t know! And maybe even aspects you’re enjoying discovering. I want to be open to your continuing process! Maybe it even includes our mutual discovery of ourselves in relation to each other!” Psychodrama may also be a context in which action techniques can be used for such explorations of our relationships with the Cosmos (Blatner, 2004b).

In summary, I envision psychodrama as an instrument for ritualizing a group process that can have collective value as well as individual benefits. Its roots in play weave in what many cultures include, an element of the trickster. We can be serious in our pursuit of healing while not yet becoming overly solemn. Role relief, a joke and laughter reinforce our communal humility, our willingness to let go and return to tentativeness, to un-knowing and opening again with innocence. We explore gently, and allow our finest constructions to be washed away, like the fine sand painted mandalas of the Tibetan monks. As our culture moves toward a greater integration of both psychology and spirituality, the dimensions of play, creativity, spontaneity, drama, action, and related ideas become far more relevant. I invite you to explore these ideas and techniques.


Albom, M. (1997). Tuesdays with Morrie. New York: Doubleday.

Blatner, A. (2000a). Foundations of psychodrama: history, theory & practice (4th ed.). New York: Springer

Blatner, A. (2000b).  A new role for psychodramatists
: Master of Ceremonies. International Journal of Action Methods, 53(2), 86-93.  (See on this website a revised version of this paper.)

Blatner, A. (2002). Mutuality in psychotherapy. On website: www.blatner.com/adam/level2/mutuality.htm 

Blatner, A. (2004a). The developmental nature of consciousness transformation.
ReVision: A Journal of Consciousness & Transformation, 26 (4), 2 - 7.

Blatner, A. (2004b). Enacted dialogue. From Website: http://www.blatner.com/adam/level2/enacteddialog.html

Blatner, A. (2005a). Perspectives on wisdom-ing. ReVision: A Journal of Consciousness & Transformation, 28 (1), 29-33.

Blatner, A. (2006a). The hero’s journey. Retrieved from website:   http://www.blatner.com/adam/psyntbk/hero'sjourney.html

Blatner, A. (2006b). Enacting the new academy: Sociodrama as a powerful tool in higher education. ReVision: A Journal of Consciousness & Transformation, 29 (2), pgs.?

Blatner, A. (2007). Designing and conducting rituals, ceremonies and celebrations (Chapter 5, pp 45-55). In A. Blatner (Ed.), Interactive & Improvisational Drama: Varieties of Applied Theatre and Performance. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse. (www.iuniverse.com) also: http://interactiveimprov.com/

Blatner, A. (2007a). Webpage supplement to Chapter 5 (above): http://interactiveimprov.com/ritualswb.html

Blatner, A. & Blatner, A. R. (1997). The art of play: Helping adults reclaim imagination and spontaneity. New York: Brunner Mazel. (Out of print–available from authors.)

Oman, John. (1974). A theology for psychodrama---in memory of Jacob L. Moreno. Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama 27, 48-54.

Waldl, R. (2005). J.L. Morenos Einfluss auf Martin Bubers Ich und Du. Zeitschift fur Psychodrama und Soziometrie, 4 (1), 175- 191.

I am open to and interested in your feedback. Email me at adam@blatner.com