The psychodramatist,The S.T.E.P. in ‘thinking with feeling’ on the psychodrama stage


What people tell, and the way they tell their stories, shows us how people give shape to the roles they play in their stories. This can be seen from their Speaking and acting, their Thoughts, their Emotional and their Physical experiences. We give meaning to our lives by Speaking and acting, Thoughts, Emotional and Physical experiences

The psychodramatist

The S.T.E.P. in ‘thinking with feeling’ on the psychodrama stage

Author: Mark de Jonge


A psychodramatist can creatively visualise, structure and dramatize all sorts of situations, and if possible, bring them to a solution. This is done by means of different kinds of questions, problems, dilemmas or a need for change. The ‘stage’ of the psychodramatist can be the theatre, a classroom, a group area, a coaching studio, the management team’s room or a company’s work floor. A psychodramatist creates a free space. In this space, stories of people or stories between people, can be brought to life by conversations and authentic role playing
The first part of this article (1) describes what telling stories and listening to stories can mean to people. It modestly enforces people to reflect on their own ‘selves’ and often brings them closer to each other as well. What people tell, and the way they tell their stories, shows us how people give shape to the roles they play in their stories. This can be seen from their Speaking and acting, their Thoughts, their Emotional and their Physical experiences. I have called the interchange between these four ways of being the S.T.E.P. Through the years, it has become clear to me that these four ways of being are the most important tools people have. We give meaning to our lives by Speaking and acting, Thoughts, Emotional and Physical experiences. The coach supports the storyteller’s process of awareness of the S.T.E.P., after which the storyteller is able to experience the signification of the story more thoroughly.
In the second part I will describe how the S.T.E.P. can be used as an intervention method through the different forms of role playing on the psychodrama stage.

1. The healing power of stories

“Life is not what one has lived, but rather what one remembers, and how one remembers it to recount it.” Gabriel Marquez
I have always liked listening to other people’s stories. It is the way in which people tell their stories and how they are engrossed in their stories that fascinates, and sometimes moves me. The unique use of language of each individual fascinates me as well. The same words can have a different meaning in a different story. An event can be recounted differently by different people. Every individual has its own story.
As a professional therapist, I have been listening to people’s stories for thirty years now, many hours a week. Stories about all kinds of far-reaching events, probing encounters, small dilemmas, big problems, severe losses, exciting trips, disappointing relationships, interesting developments, emotional issue and the likes. They are not stories in the classical sense of the word, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Only occasionally do people tell a complete story. The stories that people tell me are rather a sketch of a situation or shed light on a moment. They either describe a series of events or just give an atmospheric impression. People tell about their inner images or to try to put their feelings into words. Frequently, people burst into tears after a few sentences, or they shyly express, stammering, just a few words. It also happens, however, that a story is told in a very rational way.

