Effectiveness of psychodrama on secondary students with mathematics anxiety


By Gstrein Dorothea

„Der Mensch spielt nur, wo er in voller Bedeutung des Worts Mensch ist, und er ist nur da ganz Mensch, wo er spielt.“

„Man only plays when in the full meaning of the word he is a man, and he is only completely a man when he plays”.

J.F. von Schiller (1795)


Mathematics anxiety is a relatively frequent phenomenon in classrooms around the world. This thesis focuses on the effectiveness of psychodrama therapy on adolescents suffering from mathematics anxiety. Though this form of anxiety may vary in intensity and dimensions, students generally report an increase in their stress level, which can lead to somatic disorders and can negatively affect the students’ working memory. Impaired body functions, anxious thoughts and negative expectations related to mathematics often result in low motivation and poor achievements in this subject. The students’ relationship to the subject as well as to the mathematics teacher may get utterly disturbed. Very often these students compare themselves with their classmates, who get higher scores in mathematics, which frequently leads to low self-esteem and reduced self- efficacy.

The present pre-post designed outcome study tries to find out if psychodrama group therapy is apt to help adolescents with mathematics anxiety to reduce their stress level, to generate motivational changes, to alleviate somatic disorders, to improve working memory and to increase self-efficacy in relation to mathematics.

Quantitative measuring instruments used in the present study are the Personal Problem Questionnaire and the Self-efficacy scale – Mathematics, the qualitative measuring instrument used is the Client Change Interview. The results of the data collected with the Personal Problem Questionnaire indicate that psychodrama treatment can generate significant changes in some problem areas in some students.

1. Introduction

Since I have spent most of my working life at school with young learners, it is only natural and consistent that students should be the protagonists of my thesis. This work concludes, in a certain way, a rich and eventful period in my life, teaching adolescents, and, at the same time, marks a new beginning, the work as a psychodramatist. Throughout the years I have been working as a teacher, my students have taught me valuable lessons and innumerable impressions of school life will keep imprinted in my heart and in my mind. The majority of these impressions are undoubtedly positive.

However, end of term or end of school year meetings, where teachers decide about their students’ success or failure, have sometimes been the cause of bad and uneasy feelings. These uncomfortable feelings have often been connected with mathematics and they reminded me of my own negative experiences in mathematics, my low motivation, which developed into proper animosity towards this subject in the final years of secondary education.

Later, in the role of a teacher, I have witnessed the same situation again and again. Students, who may have done fairly well in other subjects, completely failed in mathematics. Sometimes, this meant that they had to repeat the year. In the school I have been teaching for the last thirty years, mathematics is certainly the subject that has caused most distress in students. Weak or insufficient results in this subject have frequently been the reason for their failure at this school or even failure of their whole school career.

Often, when entering the classroom, I could feel the students’ tension and as a form teacher I have repeatedly heard my students say “I simply don’t understand math”, “I’m so afraid of the math test, I will certainly fail again!”, “I can do what I want, I’ll never get a positive score in math!”, “I feel sick, next lesson we’ve got a math test!” or “Oh, how I hate math!” A negative response to mathematics is far more common among adolescents than a negative response to other subjects and definitely outnumbers positive attitudes towards this subject. What makes this subject so difficult? Why not other subjects, say German, biology or English? What is so special about this subject?

It is a fact that for many students school life gets very unpleasant when a mathematics test is approaching, because of a specific form of anxiety: mathematics anxiety.
What is mathematics anxiety? How does mathematics anxiety develop? What are the effects of mathematics anxiety? Is there a way to overcome this form of anxiety?

Even if the topic of mathematics anxiety is receiving increasing attention within the psychological literature, especially because of its often serious and detrimental influence on educational achievements, scientific papers investigating or showing the treatment effects of different kinds of therapies on mathematics anxiety are extremely rare if not inexistent. So far no study has been conducted on the effectiveness of psychodrama therapy on people suffering from this form of anxiety. This means that with the present work I will enter untrodden grounds.

The purpose of this paper is to research the potential benefits of psychodrama group therapy for students with mathematics anxiety. In particular, potential benefits regarding students’ motivational change towards mathematics, their increase in self-efficacy and a better functioning of working memory, as well as the alleviation of psychosomatic disorders, will be investigated.
For simplicity reasons, in the entire text the male form will be used, naturally, the female form is included.

2. Mathematics Anxiety

Mathematics anxiety seems to affect a notable proportion of the school age population and adults in post-secondary education according to Ashcraft (2005).

