Brief Group Psychodrama Psychotherapy through Sociometry, Sociograms and Vignettes.

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Brief Group Psychodrama Psychotherapy through Sociometry, Sociograms and Vignettes.
Author: Olivia Lousada  D psych BPA.

This paper sets out to describe the structure of my psychodrama sessions that became somewhat different from that of classical psychodrama.  I worked with open groups of  short duration for more than 30 years in a psychiatric hospital, education and training.  These groups centred on action that preceded words.  To give context to this work I here describe my theoretical background.

I am a senior Psychodrama Trainer and psychotherapist . My philosophy has mainly been influenced by the theory and practice of Psychodrama, Sociomtery, Sociodrama, Playback theatre, Family therapy, Psychoanalysis and dance. A baby observation helped me integrate these different theories and practices. During my doctorate “Hidden Twins’, (Karnac 2009) I also used technics from psychodrama as the means by which to collect data.  Like my clinical practice these technics tended to not include words until the participants made interpretations in their reflections.

The purpose of psychodrama.

The purpose of psychodrama is to find a new response to an old  situation or an appropriate response to a new situation.  Psychodrama was invented by Jacob Levi Moreno,1889-1974, a  Rumanian-American psychiatrist who was at the forefront of the recognition of the power of group therapy.

Sociometry

Moreno invented Sociometry to illuminate group encounter.  I see Sociometry as a mother-ship and therefore central to the group structure here described.  Communities in these times are seen to be imperative to the well being of humans and to the care of the planet.   Moreno was amongst those who were first to understand this importance.  The grandeur of his thinking can be found in his book  ‘Who Shall Survive.’1953.

The importance of Tele

Sociometry was simple. Sociometry can be used in many ways and gives space to communication through ‘Tele’.  Moreno understood ‘Tele’ as the connections that resonate between people, as attraction or repulsion.  It is deep resonance without words.  This communication often gets side-lined in our anxiety to encase experience in words.    I grew to trust this unconscious capacity in Psychodrama, Sociometry and life.  By way of example

We have only to sit in a room to notice who is attracted to who,  and who  is ignoring who.  It is intuitive.

Without words

From birth and some would say from before birth, communication and exchange starts way before language.  Infants intuitively understand a great deal before they understand words, just like animals. This we adults easily forget and yet people are very responsive when they are asked not to use words.

So with this capacity to communicate in mind I shall lay out the structures that evolved in my practice. This paper follows their framework and purpose along with the scenes that happened in the group and were part of the group psychodrama encounter.

The frame is here set out:

  • The welcome.
  • The drama of reflection.
  • The Importance of Tele.
  •  Sociometry, Tele and joining the group.
  •  Sociometry, connecting with the group.
  •   Sociograms, that warm up to individual drama.
  •   Rivalry, the watcher and Act Hunger.
  •   Vignettes.
  •   The Fight.
  •   The Triangle.
  •   The closure.

The Meaning of these is here described:

 The Welcome

Each person was welcomed with a handshake (not possible during covid) and sharing of names. Touch and eye contact were powerful in bringing us into the moment.

The drama of Reflection

For established groups there was the drama of reflection from the last session. This represented the dramatic experience of being held in mind and thought about (a mark of attachment). People often had little sense of being thought about or remembered especially when they were young so it could feel reparative. Further than this, as they did not expect to be thought about or remembered so they had not learnt to think about and remember others.  The drama of reflection was often very powerful and could take quite a time, especially if the work from the previous week had left complicated feelings.

Sometimes new people articulated how they identified with what had happened even though they were not present at the event.  This brought the past into the present preparing the group to move towards their present encounter.

The group then warmed up physically to each other through Sociometry in the following two methods that were easy to practice.

 Sociometry, Tele, and joining the group.

There are many ways to use sociometry so here I describe the form it took in this work.
I invited the group to stand in a circle to think about the following questions set out below. After each question the group chose who to stand next to. In all of these they followed their ‘Tele.’ They were then asked to take a step back before being invited to consider the next question. They followed the questions that progressed from the outside to the inside of their attention somewhat like a country folk dance:

  1. Who do I least know in the group?
  2. About what am I most pleased at present?
    Who is most like me? 
  3. About what am I least pleased at present?
    Who is most like me?
  4. What is my greatest concern?
    Who is most like me?
  5. With my concern in mind
    Who do I think I will learn most from today?

