The Influence of Cultures on Psychodrama

38
Revised and translated version of „Psychodrama…Psykodrama…psicodrama…psicodramma…Психодрама….פסיכודרמה Das Psychodrama im Einfluss von Kulturen. Published: 2006 Zeitschrift f. Psychodrama, 2, 207-224

Author: Jutta Fürst

Abstract

The different psychodramatic stiles are focused from the viewpoint of cultural influences. Various reasons lead to the difficulty to identify cultural caused differences in psychodrama. The categories of social sciences are only partly suitable for this purpose because the individual variety is mostly larger than the cultural. But there are trends and tendencies influenced by history and tradition that can be described. The attempt to present them should serve an understanding of the basic history of a culture and should lead to a greater acceptance of the differences as an expression of it. Although psychodrama is a well- structured method it can easily adjusted to cultural circumstances whenever needed.

Introduction

My girlfriend and I were about to visit an old Turkish bath for women in Bursa (Turkey). The old woman at the entrance clearly signaled to us with her hand gesture that we should leave. We felt strange and unwelcomed. We backed away, but finally hesitated to turn back. The more we tried to move away, the stronger became the gesture of the woman. She didn’t seem unfriendly at all and we made another attempt to get closer. Eventually she grabbed us and pulled us into the house.

A slight twist of the hand, with her fingertips pointing downwards, gave us the impression of being unwanted. No big deal. In other situations, misunderstandings can have serious consequences. For example, in 61 per cent of cases, doctors assess the severity of the complaints of Turkish patients differently from the patients themselves. These differences can be explained, among other things, by the way they are communicated. Incorrect treatment due to misinterpretations caused by cultural differences has therefore also become an issue in medical practice. (Yildirim-Fahlbusch 2003)

For any type of therapy, the relationship between practitioner and patient is essential, as is the form in which the treatment is carried out. It must correspond to the tradition and the patient’s understanding of healing. It is essential to adapt a healing method to the conditions of the country in which it is used. Silvester Ntomchukwu Madu (2002, p. 555) writes: “Since the Western forms of psychotherapy are foreign to African people, they need to be adapted to African culture for effectiveness.” Thus, a psychotherapy method that has the potential to adapt to the respective cultural and individual circumstances seems to offer advantages.

Psychotherapy methods are influenced by the cultural environment in which they originated and the cultural background of the person who developed them. Moreno was influenced by different cultures and religions when he began to develop psychodrama. “When the First World War broke out, nobody knew whether I was Turkish, Greek, Romanian, Italian or Spanish, because I had no birth certificate.” (Moreno 1995, p 15) He always emphasized the relational component in psychological development and the connecting scene more than inner-psychological processes. Psychodrama is characterized by a consistent structure in the process but is extremely adaptable. Marcia Karp’s description of a psychodramatic work starting in a kitchen is a good example for it (1991, 95ff).

The patient was a 42-year-old, down-to-earth woman from the south of England who had been sexually abused by her grandfather, uncle, and father for years during her childhood and had not found any support or help from her mother. In the years that followed, tormented by guilt and alone with her fear, she wanted to die. She was accompanied to her first therapy session by a social worker, as she didn’t trust herself to attend the meeting unaccompanied. Just as they arrived, Marcia Karp, the therapist, was preparing piccalilli, a spicy pickled vegetable relish, according to a special recipe from her daughter. The cooking process did not go to her satisfaction, and she invited the patient to look at the disaster and help her achieve an acceptable result. After ten minutes, during which they were observed by the accompanying social worker, not entirely without suspicion, the patient was ready to start the therapy session without the support of another person. She trusted this therapist, who had allowed her to participate in her everyday life.

But psychodrama can also be survival training, as the example of Jaime Rojas Bermudez shows, who accompanied an anarchist group in Uruguay for over 20 years and taught them psychodramatic behaviour in their commune.

One day, the men and women of the commune were abducted by soldiers of the military dictatorship. The children were left alone. The older ones then called together all the children who had been orphaned and, according to their sociometric choices, assigned them to older children who took over the parental role in the absence of the actual guardians. They had learnt to think and act sociodramatically in regular psychodramatic sessions with Jaime Rojas Bermudes. This “re-parenting” helped the children to cope better with the absence of their mothers and fathers.