A story might begin with an everyday occurrence from which an underlying meaning slowly emerges. I have become convinced that by taking the time to really listen to the personal stories, the true meaning of the story can be felt, and can be beneficial, regardless of the way the stories are told. Sharing experiences, discovering an underlying meaning or finding answers and solutions to problems and dilemmas, often fulfil a real need. People get to know themselves and others. In my experience, the stories that people have told me during the years have gained in depth. I think I have learned to be a better listener and to listen in a different way. More and more I manage to be genuinely present as a ‘professional’ listener. This leads to gatherings, in which people feel the freedom to truly experience the story they tell. More and more, I have the feeling that, as a listener, I can step into the space of the story. I experience it as well. As a listener, I find myself together with the storyteller, in the ‘room of the story’. It all becomes a shared reality. There is a genuine bond between the narrator and the listener. In ‘storytelling in contact’, both the storyteller and the listener get tuned in to the story that is being told. The story comes to life and is experienced three-dimensionally. It fills the space between the narrator and me as a listener. When two people intend to meet in a personal conversation, and become emotionally moved during the story, the mutual compassion can lead to a shared space: the narrative space. This narrative space emerges from the particular attention and involvement of a listener and from the way the story is told.
Francois Breuer (2006) describes the contact in the ‘narrative space’ as follows:
“The interaction between storyteller and listener offers the possibility of the emergence of a space which I call ‘the narrative space’. Within this space, the worlds of the narrator and listener meet and ideas, experiences, feelings and other contents of awareness, with deep interest and respect for each other’s perceptions, are exchanged. A certain degree of openness, intimacy, susceptibility and marvel, supported by a quasi-trancelike state of awareness, which at the same time, admits an alertness outwards and a self-examination inwards, are characteristic for this space.
The ‘narrative space’ is the space in which the story is told. It emerges from the ‘inner space’ of the narrator. As a listener, I am part of the narrative space. The space as a shared experience of awareness between narrator and listener. So the way in which a story can be told, also depends on the way the listener is present.
Real storytelling can be a really spontaneous encounter. Stories recounted straight from experience, change right at that moment, just as the narrator changes. The story then tells itself. After that, the storyteller is no longer the same person, but the listener, as well, has been touched and changes. Spontaneous changes take place that often go hand in hand with moments of awareness, which the narrator experiences as very meaningful. Telling stories is a process of changes, a process of awareness and has a healing effect.

1.2 The S.T.E.P. in stories

Besides true listening and the healing effect of the narrative space, the listening professional has the possibility to support the awareness and the process of change during storytelling by contact-aimed interventions. The interventions help the storyteller to get in touch with other or deeper meanings, through which the story can evolve more fully. A good intervention enhances an internal dialogue, which can give the story a different turn. That is where the real skill comes in, helping the narrator expand his or her awareness. Awareness of what kind of things? I have come to realise that an individual has four ways of being. A narrator can experience these in a more or less conscious way: i.e. his speaking and acting, his thoughts, his emotional experiences and his physical experiences. These four ways of being together form the S.T.E.P. In the process of growing awareness during storytelling, they can become a whole. This often happens at moments of new insights, a different experience, an answer or a solution to a dilemma. Usually the storyteller, however, is initially only conscious of one or two ways of being. At times, the therapist needs to push a bit. A remark or a question can be necessary to stimulate the awareness of the S.T.E.P., so the story unfolds and its meaning can be expanded. I have learned to apply these interventions because of my experiences with body-focused therapy, Rogerian therapy, Gendlin’s focusing technique, the haptonomic approach as developed by Frans Veldman and Gestalt therapy. During the years, slowly but surely, the integrative approach of Creattitude has evolved from all this.
The answer to a question can be found in the body, as is the case in the following story: During the first conversation a client says that he often feels a tightness in the chest. He has had this complaint ever since he moved for his new job from Friesland, a province in the North of Holland, to Arnhem, a city some 160 kilometres further South. Without any sign of emotions, the client casually mentions that he misses Friesland. He enthusiastically tells about his new job, how he likes it and how he enjoys the wooded area of Arnhem. He doesn’t understand the tight feeling in his chest. At the end of his story, he looks at me quizzically. I said: ”You would like to understand what causes the feeling in your chest; would you like to make contact with it by focussing your attention on it?” He nods. Then I ask him to concentrate on his chest, to close his eyes, to feel his chest moving by his breathing and to feel the space in his chest. He activates, as it were, his bodily experience, in which the emotional experience is possibly enclosed. After a while, the expression on his face shows sadness. I ask what it is that makes him sad. He tells me again that he had always lived in Friesland. I encourage him to tell me more. He describes the smells and the colours of Friesland’s wide landscapes: the silent lakes and the beautiful light that he enjoyed practically every day during his morning walks. He tells vividly about the friends he visits and the family gatherings he enjoys. He is very happy in Arnhem, but he realises that he misses the air, the people and the Frisian language more than he had realised. At that moment, he shares both his feelings and his thoughts with me. It is a moving story. The tightness in his chest has gone. He recognises the tightness in his chest as sadness. In the narrative space, he found an answer to the question, what the tightness in his chest meant. The answer was enclosed in the bodily experience and led to the moment in which the client could experience himself as a whole.
This case illustrates how the narrator during his story becomes aware of how he tells the story, by a small intervention at the moment the story flagged. He is able to experience the meaning of what the body expresses, so that the experience can move on, just as in the next story.
In a conversation, a young man portrays in a detached way, that his wife has left him. He doesn’t feel anything and reckons, slightly arrogant, that she will come to her senses. He tells all that had happened very fast. Then he sits quietly on his chair and stares. I ask him to focus his attention on how he is sitting. I ask if he can feel how he is sitting and whether he can express that feeling in words. “I feel paralysed”. The process continues when he says: ”It is unavoidable, my wife has left me for ever.” At that moment he faces the situation and experiences it as an inescapable reality. After another long silence, the muscles in his face tighten, he pulls his arms close to his body. When I say: “Feel your face and your arms”, he starts to cry and says: “I can’t accept it. I don’t want to let her go, I can’t let go of her.”
A painful, but meaningful moment in which thinking, posture, being emotional and speaking unprompted form a whole. A simple question, after a moment of silence, helps to be more aware. In this story the meaning is enclosed in the posture. By experiencing that posture, he gets in touch with his emotions that are enclosed within his body and the accompanying thoughts. Body language often shows the meaning before the narrator becomes aware of it.