In this way they began to mix with members in the group as well as themes that mattered to them. The aim was to build an interactive group that was relevant to them but not too confronting.

Sociometry, connecting with the group.

In the second Sociometry, the group took a further step of engagement.  It commenced with the group being asked to attend to

What mattered most to them at that moment in time?

When they were all ready they collected in a circle. They were then invited to put their hand on the shoulder of their first choice  Following what mattered most to them at that moment in time, they kept their hand on the shoulder of their first choice, even if their choice was themselves, and made a second choice with their other hand.  The third choice was with a foot; the fourth choice was with their eyes.

Having then run out of body parts they were invited to share any thoughts or feelings for which they had words.

There were different and more intimate encounters that demonstrated to them that their position in the group was influenced by their subject-matter in hand. They were encouraged to notice their choices.

This also included those who did not choose and were not chosen. It was most likely to happen with new members, so the role of the outsider was therefore highly valued as it is familiar to all.

By contrast, there were also those who found themselves more in the middle than they expected. We were only looking at the place; where people found themselves.

The process warmed them up to each other because it also included touch, and looking.

These places made it possible to notice if they were familiar or unfamiliar to them?  Did they like it or not? Things did not have to be liked and might also have been forbidden in their lives.

They provided a chance to reflect on their own and each person’s social position without having to explain or defend it.  Quite often their choices illuminated part of their social relationships affecting their wellbeing and their life outside the group.

They were invited to notice and consider how they could change their position and how that might affect them.

There could make simple observations:

-They might notice if they were balanced on both feet

-They might over-incline to one side or to the person of their choice.

-They might have their back to everyone whilst feeling lonely.

-They might feel smothered and in need of space but afraid to take it.

Being able to consider the possible changes surprised them.

No explanation was required but they warmed up to their capacity to be active. It was a precursor to other changes that they might consider.

It would have been easy to follow each contribution into a vignette of individual work but I did not proceed with pursuing individual vignettes’ at this stage beyond those very small invitations that gave solidarity to the group. The protagonist was the group. Their doing, feeling and thinking were amalgamating and preparing them to warm up to what could become individual work or to working with the whole group as protagonist. This was approached through Sociograms.

The place of Sociograms.

Sociograms led on from sociometry and prepared the entire group for their protagonist work.  They were all invited to look more specifically at the detail of their own individual concerns.  They were asked the following questions;

What they were feeling? Where did they feel it in their body?

Could they put a hand to that place?

Where were they when they felt like that?

When were they there?

What was happening?

Who were they with?

Was this in the past, present or future?

Who was missing?

 

Rivalry. The watching hunger and the act hunger

Once this warm-up was complete we proceeded to the emergence of the protagonists.

The emergence of the protagonist could awake the drama of rivalry that could be core to this part of the session.

A first circle was made by the whole group representing the roles of the watcher and listener. This consolidated group attention to the moment.

A second circle was formed inside the first circle by those who were warmed up to their own concern and wanted to be in action. They could therefore become protagonist; the one most in need.

Whatever method was used in this process of choice there was always rivalry. I therefore saw it as a drama of the group

Being first, second or last raised the rivalry in the group.  Guilt around envy, exclusion and jealousy were prevalent and, therefore, best faced in the group as these had a place in everyone’s relationship worlds.  In this way, the pain was shared and so was resolution.  Hence, we shared the time and space with those who chose to be in action, and also faced the needs of those who watched.

There were mixed responses.

Occasionally, the next protagonist would take the drama of the last vignette a step further.

On the other hand, it was not infrequent that someone would say they worked through their story by watching and that was enough for them. Their need to be first, second or last was not paramount for them.

For some who were more Act hungry, they found it difficult to digest what others shared. It was a tough enactment. The drive to be first was fierce. But it was transparent so guilt, shame and peace could be approached together in the group.