Yablonski (1966) describes how psychodrama can also be lifesaving.

The author was working with youth gangs in New York at the time. One day, when a gang leader accompanied by two friends approached him on the street with a drawn knife and bragged about wanting to kill a certain member of another gang, he invited the three of them to discuss the matter in his office. The threatening scene was worked through psychodramatically, which at least for the moment prevented the boy from committing the murder in the street.

Is psychodrama a psychotherapeutic chameleon?

The influence of culture

Are there differences in the application of psychodrama that can be attributed to cultural influence or are they merely variations that are characterised by the individual style and personality of the individual psychodrama leader? How well can psychodrama be adapted to the circumstances of another culture? The view from a distance all too quickly leads to stereotypes and prejudices, while the exact observation of details no longer reveals the similarities.

I tried to approach the topic from two sides. It seemed important to me to collect the experiences of various psychodramatists who have led psychodrama groups in other countries and to describe general differences based on my own observations and by comparing techniques in the psychodrama literature.

My interviews with colleagues were limited to the question of how the techniques of psychodrama changed in the environment of different cultures, or whether they themselves as leaders had modified their interventions.

As culture can be understood in very different ways, I would like to start with the definition on which this work is based. Culture encompasses what has been created by a group or humanity as a whole, including material and spiritual things such as writing, language and behavioural patterns. The variations of this culture depend on the landscape, climate and history of this group.

Culture serves to relieve individual thinking in the reduction of indeterminacy, to offer problem-solving procedures and to ritualise and routinise problem solutions. (Strohschneider 2003)

Groups develop sequences of actions or conserves, as Moreno would have called them, which help the members of the group to deal with recurring problems in everyday life. Some of these have a ritual character, which are consciously celebrated (Macho 2004), such as putting on a certain outfit for a festive occasion. In some cases, they are segments of everyday life whose background is no longer recognised, such as greeting each other with a handshake, bowing or hugging and kissing.

This also includes verbal images that serve to describe and convey situations. It is undoubtedly a different cultural way of saying goodbye when I say “Auf Wiedersehen” (Deutsch: “we will see each other again”) to someone or when the person staying behind says “selamat jalan” (Indonesian: “good street”) and the person leaving says “selmat tinggal” (Indonesian: “good stay”). The German phrase expresses the wish for the restoration of togetherness, while the Indonesian variant includes the acceptance of separation. The farewell wish considers the situation of the other person.

These phrases encode a way of life.

It is certainly inadmissible, as in the following, to reduce cultures to continents, especially not when continents are made up of a variety of cultures. In the USA and Australia, both classic immigration countries, cultures from all over the world can be found, but they have at least partially agreed on certain common values, rituals, and customs.

The reduction to continents, as I have done here, expresses the lack of more precise data, is intended to stimulate discussion and, at best, arouse interest in differences and their background.

 

Psychodrama in the different corners of the world

Moreno’s students came from all corners of the world, applied the methods in various countries and founded training centres in other cultural environments.

Latin America

Dalmiro Bustos, Monika Zuretti and Jaime Rojas Bermudez were the first in Argentina and brought psychodrama to other South American countries. Many institutes are in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Ecuador and Mexico. Is Latin American psychodrama different from European or North American psychodrama?

Seen from a distance, it is noticeable that sociodrama is very important in Latin America. Psychodrama in its application is more public and political there than elsewhere. “When the country is in crisis, you can’t stay in practice!” writes Dalmiro Bustos (1990)

The inclusion of the political situation, the focus on the group, the holistic approach and the stronger emphasis on the spiritual dimension have their roots in the history of Latin America (Barreira I. et al. 2002). These focal points are visible in the publications, lectures (“La Armonia Quimica de los Grupos” by Monica Zuretti,) and seminars (“Psicodrama y Ballenas” by Monica Zuretti and Felicitas Mira 2000) as well as in major events such as the one held in Sao Paolo (Brazil) in 2001: a conflict-orientated work carried out with groups in many places in the city, in which (estimated) 8,000 people took part.