1.3 Body language in the S.T.E.P.

The body is said to be the theatre of emotions. Emotions perform in the body. Emotions bring us into play and sculptour body. At the same time, we can use our motor system to canalize our emotions. According to Ekman, who has done research for thirty years in the universality of emotions, we can never really hide our emotions. Most of our motional expressions show on the face. Facial muscle mobility is immense. The combination of movements of specific facial muscles form action-unities which express emotions. Ekman discovered forty three action-unities in the human face. We are capable of some 10,000possible facial expressions of which 3,000 have an emotional meaning. This explains the great variety in emotions we can experience and perceive in ourselves and each other. There can always be an underlying emotion in a tiny muscle movement that gives away our thoughts. Our meaningful thoughts are always connected to their meaning in the form of emotions (which in fact are changes in the body you can experience or observe in others) and the motoric expressions that go with it. These are the visible aspects of our minds. The blending of thoughts, emotions and the motor system in specific ways, form integrative patterns which are the footing of body language. By training the experience of the body, people become more aware of these integrative patterns. Therefore body language shows this integrative unity. The body shows it in such a way that I sometimes get the idea that I already hear the thoughts, or feel them coming, even before they are actually expressed. Is it really possible to hear, see or feel thoughts in other people?

The following example sounds perhaps familiar. You talk to a friend who is shaking his head and you see him thinking ‘I don’t agree’. Or his movements express amazement and you hear him think ‘How is it possible?’ Or a resolute shaking of the head where you almost tangibly feel the thoughts coming up in yourself ‘It is not going to happen’. In these ways, we can hear, see or feel other people’s thoughts. This is often confirmed when the other person actually expresses his thoughts. When thoughts come to life through the process of awareness, they are not only visible but they are part of the emotional locomotion and bodily expression. This matches with an expression of the well-known psychologist William James (2) (1842-1910): “The thought is the thinker. Observing thoughts in this way is not a rational, detached observation but happens spontaneously. We experience sensoric expressions in ourselves. Emotions, bodily expression and locomotion all express thoughts and bring the thoughts to life. Together they form the patterns of body language which enable us to read thoughts. I call these integrative patterns. They integrate acting, emotions, bodily experiences and thinking. Amazement is an example of an integrative pattern. Amazement derives from the unity between emotion, body and thinking. The whole is more than the sum of its parts. The integrative patterns tell us something about our behaviour in different situations, and the emotions and thoughts that go with it. Integrative patterns become tangible and visible for ourselves as well as for others through vocalizing, facial expression, posture and language. These patterns occur repeatedly. You should ask your partner how you get out of bed in the morning or how you arrive home from work, how you react when disappointed, how you speak when something good happens or how you show affection. We express ourselves in familiar patterns. Emotions show us what daily experiences and events really mean to us. We become happy, sad, surprised, astonished or curious. A multi-coloured palette of emotions through which we express ourselves.