It does not seem that this form of anxiety is restricted to specific parts of the world. On the contrary, uneasy feelings that pupils and students get when working mathematics, seems to be well-known both in western countries and in Asian countries. Mathematics seems to be the most feared and avoided subject among pupils in elementary classes as well as among college students (Yeo, K. 2004). It is also a fact that many adults seem to be seriously troubled by the thought of having to solve a math problem.

2.1. Definition of mathematics anxiety

There are numerous scientific studies dealing with mathematics anxiety providing different definitions of mathematics anxiety. The first attempt to mathematics anxiety goes back to the early 1950s. M.F. Gough (1954), an elementary school teacher published “Mathemaphobia: Causes and Treatments” after seeing her students struggle with mathematics in 1954. Three years later Dreger and Aiken (1957) published the article “The identification of number anxiety in a college population”. These authors were the first to introduce the term “Number Anxiety” when describing students’ attitudinal difficulties with mathematics. In their study, conducted at Florida State University, they tested 704 students in basic mathematics classes to detect the presence of a syndrome of emotional reactions to arithmetic and mathematics and to measure feelings of anxiety when working with numbers.

Richardson and Suinn (1972, p. 551) describe mathematics anxiety as a state that involves “feelings of tensions and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems in a wide variety of ordinary life and academic situations”. In their study they presented the “Mathematics Anxiety Rating Scale (MARS)”, the first instrument specifically designed to measure mathematics anxiety, which is still in use today. Glen E. Hunt (1985 p. 32) describes mathematics anxiety as “the panic, helplessness, paralysis and mental disorganization that arises among some people when they are required to solve a mathematical problem”. Ashcraft’s (2002, p. 181) shorter and more recent definition of mathematics anxiety, reads as follows “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance”.

Sheila Tobias (1978) claimed that mathematics avoidance is not a failure of intellect, but has got other reasons. In her work she offers a pungent analysis of what makes mathematics hard for people who are successful in other fields.

Presently mathematics anxiety is not acknowledged by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1994). Hopko et al. (1998) suggested that mathematics anxiety should be considered a genuine phobia and be added to the category of specific phobias, since it meets all the standard diagnostic criteria for such reactions. An individual who suffers from mathematics anxiety is intent to avoid the phobic situation or situations, and if he cannot avoid it he endures it with intense anxiety or distress. The avoidance of such a situation, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared situation significantly interferes with the person’s normal routine or academic functioning and there is marked distress about having the phobia.

2.2. Hypotheses on the development of mathematics anxiety

A large number of studies have focused on the multidimensional aspects of mathematics anxiety and have tried to give answers to various questions related to this phenomenon. “How does mathematics anxiety develop?”, “When does mathematics anxiety develop?”, “Are there any gender differences in mathematics anxiety?”, “Which role does working memory play in mathematics anxiety?” these are some of the most frequently investigated research questions.

Research on how mathematics anxiety develops in childhood seems to have only just begun, a thorough assessment of mathematics anxiety in young learners has not been investigated properly so far.

Maloney et al. (2010) have started exploring the extent to which anxiety and basic numerical abilities are present in adults. At first glance, this may seem unrelated to the development of mathematics anxiety, however, in their studies, they have shown some interesting facts. Some fundamental skills, like counting and number comparison, are correlated with mathematics anxiety also in adults. It is therefore not surprising that effects may be exaggerated in children, if adults, their role models, show these base level process deficiencies. Also Rubinstein & Tannock (2010) have come to similar findings and hold the belief that deficiencies in basic mathematics abilities among adults could be one reason for the development of math anxiety.

Another distinct possibility is that math anxious teachers might convey their mathematics anxiety to their students. Hembree, (1990) when exploring societal roles in the development of mathematics anxiety, reported that college students who were preparing to be elementary teachers, showed a higher prevalence of mathematics anxiety than other students. Following this track and adding the hypotheses that in many western countries, elementary school teachers are almost exclusively female and form the group with the highest prevalence of math anxiety, Beilock et al., (2010) measured the math anxiety of first and second grade teachers. They also studied the mathematics performance of their students at the beginning and end of the school year. Since children of this age are very susceptible to same-gender stereotypes, they predicted that girls would especially be affected by their female teachers’ mathematics anxiety. The study’s findings suggest that there is a strong correlation between the teachers’ mathematics anxiety and the girls’ mathematics performance, while the boys’ performance kept unaltered.