Even earlier there were public psychodrama groups and sociodramatic actions, such as those by Jaime Rojas Bermudez at various events or the solidarity of relatives during the Falklands War or during the civil war-like conditions in Argentina a few years ago. Many titles of books and articles document the examination of sociodramatic topics. Psychodrama in individual settings is also always seen in the overall context of the social situation. Augusto Boal (1989), the founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed, does not himself refer to Moreno. There is no need to fantasise about whether he was influenced by his ideas. What is striking is that he used similar methods, such as the “living newspaper”, sociodramatic working methods or forms such as playback theatre in a radically political way for oppressed people.

Dalmiro M. Bustos quotes a dialogue with Moreno in his article “Roots and Wings” (1994, p. 64). “I know Moreno wished that I would use my wings. I once asked him, whilst playing his role in a psychodrama about this. He replied:” If you keep my lineaments in a dogmatic way you would be betraying me. I told you to “be yourself” and not try to be me.”

North America

Like the rapid personal contacts that are part of everyday life in the USA, and which in Europe are only possible after a long meeting ceremony, psychodrama in the USA is, in my view, faster and more forceful.

In the USA, too, the form of protagonist selection (Blatner 1988) is quite variable. In our part of the world, a pre-selection by the therapist or even a list of protagonists that determines their order in advance is completely unusual. The variant where a group member has their problem put on the agenda for the next group session in a week’s time is also common in other group therapy methods.

In the USA, when an auxiliary ego enters the stage, he or she does not act according to the protagonist’s will by expressing the thoughts and feelings of the antagonist, similar to a double, as it is common in Austria. In contrast, the auxiliary is asked to immediately think and act in the role of the antagonist without any further preparation. A short interview, or the inner monologue, quickly brings the auxiliary into the role. This accelerates the sequence of actions.

“Joe is asked to pick someone from the group (call him Bill) be an auxiliary ego by taking the role of Mr. Jones. Bill comes on stage and the director immediately warms him up to the role.

Director: Mr. Jones, you asked Joe to come in today… he can’t hear you right now….. when you’re just thinking out loud to yourself, giving a “soliloquy”. Let’s hear what you have to say regarding why you want to see him.
Auxiliary Ego: (Bill as Mr. Jones) Well, Joe ha Joe hasn’t performing very well at his job.

Director: (glancing at Joe) Is that right?
Joe: No, that’s not… my work is fine.

Director: Change parts and start again….. Mr. Jones (aside murmering): Repeat the last line….”
(Blatner 1988, p 63)

 

The psychodrama director rarely presents the protagonist with alternatives, but often suggests an alternative course of action.

Barbara is sitting in the circle of a psychodrama group and says in the opening round that she has problems with her mother, who is patronising her. The psychodrama director stands up, takes a chair, places it in front of Barbara and says:
“Tell your mum how you feel and that it is annoying you.”

This speeds up the therapeutic process and makes it easier for the protagonist to make decisions but is also more directive. There are also minor differences in the integration phase. Sharing, role feedback and identification feedback are usually not separated.

Europe

To see European psychodrama, we need to look at it from a distance. However, it seems remarkable to me that it is precisely in Europe that methods have been developed that emphasise history, such as the Transgenerational Genogram by Ancelin Schützenberger (2001). Her book on this subject, published in France in 1993, was very successful and was translated into many languages after only a short time.

A woman came to Anne Ancelin Schützenberger with the fear that her young daughter, who suffered from severe asthma, might die. This fear was based on her family history, in which the first-born child had always died for generations. The woman’s ancestors were farmers who had settled in Savoy. During the Reign of Terror of the Revolution, the family hid a priest who thanked them with a blessing, proclaiming that the eldest of each generation would look after them. In the following two centuries, the eldest of each generation happened to die as a child and became a “little angel in heaven” who “looked after” the family.

The therapist worked with the woman to reinterpret this saying by looking at different forms of caretaking. For example, people in many useful professions such as nurses, doctors and priests could take on this role. Not only angels were suitable for this. Shortly after this reframing, the child recovered.