2. The S.T.E.P. in stories on the psychodrama stage

The last chapter shows how stories, creatively, give meaning to our lives. In every story, we play one or more roles, we meet people in their social roles, in which they sometimes bring their own story. In each second of our life, we play one or more social roles, the ones we have at that particular moment. From an early age on, we can understand complex situations and are able to play several roles at the same time and act accordingly. An eight-year-old boy who has musical classes together with his friend plays three roles at that time: a boy, a friend, a pupil. He knows what to expect, how to behave towards his friend and music teacher. Social roles enable us to participate in social situations and to organise the complexity of our experiences. Social roles make us understand each other. We know what to expect and how to deal with each other. Social roles are the protagonists on the stage of daily life.
Each individual is soaked in his own roles and stories. These stories populate his inner world. Hubert Hermans (3) speaks of ‘an increasing population of the inner world’. Nowadays, narrative memory (4)  is a term used in neurology. We organise our reality in roles and stories, we store them in our brains and recollect them again as stories. As Marquez (5) wrote: ‘We live to tell the tale’. In this way, signification develops between people and within people. In my opinion, the most beautiful way to make these processes visible and physically tangible, is psychodrama.
Psychodrama offers a stage where not only the theatre of daily life can be performed but the ‘population of the inner space’ as well.

2.1 The stage of psychodrama

Psychodrama has been developed by the Viennese psychiatrist J.J. Moreno (1889-1974). Where Freud had people explore their inner space by lying on a sofa, and where I have people tell their stories in contact-oriented conversations, Moreno invited people to dramatize their inner experiences and their stories spontaneously on stage. It is characteristic of psychodrama that you can act out anything you want to explore in yourself with the support of your peer group. The inner experiences of the protagonist are literally set on stage. The protagonist’s stories become very tangible and lively. You could say that shape and content of the personal stories become visible through the actors that play a part in the story, in the psychodrama. In 1990, I was introduced to psychodrama in a group led by Adeline Salomé Finkelstein. I was impressed by the quickly arising warm and pleasant atmosphere in the group, as a result of this method. I was struck by the intensity of the personal stories. Often, the stories were acted out in a lively and creative way. I was able to really experience what people could mean to each other in the different roles that were fulfilled with and for each other. Many touching, startling, happy, unexpected, long and short stories were performed in the psychodrama group. The mental reality is literally transferred into roles, in which acting/speaking, emotional experience, bodily experience and thinking all together are expressed ‘on stage’. The stage is the inspiring free space for expressing the mind and acting spontaneously. The therapist is called ‘director’ and the client is the main character of the story, the protagonist, as in the old Greek theatre.

2.2 Integrative roles as actors in psychodrama

The technique Adeline works with is called ‘personality structure’ and Moreno called it the ‘internal atom’. In this technique, the protagonist is able to position his different I’s’ in the space, with help of the group members. These ‘I’s’ emanate from the protagonist’s inner world and can be character traits, thoughts, emotions or qualities. In the personality structure, the ‘I’s’, performed by the group members, can communicate. In this way, the protagonist is able to get to know himself better and inner dilemmas can be resolved. Since 1992, this method has been further developed during my cooperation with Hannah and Adeline, by having the ‘I’s’ shaped in a more physical and emotional way. This was the beginning of working with the S.T.E.P in psychodrama. The way the different ‘I’s’ were expressed in interaction patterns became visible; posture, motoric and facial expression, use of the voice and thoughts. We now call this whole of Speaking and acting, Thoughts, Emotional and Physical experiences in psychodrama ‘the integrative role’, as it manifests itself in interaction with the environment. The integrative role of the interaction patterns of the S.T.E.P is stored in the brain. And just as in social roles, you can step in and out of them and during life they can be further developed. This is how the integrative roles have become important actors on the psychodrama stage.