Apart from this, relatively stable gender-related mathematics attitudes and stereotypes may also have an effect on females’ mathematics performances. Gunderson et al. (2012) showed that both, teachers and parents, hold strong gender-related mathematics beliefs, especially emphasizing negative stereotypes for females. A continuous confrontation with this kind of stereotypes may additionally contribute to higher mathematics anxiety and lower mathematics achievements among females.

Finally, there are hardened negative beliefs about mathematics, such as “Math is very hard”, “You need to be very clever to understand math”, or “I don’t know why I need math”, in societies all over the world. They do certainly not contribute to a breakdown of preconceived attitudes about mathematics. On the contrary, these beliefs have become socially acceptable. Mathematics is generally thought to be difficult, aptitude is considered far more important than effort, and being good at mathematics is often considered relatively unimportant, or even optional. Some people seem to be convinced that there must be a mathematics gene in people that decides who is good at mathematics and who is not. It is not surprising that these mistaken ideas about mathematics tend to foster mathematics anxiety.

2.3. Effects of Mathematics anxiety

For people with mathematics anxiety, almost every contact with mathematic, be it opening a math textbook or entering a math classroom, can trigger a negative emotional response. Two meta-analyses on mathematics anxiety have researched the relationships between mathematics anxiety and other personal and educational factors (Hembree 1990; Ma 1999). Hembree, offering the most extensive literature on the personal and educational consequences of mathematics anxiety included a body of 151 studies, among them journal articles, doctoral dissertations, and reports in other sources.

The research tasks in this study were related to the identification of variables that correlate with the nature of mathematics anxiety, such as mathematics performance, mathematics avoidance and test anxiety. The research questions were “Is there a causal direction in the relationship between mathematics anxiety and mathematics performance?”, “Does test anxiety subsume mathematics anxiety?” and “Are behaviors related to mathematics anxiety more pronounced in females than in males?” (1990, p.35)

The findings of this study suggest that mathematics anxiety is strongly correlated with mathematics performance and that there is a correlation between mathematics anxiety and other anxiety measures, in particular with test anxiety. Liebert and Morris (1967) were the first to research test anxiety. According to them test anxiety consists of an emotional element and a cognitive element. A student, who reacts affectively to a test situation, may experience increased blood pressure and heart rate, sweaty palms, dizziness, dry mouth or trembling hands. A student, who experiences cognitive mathematics anxiety, may have feelings of low self-efficacy, indecision, a sense of confusion, worry, poor concentration or defeatist self- talk. Liebert and Morris’s theory proposes an interference model of test anxiety. According to this theory the recall of prior learning is disturbed by test anxiety. If facts or in the case of mathematics, formulas, cannot be recalled, it is understandable that mathematics performance can be degraded. The question whether test anxiety subsumes mathematics anxiety has not been answered satisfactorily yet. Fact is, however, that both forms of anxiety can have considerable effects on the students’ mathematics performance.

Eyseneck and Calvo (1992) proposed a model of the anxiety-to-performance relationship in cognitive tasks. Their theory has become known as the “processing efficiency theory”. It claims that frequent intrusive thoughts and constantly present worry characteristics of high anxiety compete with the ongoing cognitive task for the limited processing resources of working memory. The result of such competition is either a slowing of performance or a decline in accuracy, both leading to performance deficits.

Hopko et al. (1998) introduced a slight modification of Eyseneck and Calvo’s “processing efficiency theory”. They suggest that even if intrusive thoughts and preoccupation and worry have been identified as factors responsible for the reduction of working memory resources, and therefore the major cause of performance deficits, it would be more accurate to claim that the key to understanding the anxiety-performance relationship is the fact that there is a failure to inhibit attention to worrisome thoughts. The results of their study show that medium and math-anxious participants are not as capable of inhibiting attention to distractors to the same degree as low-math-anxious participants.

More recent studies (Ashcraft 2001, Ashcraft 2007) investigated the role of students’ working memory when solving mathematical problems. Working memory, a complex mental mechanism, which has long been known to be important for a wide range of cognitive processes, such as language, memory and overall intelligence, seems to be particularly affected by mathematics anxiety.

