Psychodrama Therapy in Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment programs often rely on a conventional suite of therapies that have been clinically proven to help people with very serious cases of addiction and/or substance abuse. Talk therapy, combined with support group work, is considered vital to the healing process of almost anyone who is dealing with a problem that’s intensely serious and difficult to handle.

However, it’s not uncommon for addiction treatment programs to branch out and provide different services that could augment the care that conventional therapies can provide. Psychodrama therapy is one of these complementary therapies, and it could be vital to the healing process of some people.

Theoretical Underpinnings

Therapists who provide psychodrama therapy believe that hidden, buried memories lie at the heart of a person’s feelings of dismay and dysfunction. The memories can vary dramatically from person to person, but typically, they involve a time in which the person was somehow:

  • Misunderstood
  • Ignored
  • Emotionally wounded
  • Compelled to act out

These memories may be hard for people to forget, and they may turn the events over and over in their minds on a daily basis, looking for clues about what they could have done differently and what might have gone wrong. Even so, they may miss little details of what happened, and they may not understand how things could have turned out differently. As a result, the memory doesn’t help them. In fact, the memory works as a prompt that could keep them locked into a pattern of abuse.

Unlocking Memories

psychodramaThe American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama states that psychodrama is designed to provide patients with the opportunity to “…practice new and more effective roles and behaviors.” It’s a lofty goal, but the way the therapy progresses is often considered far from difficult or painful. In fact, many participants find the process to be actually enjoyable.

In private sessions, clients are encouraged to act out their memories, detailing what happened and how they felt. Therapists might participate by playing an alternate role, or therapists might ask patients to play a different character while the therapist takes over the role of the patient. Sometimes, alternate endings are acted out, but even if the action progresses in a similar manner to the actions the client remembers, new insights can form. Some people may begin to understand the motives of those who hurt them, while others may find that they somehow contributed to the pain that unfolded. Some people even find the strength to express emotions they’d kept hidden as the original action moved forward.

Psychodrama can also be held in group settings, allowing other patients to take on roles from another patient’s life. These other participants may come to their own insights as the events unfold, or they may simply have the satisfaction of participating in work that helps another person to feel a little better about life.

Not Playtime

Even though psychodrama involves a scene and people playing specific characters, the work isn’t similar to work done by a drama department in a play. It’s not even similar to work done in drama or theater therapy. The role of the therapist is, in part, responsible for these differences. As an article in The Arts in Psychotherapy puts it, therapists using psychodrama don’t simply let a play unfold. Instead, they sprinkle in techniques, including:

  • Action-insight
  • Verbalization
  • Processing
  • Analysis

They encourage people to talk, in other words, and make sense of the things that are taking place. They’re not passively playing a role as much as doing an active form of therapy that happens to involve drama. It’s a different kind of approach.

Understanding the Results

therapy sessionOften, the insights people gain in psychodrama therapy sessions are profound, and the concepts typically merit closer inspection in a traditional therapy session. As a result, it’s not unusual for therapists to pair psychodrama therapy with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

This can be helpful for clients, but it can make parsing the evidence a little difficult. After all, clients who are getting two therapies at once might be benefitting from one therapy, the other therapy or both. It’s hard to know which point in the chain is responsible for the benefits people might feel. For example, in a study in The Arts in Psychotherapy, experts found that psychodrama was helpful in combination with other therapies, but the researchers couldn’t tell why people improved. Participants did improve, and it’s possible that the psychodrama was responsible, but that couldn’t be definitively proven.

Studies like this can make people afraid to use psychodrama, as they might not feel as though it has been definitively proven by experts, but it’s clear that it could be a valuable intervention for some, and that experts who provide the therapy often incorporate it into other traditional forms of care. As a result, it could be considered safe and proven, and it could be a valuable part of treatment for some people with addictions.

At The Oaks at La Paloma, we have a long history of helping people overcome their addictions through an innovative combination of traditional and alterative care. Our holistic approach allows people to come to new understandings by tapping into different parts of their brains and accessing their creativity. In addition to psychodrama, we also offer eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, exercise therapy, intensive family therapy and more. Please call us to find out more about our approach and to learn how we might design a program to help you.