2.3 The protagonist as director of the integrative roles

Often we start the psychodrama session by working only with the integrative roles, as the following story shows:
The protagonist, a sixty-year-old man, says he constantly thinks and feels he should try harder. He has a successful business as a carpenter. ‘No matter how happy my customers are, I always think I should try to do better’. The director: ‘The space where we are right now represents your personal space. You can represent everything you experience using pillows, empty chairs or your fellow group members. He chooses an elderly lady to represent his ‘thought’. In psychodrama, we call such a group member an ‘auxiliary ego’. We approach the ‘thought’ as part of the integrative role. This integrative role starts with the words: ‘I must try harder’. There is no physical or emotional experience, and no speaking and acting. I explain that he is present as a ‘whole’, where he can be the director of his own story. After that, I let him change roles with the thought, which means he now becomes the thought.

After this role change, the group member who is the auxiliary ego, has the role of the protagonist as a ‘whole’, and repeats the sentence: ‘You must try harder’ to the protagonist. At that moment, acting and speaking emerge, which stimulate the experience, and after a while he says: ‘I feel I am so restricted’, and right at that moment the feeling comes in. After repeating the sentence a few times, a stern look slowly appears on his face. The moment he says: ‘I feel the stern look on my face’, he connects emotional expression with the bodily experience and the acting, the tone of his voice becomes more strict. At that moment the S.T.E.P. becomes complete and the integrative role ‘you must try harder’ gets more shape for him. I ask him to step out again, to close his eyes and to feel the strict one next to him. ‘How does this feel?’, I ask him. ‘For the first time, this voice no longer scares me. The voice has helped me enormously by becoming a good carpenter and to actually develop my talents. But I would like to be more content with myself’. I suggest he chooses a group member who can be his ‘contentment’. He chooses a kind, elderly man whom he positions behind him. After that, I ask him to become his contentment. I ask him to undergo it physically and emotionally, and to tell at what times it is present in the protoganist’s life. ‘Lately, after I had worked in the garden, which I really enjoyed, I was very satisfied with the results’. He radiates when he tells it. I have him change roles and the auxiliary ego plays it again.’ Yes, this is what I want in my role as a carpenter’, the protagonist says. I let him change roles again and encourage him to be ‘contentment’ again, and to re-enact it even more ardently than before, so the role can truly come to life. In the role of ‘contentment’, the S.T.E.P. is fully experience in his acting, speaking, emotional and physical experience and in the images and language. This will enable him to make better use of the role.

Accepting the role consciously, and stepping in and out it, will help him to get in control of the roles. He can develop them and use them whenever he needs them. He can use his ‘strictness’ to develop his ‘contentment’. So here the S.T.E.P. is used as a kind of role-training.

2.4 The protagonist as an interior designer

One of the good things about psychodrama is the fact that it is often done in the environment where the story takes place, or took place. The previous psychodrama has a sequel. As the two integrative roles are connected with the role of his profession, I ask him to choose a group member for the social role of a carpenter.
He chooses a big and friendly man. I ask him to decorate his workplace using the pillows and to take position in the workplace as a carpenter. He describes the pleasant atmosphere of the workplace where he has worked for years, the tools on the wall, the beautiful chest of drawers where he keeps his designs, the smell of wood and leather, the view of his own garden. The protagonist is totally absorbed in the story. It is as if we, the group members, are visiting his workplace. When I ask him where the sternness and the contentment are situated in the space, he is surprised and says: ‘Contentment stands opposite and watches me in a friendly manner. Sternness is behind me so that I can concentrate on my work. I let the two people who enact the roles take these positions. In order to get him more familiar with the different roles, I let him change roles a couple of times. After some time, I let him step out the workplace and the group member takes the social role of a carpenter. I let this person repeat what the protagonist has just said in his role as a carpenter, so the protagonist can observe this from a distance. His role in the workplace is an important ‘room in his mind’ with a rich and differentiated sense of self. He can literally and mentally step into it.