Ashcraft and Kirk’s (2001) have studied the relationships among working memory, math anxiety and performance, investigating in particular, the “on- line effect” on an individual‘s math performance, an effect on underlying cognitive processes, as the individual performs a math task. They hypothesized that performance deficits seem to stem from the central executive, the portion of working memory that applies the various procedures of arithmetic during problem solving. The results of their study demonstrate, firstly, that individuals with higher levels of mathematics anxiety show significantly lower working memory capacity scores than those at lower anxiety levels. The second finding, regarding working memory, shows that the capacity of working memory was negatively associated with math anxiety. A third finding is that a reduced working memory capacity may be partially responsible for the performance decrements commonly found with mathematics anxiety.

Ashcraft & Moore (2009) have investigated the relationship between mathematics anxiety and desirable attitudes towards mathematics. The results of their research suggest that mathematics anxiety is strongly connected with avoidance strategies. An obvious but unfortunate consequence of continually avoiding math tasks is that students with high mathematics anxiety tend to end up with lower math competence and achievement.

Higher mathematics anxiety is associated with lower enjoyment and lower self-confidence in math tasks and with overall lower math motivation. Lower motivation may lead to inadequate progress in mathematics in comparison to peer performance, which could prompt negative feedback form parents and teachers. Frequent negative feedback, scolding and accusations of low effort will certainly have an effect on the students’ attitudes towards mathematics and motivation to study mathematics. In addition, highly math-anxious people also tend to hold negative self- perceptions about their math abilities. It is easily comprehensible that negative self-perception combined with negative feedback from teachers and parents can further compromise and impair the ability to solve mathematical problems.

Lyons and Beilock (2012) have found out that mathematics anxiety triggers the same brain activity like that of the physical sensation of pain. In their experiment 14 subjects with high levels of mathematics anxiety and 14 low math-anxious individuals were tested. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) showed that the high math-anxious subjects had activation in the same neural areas when confronted with a cue indicating an up- coming math problem, like those activated when faced with physical threat or bodily harm. The brain regions showing a significant activation when confronted with a math cue were the dorso-posterior insula and the mid- cingulate cortex. Both areas are implicated in pain perception. This study seems to provide the first neural evidence indicating the nature of the subjective experience of mathematics anxiety. The data collected suggest that simply by anticipating an unpleasant event, like an immediately forthcoming mathematics test, a math-anxious individual would show activation of neural regions that are involved in pain processing.

The list of the effects and consequences of mathematics anxiety is long. It ranges from lower enjoyment and lower self-confidence, avoidance tendencies, poor performance to negative feedbacks and even sensations of pain. It is no wonder that people experiencing these feelings and inadequacies are biased away from taking math classes or math-related career paths.

3. Group Therapy and group therapy with adolescents

Group therapy offers multiple relationships to assist an individual in growth and problem solving. In group therapy sessions, members are encouraged to discuss the issues that brought them into therapy openly and honestly. It is the therapist’s task to create an atmosphere of trust and acceptance that encourages members to support one another. In addition, group members offer feedback about the appropriateness of the other members’ behavior.

While this may be painful, on the one hand, the directness and honesty with which it is offered can provide much-needed behavioral correction, on the other hand. If an individual gets aware of his behavioral weaknesses he can try to work on them and to improve relationships both within and outside the group.

The life of human beings is characterized by intense and persistent relationships and much of people’s self-esteem is developed via feedback and reflection from important others. People may develop distortions in the way they see others and these distortions tend to damage even their most important relationships. Therapy groups provide an opportunity for members to improve their ability to relate to others and live more satisfying lives because of it.

Belonging, acceptance, and approval are among the most important and universal of human needs. Irvine D. Yalom (1985) identified 60 items, each stressing a different experience the participant may have found useful while participating in a therapy group. Every 5 items compose a unique category, resulting in a total of 12 therapeutic factor categories, among them altruism, group cohesiveness, identification, self-understanding, interpersonal learning and instillation of hope. According to Yalom, social learning, or the development of basic social skills, is a therapeutic factor that occurs in all therapy groups.

While the number of outcome research on the effectiveness of group therapy is great, literature on the effectiveness of group therapy with children and adolescents is relatively scarce.

Mann and Borduin (1988) screened all psychotherapy outcome research published between 1978 and 1988. They reported that there were only 41 articles on the subject of children and adolescents in group psychotherapy. Sugar (1993) also stated that the research available in this field was limited, mostly not recent and had methodological difficulties.

3.1. Therapeutic factors of group therapy with adolescents

The primary source of information about therapeutic factors and adolescent groups is the work of Corder et al. (1981). In their study they tried to assess the perceived role of curative factors introduced by Yalom. 16 adolescents ranging in age from 13-17 were asked to rate the most and least helpful therapeutic factors. Catharsis, feedback, cohesiveness and social skills were rated as being most helpful.