The exclusion of dying and death, which is increasingly taking place in Western cultures, including North America, has led to the development of special techniques that help to re-establish emotional contact with deceased people and to draw a benefit from traumatising experiences of loss. Filguera Bouza M. & Espina Barrio J.A. (2000) This is a further development that has only taken place in our western, mechanised culture.

The work with individual patients using the explicit techniques of monodrama (Erlacher-Farkas, Jorda 1996) and the examination of inner processes (Holmes 1992) also seem to have their special breeding ground in European culture.

It is noticeable in the literature that, in contrast to the more application-orientated descriptions, theoretical discourses are becoming increasingly important in Europe. The areas of application of psychodrama itself are being more clearly delineated from one another, which has been accelerated in particular by legal regulations in psychotherapy and supervision. Psychodramatic techniques and working methods are being formulated in a client- and situation-specific way. This is a development that has not yet taken place to this extent on any other continent.

Most of the different techniques and publications on dream work in psychodrama come from Europe. Very different theories and techniques for the psychodramatic processing of dreams have been developed in various European countries.

Independent and elaborate forms have also emerged in child therapy (Pruckner 2001, Aichinger 1997). In Europe, child therapy does not primarily work with real-life scenes as in the USA, but on the symbolic level.

In recent decades, European psychodrama has increasingly focussed on coming to terms with the past and resolving conflicts, which has led to the development of special techniques to aid this process, such as dealing with family members whose history was linked to the Second World War. Barbara Legeler developed a special setting for this.

The director invites the group participants to write down the names of family members who lived during the time of National Socialism. I am astonished to realise that I can’t remember the names of some family member who were involved. We are further encouraged to choose one relative we want to talk to. We should ask them what we want to know, regardless of whether they are still alive or not.
The following conversation is conducted monodramatically with the help of two chairs. Similar to Ancelin Schützenberger’s transgenerational approach, hidden messages and family secrets are revealed, and split-off roles are reintegrated.

Jacoov Naor and Hilde Gött, on the other hand, worked with groups that belonged to the second generation of Holocaust survivors and members of the National Socialist Party.
In recent years, there has also been a tendency to overcome borders and create access to foreign cultures. On the one hand, this can be understood as a reaction to the expansion of the European Union, but also as a consequence of general globalisation. This impulse is also noticeable in psychodrama.

Jörg Burmeister (2003) and Gabor Pinter developed techniques for working with people from different cultures in large groups and offered seminars and symposia that deal with this topic in particular. The archaic material was processed differently, influenced by the respective cultural background and the current social situation.

Asia

There are now psychodrama institutes in the Middle East as well as in India, China, Korea and Japan. The most important Chinese representative is probably Gong Shu, who combines the holistic approach that is also characteristic of other Chinese healing methods.
Gong Shu studied comparative literature, art therapy and counselling psychology. She has trained in psychodrama, gestalt therapy, imaginative therapy and traditional Chinese medicine. She is currently working psychodramatically in West Africa in a cross-cultural conflict resolution project.

Africa

European therapists describe the following characteristics of psychotherapeutic work in Africa that distinguish it from other cultures. Rituals are accorded great importance in the healing process (Spitzer 2002) Furthermore, the individual is less important than the collective. Magical elements are highly valued, which means that magic and its effects must be addressed in the therapeutic process. In general, traditional forms of healing must be included in the therapy so that the people treated can be reintegrated into their village community.

A 16-year-old boy, who was supported in the GUSCO project for the reintegration of child soldiers in northern Uganda, has to undergo a cleansing ritual in order to be accepted back into the community. Even after the therapy, he suffers from insomnia and nightmares and his family believes that he is haunted by the ghost of someone who has been killed. A traditional healer exorcises the spirit with the help of various rituals accompanied by incantations and community dances. The ailments disappear a few days after the ceremony. (Spitzer 2002, p 297f)

Psychodrama is still relatively uncommon in Africa, although there are already groups in various parts of the continent. There are significant cultural differences between Levantine North Africa and rural Central and South Africa, although magic and ritual are highly valued in all African cultures.