The position of feeling last could be hard for an eager new person in the group, who put themselves forward but was encouraged to see the method first. They had to weather joining the group that preceded individual work otherwise their parallel drama tended to be re-enacted in the group process that then consolidated their dilemma of isolation. They wanted to be first. But they did not accept support. They could even go so far as to feel hostile to the group. Their rejection of help had to be faced with love, and their desperation had to be contained.

We then moved on to the Vignettes of which there may be two or three.

The power of Vignettes.

Vignettes gave more focus to the sociogram of those who presented their need for action.
The significant relationship was represented with two chairs at an appropriate distance between them in the space.
In role reversal the protagonist was interviewed in the role of their adversary to gain a picture not just of their role as seen by the protagonist but through dropping deeply into the experience, they gained insight into the role of their adversary.  Thus through role reversal the two figures were established.
Once the auxiliary had taken their role, guided by the protagonist, they exchanged their messages.
The encounter between these two roles could escalate, resolve or reach a stand still.

These could be met in three possible ways, the drama of the victim, the drama of the over strong or the drama of the Triangles..

The drama of the Fights

In these approaches safety by the group had to be agreed and prepared. In these structures described here the group supported the protagonist.

With the drama of the victim the protagonist was learning about psychic strength through physical strength. The protagonist was asked to confront their adversary from physical strength rather than in the victim role. This was set up with the protagonist and adversary, back to back, pushing across the floor, corner to corner.  The number of people representing the adversary would then be added to, creating a situation that the protagonist found increasingly difficult but found strength they had not known. In turn the protagonist was surprised. They had overcome the victim and learnt to stand up for themselves.

With the drama of the physically strong  this structure was used differently.  They were asked to push against the floor until they could find their voice. They knew how strong physically they were but were pursuing the psychic power of their words. It confronted the protagonist with replacing physical muscular strength with their power of their brain.   Through this physical and psychic effort they found their internal adult fortitude that could start to protect their internal vulnerable child.

The drama of the Triangles

Triangles included different encounters with others who had a significant place in the middle of a distressing quarrel in which truths had been hidden. The Triangle of the significance of a hidden figure could change the presenting encounter.   It could include the extended family, sometimes even of several generations like Family Therapy.  The protagonist gained new insight into their role as a survivor rather than a victim. These exchanges were surprisingly succinct. People could feel empowered to go out  into the world and meet the significant others in their lives, whether alive or dead.  Significant moments did not necessarily follow logically or consist of logical contents. It was more like snakes and ladders discovering who was really missed.

A daughter longed for approval of mother who had got rid of father. The daughter felt second best. When father was brought into mind it became apparent that he adored his daughter and mother was the one that felt second best.

The protagonist found her role not one of victim but of power where she no longer held her father or herself   as absent in her mind and was left with a different perception of her mother that she had to weather.

 The geography was a relational map.  Relationships had been neglected so the sense of self was impoverished at the expense of peace. I was interested in searching for what they did not have words for (What they knew they had usually talked of elsewhere).  We were looking for what was missing, what was not said, thought or noticed as being felt.  The core discoveries from these Vignettes led to a clarity and outcome that was often surprisingly brief because the need to resolve confusion and find peace was never far away.

 The Sharing of the group

Once the work of the protagonists came to a close the group shared from both the role they had represented for the protagonist as well as for their concerns that arose in their own sociogram.  They had also often moved on in identifying with the protagonists.  This was the task of closure of the session. It gave reflection space to the group and assisted the re-entry into the group by the protagonists.

Here is an outline of the structure of brief psychodrama that evolved.  Its brevity was driven by a demonstration of feeling and relationship through action that led to words and reconciliation. Hence this paper has been dressed around the use of  Sociometry, Sociograms,, Vignettes and role reversal, as brief Group Psychodrama psychotherapy.

Information about the author:

Dr Olivia Lousada is a senior Psychodrama psychotherapist,  educator, trainer, and practitioner. She integrates her philosophy with Sociometry, Psychodrama, Sociodrama, Playback theatre, Family therapy and Psychoanalysis.