Hoag and Burlingame’s (1997) meta-analysis “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Child and Adolescent Group Treatment – A Meta-Analytic Review” utilized 56 outcome studies published between 1974 and 1997 to examine the effectiveness of group treatment with children and adolescents aged between 4 to 18 years. In their meta-analysis various types of treatment were assessed, including preventative programs, psychotherapy or counseling. The results indicate that group treatment was significantly more effective for children and adolescents than wait-list and placebo control groups. However, they also state that the child and adolescent group psychotherapy literature shows deficiencies in methodology.

While in adult group psychotherapy literature specific conclusions regarding effective group therapy are provided, the development of child and adolescent group psychotherapy literature remains considerably delayed.

3.2. Psychodrama group therapy

Ever since J.L. Moreno started his improvisational troupe in Vienna, his “Stegreiftheater”, with its specific focus on spontaneous action, psychodrama has been regarded as an effective and helpful method to address an individual’s problem in a creative way.

Moreno first defined “psychodrama” (1946, p. xii) in the following way “Drama is the transliteration of the Greek word which means action, or thing done. Psychodrama can be defined therefore as the science which explores the truth by dramatic action.” Psychodrama can be defined as a method that tries to fathom the truth of the human soul through action. According to the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama (ASGPP) “psychodrama employs guided dramatic action to examine problems or issues raised by an individual”. (2014)

The essential force underlying the process of psychodrama, as a sort of engine that moves the process, is creativity. According to Moreno, creativity is fueled by spontaneity. Moreno started from the hypotheses of “spontaneity-creativity as a propelling force in human progress” (1946, p. xv) whereby spontaneity would provide the energy that can help a person to respond adequately to a new situation, or would generate the capacity to respond to an old situation in a new way. He thought that anxiety and spontaneity exist on the opposite ends of the continuum, and that anxiety sets in because spontaneity is missing. When spontaneity is restrained our view of possibilities and choices is restricted. Within the perception of restricted choices and options we function in a robotic fashion with our creativity lying dormant. Creative acts, however, can generate changes, can produce unknown results.

A major therapeutic effect of a psychodrama session lies in the catharsis it produces. “Catharsis”, is a term originally used by Aristotle to express the specific effect of the Greek drama on the audience. In his treatise “The Spontaneity Theatre” Moreno (1924) proposed a new definition of “catharsis”. He stated that psychodrama did not produce a healing effect in the spectator, which he considered a sort of secondary catharsis, but mainly in the protagonist, who presents his drama on stage.

The protagonist can present past, present, future or simply imagined situations und events on the psychodramatic stage. The stage offers a kind of playground, which allows changes due to expression that is free of any repression or prejudices and does not fear any consequences of the presented action (Zeintlinger Hochreiter 1996). The stage, a restricted area of the room, is a symbol of the world as a stage. In this “world” the protagonist can express his thoughts and feelings freely, without fearing any negative consequences of his action. His action also offers closeness to reality in contrast to other forms of therapy concentrating on verbal or cognitive skills.

A crucial element in the role play is role reversal. Many practitioners consider role reversal as the single most effective instrument in therapeutic role-playing. According to J.L. and Z.T. Moreno (1955) such a procedure is important not only for interpersonal socialization with others, but also for personal self-integration.

Generally, an individual goes through life with only his set of eyes and his perspective on life’s events. Role reversal is the technique of stepping into the role of another person. It requires that the individual gives up his own position and temporarily leaves himself to occupy and experience the role of someone else. This concretized change of roles allows the individual to look at himself from the perspective of the other. In this way he can get a different vision of himself and his relationships, can see how he is perceived by others and can feel and think like the other person.

Reenacting an uncomfortable or even traumatic experience brings the protagonist in contact with his painful emotions, which allows a so called corrective emotional experience. In this way, old responses or answers that have become inappropriate or dysfunctional are activated in order to make them accessible to change.

Gassmann and Grawe (2006) have also identified problem activation and resource activation as major change mechanisms in psychotherapy. Problem activation refers to the fact that a patient comes into direct contact with painful emotions he has previously avoided, while resource activation focuses on the sound and healthy parts of a patient’s personality. Resource activating interventions are directed towards a distinct reinforcement of specific strengths and abilities of the patient.