In Tunisia, it is customary for fathers who already have a number of daughters and are hoping for a male offspring to give the last female child the name “Delenda”. It is a name that goes back to an imprecation by Cato, who uttered this sentence in the Senate during the Punic Wars: “Ceterum censeo, Carthaginem esse delendam!” (“For the rest, I am in favour of Carthage being destroyed.”) It is a curse that expresses that the line of female offspring should be destroyed and that sons should now be born. (Ancelin Schützenberger 2001, p.179)

It seems foreseeable that an independent psychodramatic working method will develop by incorporating the above-mentioned elements. Psychodrama, with its already highly developed ritual process and action-orientation, obviously offers a good basis for this.

Australia

Psychodrama in Australia and New Zealand, whose most prominent representatives are Sue Daniel, Anthony Williams and Max Clayton, is characterised on the one hand by a very free and spontaneous use of techniques, a strong involvement of the audience and an emphasis on the role. The direct, clear establishment of relationships and the pursuit of goals without detours seem to be a hallmark of Australian psychodrama.

When Max Clayton took to the stage at a psychodrama conference in Oxford to lead a psychodrama, the room was already packed. There must have been around a hundred psychodramatists from all over the world present. Before everyone could catch their breath, a firework display of entertainment began that would have done Frank Sinatra proud. A protagonist was chosen in no time and the play began. I can no longer remember the content of the game. The protagonist didn’t seem to be the most important person in the room. It wasn’t so much about one person’s relationship and problem, but about everyone’s involvement. The speed at which contact was made and ended in a humorous and whimsical way was both fascinating and frightening for me as an Austrian.

Max Clayton has published numerous books and articles about role analysis and psychodramatic work with roles. (Directing Psychodrama, Enhancing Life and Relationships: A Role Training Manual, Living Pictures of the Self: Applications of Role Theory in Professional Practice and Daily Living and Effective Group Leadership) Although Antony Williams also attaches particular importance to aspects of role theory, his focus is a pragmatic one. As a consultant and supervisor, his work is goal-orientated and combines the systemic and psychodramatic approach into a single unit (“Visual and Active Supervision”, “The passionate Technique: Strategic Psychodrama with Individuals, Families and Groups”, “Forbidden Agendas: Strategic Action in Groups”).

 

Cultural differences from the perspective of the social sciences

Social scientists such as Hofstede (1997) and Hall (1969) have attempted to describe cultural differences through categorization.
In his macro-analytical observations, Hofstede (2003) attempted to reduce cultural differences to manageable dimensions. He distinguished between

  • Power distance
  • Masculinity
  • Uncertainty Avoidance
  • Long Term Orientation

Cultures with a high-power distance therefore have strong hierarchies and employees expect clear instructions from their superiors.

It could therefore be assumed that cultures with a high score in the power distance category produce more directive psychodramatic leader behaviour than those with a very low score. On this scale, Malaysia, and the Philippines, for example, have the highest values, Austria one of the lowest. We lack information from the first-mentioned countries, but Austrian psychodrama is undoubtedly characterised by an extremely low level of influence by the leader, which is underpinned by the special techniques of monodrama and child psychodrama developed in Austria according to Pruckner (2001).

Cultures with a high masculinity index assign men greater importance and higher positions of power than women. This culturally determined definition of gender roles can mean that it is not possible, for example, for a woman to lead a psychodrama group with male participants. This was the experience of Dag Blomquist, a Swedish psychodramatist, who led a group in India together with his partner.

The degree of uncertainty avoidance indicates the frequency of rules that serve to avoid uncertainty. Work processes are clearly structured and planned in advance in such cultures.

Hofstede’s long-term orientation determines the degree to which a group is guided by either tradition or future-orientation. Consecutive versus synchronous time tempo in Trompenaar (1993) describes the form of dealing with time. Hall (1969) describes consecutive cultures as monochronic cultures. They solve problems one after the other. Deadlines are meticulously adhered to. People are problem-orientated and less person-orientated, whereas in polychronic cultures, they deal with many things at the same time. Deadlines are adapted to the situation and changing priorities.

Psychodramatists emphasise that in all polychronic cultures, adherence to the time structures that are common in monochronic cultures cannot be expected and that it would be counterproductive to insist on these structures.
Another category, which can also be found in Fons Trompenaar (1993), is the degree of individuality or collectivism. In collectivist cultures, members are strongly orientated towards the group and derive their identity from it. It is not individual performance that counts, but recognition by the group. This characteristic could explain the emphasis on sociodrama in Latin America as well as the development of monodrama and intrapsychic perspectives in Europe.