In this way, the inner reality can be depicted in psychodrama. The carpenter’s beautiful workplace as a ‘room in the mind’ is, for example, depicted on stage. The concrete enacting of roles and stories in their original context, has given me deep insight in the inner reality of people in all its complexity. In this small chronicle, the carpenter is an author, actor and director all at the same time. He writes the script, he plays all the roles, designs the stage and the final responsibility rests with him. His social role as a carpenter has become ‘a room in his mind’, which is designed with atmosphere, materials and with his experiences in the workplace. The encounters he has with his customers, can also be part of his ‘room of the mind’ as a carpenter. In our minds we create inner spaces, where we place our memories and roles. Some rooms are pleasant, some are painful. In psychodrama, you can put the rooms on stage and play the stories. Moreno has developed psychodrama as a powerful, narrative approach. A person not only operates as an author, actor and director, but as an interior designer, he also decorates the ‘rooms of the mind’ on stage. As a therapist, you offer support in all four of these aspects. In this case by working with roles and stories which were enacted in its original context. The protagonist as an interior designer decorates the room with some furniture, but also by creating an ambiance.

2.5 The S.T.E.P. in integrative roles: a closer look

There are numerous possibilities to work with the S.T.E.P. in psychodrama. In the case that follows, the psychodrama session starts off with speaking/acting and physical experience. The protagonist tells us that he shrugs his shoulders continuously, even during his sleep, and that his muscles are tightening and becoming more and more painful. ’I loosen them but that doesn’t help because I keep shrugging them often without noticing’. I suggest he shrugs his shoulders and consciously experience the movement and the muscles. ‘Be aware of the feeling in your shoulders and recount what exactly you experience’. After a while he says: ‘I feel that I am on guard, I have to stay alert, you never know what can happen. I am scared it will all go wrong’. I ask him to pick a group member to enact this integrative role. He positions this group member right behind himself. I let him change roles and encourage him to go on expressing and experiencing this role. By shrugging his shoulders again and by expressing his thoughts, the anxiety grows and manifests. In fact, there are two emotions: the alertness, keeping an eye on everything, and the fear that is causing his alertness. I ask him to choose someone to represent his anxiety. He places this person in front of him and looks at him. At that moment, alertness stands behind him, and fear looks at him. He is literally facing fear. I ask him if there is anything to be scared of in the current situation. ‘No, I feel secure in this group. Actually, there are quite a few situations where I feel safe, but where I still shrug my shoulders’. Choose someone who can be your ‘feeling secure’. He places this person next to him. I let him step into this role and emphasize the ‘feeling of security’. He gets in touch with his memory of ‘feeling of security’. Then he changes role with the auxiliary ego that enacts ‘feeling secure’. By changing roles, the sense of self is further being developed out of the four elements of the S.T.E.P. With the help of the S.T.E.P., mentalization of the integrative role takes place and his shoulders feel more and more relaxed. This means that the integrative role has consciously been stored in the mind. After that, we start looking for the context where the integrative role of ‘fear’ comes from. I ask him to face his fear again and to express where and when he first experienced it. A story that is locked away in his shoulders, so to speak, unfolds. A story of an unpredictable, quick-tempered father. As a fourteen-year-old, he had to protect his mother, a situation that lasted for years and had raised an alertness in him. Only now he realises how scared he was at the time. I asked him to choose three group members for his father, his mother and for himself as a fourteen-year-old boy. Then I ask him to design the space where all this had taken place and to put the story with the three auxiliary ego’s as a statue in this space.

He is the author, actor and director in this story, without getting totally involved in it. With a kind of detachment, he can experience what happened. Being more at ease, he is now able to observe the scene with a deeper understanding of himself. For him, this is an important ‘room in his mind’, that was often present in his life, and of which he was not aware. The conscious mentalization (6) on stage, changes something in the protagonist. In the next constellation, he places ‘fear’ further away from him. The story falls into place, ‘as a room of his mind, in the space of his inner self’. He still appreciates alertness as a useful quality, e.g. when driving a car, but now without being so scared. The need to shrug his shoulders is no longer there. As the emotional muscle tone now has a different meaning, the physical muscle tone will change in time, and his muscles will loosen up.