The concepts of problem activation and of resource activation find equivalents in psychodrama. Grawe, just like Moreno, is of the opinion that dysfunctional patterns of arousal can only be destabilized and structured in a different way, if they have been activated before. Since many parts and aspects of the experiences an individual has made in his life are stored in his implicit memory, which is inaccessible to his consciously directed thoughts, these aspects have to be activated through a realistic situation. Only after such problem activation has taken place, motivational clarification and mastery can set in.

3.3. Effectiveness of psychodrama group therapy

The number of studies focusing on the effectiveness of psychodrama group therapy is limited. Kellermann (1985) examined various aspects of psychodrama outcome research, summarized and interpreted 23 outcome studies published between 1952 and 1985. In his study he concluded that psychodrama can be regarded as a valid alternative to other therapeutic approaches.

A more recent study completed by Volker Tschuschke (2001) examined the effectiveness of long-term psychodynamic and psychodramatic outpatient group therapies in a naturalistic setting. The study, also known as PAGE study (Projekt Ambulante Gruppenpsychotherapie-Evaluation, i.e. Project Outpatient Group Psychotherapy Evaluation) collected data of 244 patients from psychodynamic groups and 91 patients from psychodramatic groups. The results of this study show that effect sizes for long-term therapeutic treatments with severely and chronically disturbed patients are considerably high (ES = 1.01). The findings suggest that every second patient attending outpatient psychodramatic group therapy has profited considerably and that another 34 % have profited in part from their participation. The results of the PAGE-study indicate that outpatient group psychotherapy is very effective.

Weisz et al. (1987) conducted a meta-analysis investigating the therapy effects on children and adolescents. The results presented in their study are summed up as followings “Is psychotherapy effective with children and adolescents? The findings reviewed here suggest that it is. After treatment, across multiple measures of adjustment, the average treated youngster was functioning better than 79% of those not treated.” Another meta-analysis (Weisz et al. 1995) followed, which confirmed the positive effects of psychotherapy in general, non-behavioral treatments showing smaller effects than behavioral treatments.

Up to the present there is no outcome research study available focusing on the effects of psychodrama group therapy on adolescents.

3.4. Psychodrama group therapy and mathematics anxiety

Over the last two decades numerous studies have investigated different aspects of mathematics anxiety, above all the effects of mathematics on people’s performance and their consequences on career paths. Research on different therapy forms and their very specific interventions, which are apt to alleviate pupils’ and students’ anxiety related to mathematics, are practically inexistent. Currently there are no studies that evaluate the effectiveness of psychodrama as a treatment for adolescents who suffer from MA. The present work therefore can be considered a first attempt to bring some light into a completely dark and unexplored area of research, an area that has not been examined at all so far. Its aim is to investigate the effectiveness of psychodrama group therapy on adolescents who have mathematics anxiety, by offering the participants a safe and supportive environment. In such a secure environment they can practice new and more effective roles and behaviors, they can use their creative power and try out new answers to old situations.

4. Method

The present study aims at examining different problems related to mathematics anxiety that have emerged from the interviews with the students before the start of the group sessions.

Students, who often seem to recall early unpleasant experiences with mathematics, would certainly confirm that they feel tense and anxious, as well as helpless and mentally disorganized when they are sitting a math exam. They frequently make past negative experiences responsible for their present blocks in their reasoning ability, their “blackouts”, when knowing that their mathematics performance will be assessed.

In the interview the students reported that they felt nervous already days before or shortly before the test, their nervousness rising during it. While experiencing this nervousness they would be unable to concentrate on the given tasks and sometimes this could lead to a complete blackout. In the present work the statements made by the students related to their disability to concentrate on the given tasks, their nervousness and their blackouts will be investigated under the aspect of “impaired working memory”.

Some participants complained about serious somatic problems, like frequent headache before or during mathematics tests or sleep disorders some nights before an approaching assessment. The statements made regarding the students’ physical well-being will be investigated under the aspect of “somatic problems and sleep disorder”.

Another aspect frequently reported by the students referred to “relationship to mathematics” in the broadest sense of the word. This relationship included a totally negative attitude or even hatred towards the subject or the mathematics teacher, low motivation and avoidance of mathematics.

Some students mentioned their strong conviction that they were not able to do math, expressing their low degree of self-efficacy.

The present work starts from the hypotheses that psychodrama group psychotherapy is effective, because it provides an extension of life where fantasy and reality are not in conflict. Psychodrama gives an individual the opportunity to reenact an uncomfortable or traumatic experience on stage. The present study also tries to find out if the reenactment of a painful situation, or problem activation, can have a healing effect on the protagonist or on other members of the group. The single group members share the problem of mathematics anxiety and any play dealing with this problem should release their conscious or unconscious feelings.