Fons Trompenaar (1993), who proposes a total of seven cultural dimensions, adds Universalism versus Particularism. He also distinguishes between Affective and Neutral Cultures. Affective cultures promote the expression of emotions, neutral cultures tend to promote their suppression.
The scope of warm-up techniques differs depending on whether, for example, psychodrama is staged in Sicily, a more affective culture, or in northern Italy, a more neutral culture. Affective cultures need significantly fewer warm-up techniques than neutral cultures.
Under the category of specific-diffuse, he describes how a culture deals with the mixing of different areas of life.
In specific cultures, the areas of life are strongly separated, whereas in diffuse cultures, private and professional life intermingle. Relationships take a long time, but last longer.

Figure 1: Relationship between private and public spheres in specific and diffuse cultures

Hall (1969) calls these cultures high context cultures. While low context cultures, such as the USA, Germany and Scandinavia, use direct confrontation and clear communication styles due to the great importance of writing, the communication style in high context cultures, such as in the Arab and Latin American region, Japan and Italy, is image-orientated, holistic and indirect.

In India, three large projects were described last year (Yarrow 2002) that use psychodramatic methods to prevent violence against women, to manage natural resources and to improve the standards of an underprivileged group in northern India. These three projects were described as extremely successful. The holistic learning and change process at the action level in particular proved to be a key factor in their effectiveness. (van Erven 1992)

In Tibetan, for example, you don’t talk about personal feelings. The individual, the person, is unimportant compared to the ideal to be achieved. Under such premises, psychotherapy will inevitably have a different content than in other cultures, where individual development takes centre stage.

Later, Trompenaar (1994) developed a simplified model

Figure 2: Trompenaar’s cultural differentiation model (1994)

 

He distinguishes between four different cultural forms, depending on which of the four criteria they are closer to:

Equality- and person-orientated culture
In this culture, the members see themselves as joint creators. Relationships are formed ad hoc with the belief that they are fruitful.

Equality and task-orientated culture
In this culture, the object is the top priority. Mutual respect is based on knowledge and achieving the common goal. The members are regarded as experts in their field.

Hierarchy- and person-orientated culture
In this culture, the father figure is the leader. He is all-powerful and holds the truth. He decides when the course is changed. The others are respected as family members. It is based on intuitive and holistic thinking.

Hierarchy- and task-orientated culture
Although power is also delegated to one person in this culture, the relationship is very distant. The relationships are structured from the bottom to the top as in a mechanical system. People are seen as a human resource.

The culturally determined physical distance between individuals is also a factor that plays a major role in psychodrama. In Northern Europe, for example, the official distance between individuals is greater than in Southern Europe. In some cultures, to have physical contact with another person in public is a complete taboo, as is expressing feelings and personal conflicts. Especially in psychodrama, where physical closeness and distance play an important role, this aspect must be considered.

 

Conclusions

Psychodrama has adapted to different cultures. Priorities have been developed that correspond to the circumstances of the people and their environment and their needs.
When a psychodramatist works with people from a different culture, it is important to be sensitive to understand the foreign signs. The experience gained by psychodramatists who have already held seminars in foreign countries can be useful.
Chantal Neve Hanquet, a Belgian psychodramatist, emphasises how important it is to adapt to the local situation and how helpful she finds the use of the Landscape Genogram, which she developed together with Jacques Pluymaekers. The group participants are invited to represent an event from their family histories in a creative way. This is followed by a verbal explanation and associations by the group participants and the director. In this way, cultural differences quickly become perceptible and do not form a barrier to understanding and processing.

At the beginning of a group in Bulgaria, a Bulgarian word was mentioned that the psychodramatist associated with the word “concentration camp”. She shared this association with the group, whereupon the participants described stories and scenes that came to mind in relation to this association.
They were all stories about persecution, guilt and humiliation of ancestors. One of these scenes was then psychodramatised. The individual scenes reflected the history of the region, the culture in which they had their roots.