2.6 The S.T.E.P. in interaction drama (7)

People relate to each other through the use of one or more social roles. As we have seen, we give shape to social roles with the help of integrative roles. These integrative roles can come to life with the help of the ways of being of the S.T.E.P. The next case describes how integrative roles are depicted on stage and what happens between the people. It is a story about a manager and an employee.

A young guy recounts a woman at work who is in love with him. She sends him personal emails. He is married, and moreover, he is very happy with his new-found work. She is, however, also the one who is training him in the new job. In order not to hurt her feelings, he tells her that he likes her but in a friendly way, he made it clear that he is not in love with her and asks her to stop sending him intimate emails. But she doesn’t give up; she claims him all the time and says she says she wants to go away with him. This situation has now lasted for a couple of months. He wants to work out this situation in interaction drama with a personality structure. He is asked to choose a group member to portray the woman in love, to put her in front of him, and to tell which integrative roles he sees in her. Here again, I use the method of S.T.E.P. I ask him to accurately describe the different integrative roles he perceives in her. I ask him to enact these roles and to choose a group member for each role. He positions ‘interest’, ‘kind’, ‘in love’ and ‘claiming’ near her. The lady with all these roles, now stands literally in the space. At the same time, this is a warming-up for his own integrative roles. Then he is asked to position some integrative roles he himself experiences in het contact with her, and to choose group members for them. For himself, he chooses the integrative roles ‘anxious’, vulnerable’ and ‘kind’ which he puts in between them. I let him get in touch with all these three roles. He now realises, he misses the role ‘setting limits’, a role familiar to him in other situations. Behind him, he places a ‘great anger’. He is on his guard for this anger, scared to lose his job when he loses control. So I let him position the role ‘control’ as well, and to act out how he physically and verbally controls his anger. After that, I let him reverse roles with ‘anger’ and ask him to verbalise his anger and to express it in his bodily posture.
Then a new role comes on stage, as he really ‘knows what he wants’. He is asked to clearly state what he wants and doesn’t want and subsequently the role ‘setting limits’ comes into the picture. He is asked to act this out, while the lady and her integrative roles are being enacted by the different group members he had chosen before. He experiences how she is constantly passing his limits and how she is not simply giving him up. He realises that she is not just kind, but also aggressive in the way she approaches him. Subsequently, he places the role ‘aggression’ next to her. This helps him to face the intensity of anger wanted to be expressed, and he realises how he can set limits without losing control.

By physically acting out the different roles, by really ‘feeling’ them and by perceiving them while being acted out by others, they become more concrete. While working with the different integrative roles, he is able to experience his feelings in a multi-sensoric way, and as such they are stored in the brain. His emotions literally get more ‘body’. His self-knowledge, his self-reflection and self-guidance in the situation with the ‘woman in love’ have grown substantially.

2.7 The director and the ‘thinker with feeling’

The psychodrama stage shows how integrative and social roles take positions in the protagonist’s inner mental space. Playing with positions between the protagonist and the antagonist (8) can be depicted as well, as previous case shows. The context of the story can also be depicted. The psychodrama stage offers a unique view of what goes on in people’s mental space and in the space between people. Psychodrama can be incorporated in both spaces, which is very revealing. It is beneficial for the protagonist to be able to experience this complex story, to be able to observe it at the same time, and to reflect on it. It means the feeling and thinking should be intertwined. It is the director’s task to guide the protagonist in such a way that thinking and feeling coincide as much as possible. The director helps the protagonist to use his ‘thinker with feeling’. This is done by interventions aimed at the awareness and the interplay of the four ways of being of the S.T.E.P. This all results in authentic role playing and the creative development of the story. The ‘thinker with feeling’ is the director of the roles, the writer of the stories and the interior designer of the rooms of the mind. In psychodrama, the four ways of being are the creative source, from which the roles as actors in the story develop. The director tries to co-operate with the thinker with feeling in such a way that he can maximum use of the four ways of being. After all, that is what eventually leads to meaningful results. In no other method than psychodrama, can the thinker with feeling be depicted, together with the four ways of being that form the essence of the S.T.E.P.