Therefore, in the present work the following research questions will be investigated:

  1. Is psychodrama group therapy effective in the sense that it helps reduce students’ somatic disorders, such as headache, stomach or back ache and sleep disorder?
  2. Is psychodrama group therapy effective in the sense that it helps reduce students’ stress level resulting in a better functioning of their wor king memory by inhibiting attention to distractors and worrisome thoughts related to solving mathematical problems?
  3. Is psychodrama group therapy effective in the sense that it helps change students’ attitude or “relationship” towards mathematics and their mathematics teacher resulting in an increase of the students’ motivation to learn mathematics?
  4. Is psychodrama group therapy effective in the sense that it helps change students’ perception of self-efficacy related to mathematics and can it consequently lead to higher self-esteem?

4.1. Subjects

Participants from the 3rd, 4th and 5th forms of the German-speaking high school, Fachoberschule für Tourismus und Biotechnologie “Marie Curie” in Merano were recruited for this study. All the mathematics teachers at the school were informed about the project. Four teachers showed great interest, one answered that he did not have any students of the above mentioned
forms and two teachers did not react to the invitation at all. The information about the project was passed on to the students and 7, 3 female and 2male students, aged between 17 and 19 expressed their wish to participate in the project. All the participants declared that they volunteered to take part in the study and gave their informed consent. Parents’ consent was needed for two participants, who had not been of legal age by the beginning of the study.

Two students, one male and one female, who had initially declared their interest in taking part in the study and who had also come to the interview for the completion of the Personal Problem Questionnaire, did not participate in the group sessions. The male student did not take part in any of the group sessions, the female student just appeared at the 5th session.

Data are available for 5 participants, 2 boys and 3 girls.

4.2. Procedure

The aim of the psychodrama group therapy was to determine the effectiveness of psychodrama on adolescents who have mathematics anxiety and to evaluate the benefits of the participants from the training.

To this end 10 sessions of about 90 minutes each were conducted within a time span of almost 3 months, the first session taking place on 20th November 2013 and the last on 12th February 2014. The sessions were held weekly on Wednesday afternoons, a school-free afternoon. They always took place in the school’s art room and the only school-related advantage of the participants was the recognition of 4 hours of “elective course”. Only one student was present at all the meetings, most students attended 6 to 7 sessions.

Before the beginning of the group sessions each student was invited to an interview. During the interview the participants received detailed information about the project and they spoke about their motivation to take part in the group sessions. Next they started talking about their problems related to mathematics. This resulted in a very detailed, individualized list of problems related to mathematics that the students wished to work on in the group sessions. These problems were included in the Personal Problem Questionnaire, an expanded target complaint measure, developed by Robert Elliot. (1999)

The problems generally mentioned included their stress level before and during tests, their physical and psychological reactions to mathematics tests, their relationship to the subject, their motivation to study mathematics, some also mentioned their rating of self-efficacy regarding mathematics.

The students were informed that their Personal Problem Questionnaires and their Self-efficacy Scale – Mathematics, created by myself and based on the “General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE)” by Schwarzer and Jerusalem (1999), would be evaluated by a third person not involved either in the group sessions or in the study as a whole.

Follow-up data were collected in the second and third week of May 2014, generally known as a “hot” testing period at school. After the students filled in the Personal Problem Questionnaire, the Self-efficacy Scale – Mathematics for the last time they were invited to the Client Change Interview. (2003)

At the beginning of the group sessions a solid social framework was provided. This framework included a few simple rules, which were set up at the first meeting. The first rule regarded secrecy. Any disclosure made in the group would be considered privileged information. The respect for group members and for their privacy was of paramount importance. The second rule referred to the extent to which every group member would like to bring himself/herself into play. Every member was given the right to decide individually how much he would share his feelings and thoughts with others. Mutual respect and generally acknowledged communication rules made up the third basic rule, punctuality the fourth.

This social framework was set up in order to guarantee the students a safe environment in which they could begin their journey of personal empowerment, discovery of self-worth and expanding consciousness by using psychodrama. Especially in the first session personal exposure and risk taking of single members was to be avoided. None of the students had heard about psychodrama before and the idea of playing together or putting personal experiences on stage was something the participants felt somehow embarrassed about.