Based on his experiences in Sicily, Maurizio Gasseau also describes how history and cultural background influence the course of a group. The country’s history is characterised by attacks from outside (from Greek to Saracen, Habsburg and other conquests) and threats from within (from civil wars to the mafia), leading to cautious and mistrustful behaviour.
The relative security that people experience in their social environment determines their willingness to confide in others and express private matters. In psychodrama, the difference is particularly visible in the duration of the confidence-building measures. Fears that arise due to social circumstances are just as prevalent in the former Eastern Bloc states as they are in countries under military dictatorship, but also in smaller regions such as Sicily.

Without attempting to learn and understand the history and the reason for cultural practices, customs and actions, the implicit goal of dealing better with the foreign situation remains unachieved. Mac Lachlan writes: “Culture is a health maintenance system (De Vries1996) that provides health and social resources. Therefore, therapies that do not take into account the cultural identity of the person concerned can undermine the most ambitious efforts of individual therapists for their patients.”

Language as an expression of a culture is a significant element in this. Linguistic melody and flow, redundancy and conciseness provide a wealth of information about culture and lifestyle. What is broadly paraphrased in some cultures requires few words in others. The following scene, which took place at a congress, illustrates this difference.

An Austrian participant is the protagonist. The director is American. As the protagonist does not speak English, another American participant, who had previously spent a few years in Germany, translates the dialogue.
Protagonist (when asked how she feels now): “I somehow have the impression that I want to hide. Everything is too much for me and I’m fighting back tears because it’s such a burden. No, I feel like crying.
The participants in the group, none of whom speak German, wait excited.
The translator: “I am so sad.”

Categorisations are seductive, as they give the illusion of reflecting cultural differences. Ultimately, these dimensions are only values on a continuum of behaviour. It does not mean that all individuals in a population can be assigned the same value. The range of variation among the members of a cultural area is so great that no prediction can be derived from these studies about the behaviour of an individual. The probability that two members of a culture are similar in their behaviour is just as great as in the genetic area.
It is more likely that an Austrian and a Chinese person are more alike than a Viennese and another Viennese.

Now, the attribution of certain behaviours inevitably leads to a generalisation that runs the risk of ending in prejudice and thus distorting the view. On the one hand, individual variation as a cultural characteristic could be misjudged and, on the other hand, it could be overlooked that the personal point of view cannot be a truly objective one for the observation of another culture. Geertz (1987) attempted to depict the differences by describing them in as much detail as possible. A macro-analytical view of culture, which attempts to filter out the dimensions and categories by which cultures differ, seems to me to fall short of the mark, as does a micro-analytical view, which attempts to describe communicative details. On the one hand, the complexity must be reduced, on the other hand, the object must still be operationalised. The macro- and micro-analytical methods of cultural research oscillate between these poles.

With psychodrama, Moreno developed a method that is influenced by the cultures that shaped him. It therefore has the best prerequisites for successfully adapting to a wide variety of circumstances and being regarded as a helpful tool by people in other cultures. Due to its high proportion of action, psychodrama opens up access to people from a wide range of backgrounds and not just an educated middle class that has learnt the ability to encode experiences in a differentiated linguistic way.

The different styles and forms of intervention that have developed in individual countries are sometimes criticised or questioned by psychodramatists from other cultures. However, other techniques must always be seen from the perspective of their cultural significance and effectiveness.

Psychodramatists who work with people from other cultures must be able to absorb without prejudice the history, tradition and images of another country and to follow the group or the protagonist wherever he/she goes.

This openness seems to be common to all those psychodramatists who work successfully with people from different cultures, even if the strategies for achieving this state are different.

So I would like to end with Sue Daniel’s answer to my question about her experiences of working with people from other cultures: “The roles of active listener, clear seer and naive enquirer, wherever I am, have served me well.”

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Information about the author:

Jutta Fürst


Scientific Director of the Psychodrama Psychotherapy Course at the University of Innsbruck
Studies: Psychology and Educational sciences graduated 1980
Main publications: Fürst J., Ottomeyer K., Pruckner H.,Ed. (2004) Psychodrama-Therapie. Ein Handbuch. Facultas. Wien
About 30 articles in different journals and books