(1) This article can be found in a more elaborate version in chapter 5 of the Dutch book ‘De H.E.L.D. in denken met gevoel’ van Mark de Jonge
(2) William James James, W. (2003) Vormen van religieuze ervaringen. Een onderzoek naar het wezen van de mens. Published by Abraxas, Amsterdam
Originally published in 1902 as The Variety of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature
(3) H.J.M. Hermans (2006) Dialoog en misverstand (Dialogue and Misunderstanding; not translated in English)
(4) D.J. e Guildford press, Siegel (1999) The Developing Mind. How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. The Guildford Press. New York
(5) G. G. Marquez (2003) Living to Tell the Tale. Knopf Publishing Group
(6) P.Fonogy, G.Gergely, E.Jurist, M.Target , Affectregulation, Mentalization, and the Development of Self (2005) Karnac, London / New York. Fonogy describes the importance of mentalization and how it is often more important in an emotional process than strongly expressing a story verbally and emotionally.
(7) Interaction drama has been developed by Nand Cuvelier and is aimed at the factual relations between people. Not the phenomenological reality is what matters most, but the actual relation between people. He uses role change so people become aware of other people’s perspectives. Mutual understanding often leads to an answer.
(8) In Greek theatre, the antagonist is the name of the opponent


Blatner, A.(1997) Acting-in. Practical Applications of Psychodramatic Methods.
Free association books, London

Breuer, F. (2006) Storytelling als interactieve interventie. Toepassen van de narratieve benadering organisatieverandering. Pag 61-78 in Interveniëren en veranderen. Zoeken naar betekenis in interactie. Boonstra, J & De Caluwé, L. Kluwer, Deventer, The Netherlands

Fonagy, P& Gergely, G.& Jurist, E.L.& Target, M. (2005) Affectregulation, Mentalization,
and the development of the self. Karnac. London / New York

Gendlin, E. (1981) Focussen, Gevoel en Lijf. Uitgeverij De Toorts, Haarlem, The Netherlands

James, W.(2003) Vormen van religieuze ervaringen. Een onderzoek naar het wezen van de mens. Uitgeverij Abraxas Amsterdam, The Netherlands. (Originally published in1907)

Jonge, C.M. de (2012) De psychodramaturg. H.E.L.D in denken met gevoel. Academie voor Psychodrama en groepsprocessen. Arnhem, The Netherlands

Lambrechts, G (2001) De gestalttherapie. George Lambrechts en uitgeverij EPO. Berchem

Marquez, G (2003) Living to Tell the Tale. Knopf Publishing Group, New York
Moreno, J.L. ( 1985) Psychodrama. First Volume. Fourth edition with new introduction.
Beacon house

Roine, E. Psychodrama. Group Psychotherapy as experimental theatre. Jessica Kingsley
Publishers, London

Siegel, J.S (1999) The Developing Mind. How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. The Guildford Press, New York.

Veldman, F. (1987) Haptonomie. Wetenschap der affectiviteit. Uitgeverij Erven
J.Bijleveld. Utrecht, The Netherlands

Yablonski, L (1992) Psychodrama. Resolving emotional problems through role-playing.
Brunner/Mazel Publishers, New York

Information about the author

Mark de Jonge (1957) Certiefied Practitioner Psychodramatist and Trainer, Educator Practitioner Psychodrama . “The feeling field connects and inspires people”
He has a special interest and skill in stimulating spontaneity, learning experiences and awareness processes in people in important moments of their lives and work. He has worked for 35 years as a facilitator of change processes, research and knowledge development of individuals, groups, teams and organizations in the most diverse personal situations and fields of work.