At the beginning of each session the students filled in their Personal Problem Questionnaire. In the first and last session also their Self-efficacy Scale – Mathematics.

In the first session the students were given the opportunity to get to know the single group members. This was done with the help of name games followed by some sociometric exercises. The last sociometric exercise included a personal reflection on the students’ attitudes towards mathematics on a 10 point scale ranging from very negative (1 point) to excellent (10 points). The session was concluded by the students’ feedback about their momentary feelings and thoughts, first impressions and expectations for the coming sessions.

The following sessions all started, after the students had filled in their Personal Problem Questionnaires, with the single group members’ statements about their present states, mental and physical, and anything particular or important that may have happened during the previous week, be it something related to mathematics or not. The next stage of the session included a warm-up, which was followed by a group play, or a protagonist’s play. The sessions always ended with the students’ feedback, if the session comprised a protagonist play, the other group members gave their sharing.

One of these sessions is described here in detail to illustrate the work that has been done with the adolescents during the group sessions.

At the beginning of the group session on 27th November 2013 all the participants speak about their last week’s experiences. While four students say that nothing particular has happened, Robert (student‘s name has been changed) feels terribly frustrated because he just got back a math test. It was totally negative, grade 4 (Italian grades go from 3-10, three being very bad and 10 excellent). An imaginary “well-being line” is set up and all the students position themselves on a particular spot on the line from 1 – very bad – to 10 extremely well. Everybody explains where exactly he thinks to be on the line and what he feels on this particular spot. Robert positions himself at around 3, saying that he feels rather bad there, his aggression mounting. He describes the aggression he felt when he got to know his grade on the on-line register. He says he could have strangled someone. In situations like this he would like to hit somebody or something or he would like to ride his motorbike at breakneck speed or to race downhill on his bike. Robert chooses a girl to take the role of his aggression. In this role he explores various ways of how to reduce it. He takes a pillow and lightening- quickly throws it on the floor, repeating this action several times. He is asked if there is anything else that could help him release his aggression. He thinks of a downhill race. A course is established, chairs and benches marking the obstacles. Robert starts his downhill race. After 2 or three rounds he gives up, he feels exhausted, worn out.

The answer to the question “What would be helpful now, what would do you good?” is “tranquility” and “time”. He chooses two girls, one representing “tranquility”, the other “time” and places them about three meters away at the back of his aggression. In the role of “tranquility” Robert claims that he feels totally neglected and that it would definitely need much more attention. “Time” expresses its neutrality, “time” can wait, is in no hurry. Robert is rather surprised about these statements, both these characteristics seem totally unfamiliar to him. In the role of his aggression he invites his “tranquility” and his “time” to come closer and he even turns round and looks at them. In the last role reversal with his aggression Robert states that he does not know these traits very well, but they seem to be friendly and helpful and he would like to get to know them better.

After this protagonist’s play the fellow-students give their feedbacks from the roles they have played and their sharing. They are encouraged to speak about their own experiences with aggressions related to mathematics or to other situations. The session is concluded by enquiring about the protagonist’s feelings and his present state.

In the very last session, apart from the different phases of a typical psychodrama group session, the students were invited to a little fare-well party with petits fours and drinks.

4.3. Instruments

In the present study three different instruments were used to measure possible changes due to psychodrama group therapy. The Personal Problem Questionnaire and the Self-efficacy Scale – Mathematics were used as quantitative measurement tools, the Client Change Interview was used as a qualitative measuring instrument.

The Personal Problem Questionnaire was completed at the beginning of every single group sessions by each participant as well as in the follow-up session. The Self-efficacy Scale – Mathematics was filled in at the first group meeting, at the very last and at the follow-up survey.

Approximately three months after the last group session the students were invited to the Client Change Interview.

4.3.1. Self-efficacy Questionnaire – Mathematics

Since a frequently mentioned problem in the first interview was related to low self-efficacy and lack of trust in their ability, when dealing with mathematics, I decided to create an appropriate questionnaire, based on the “General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE)”, the “Self-efficacy Scale- Mathematics”. This questionnaire makes use of a 4-point Likert scale (1 = totally disagree, 4= totally agree) to measure the students’ expectation of self-efficacy in relation to mathematics. In the course of the study the participants were asked three times to fill in the “Self-Efficacy Scale – Mathematics”, at the beginning of the first group session, at the end of the group sessions and in the follow-up session three months later.

Comparing their pre-treatment rating of self-efficacy in mathematics with the post-treatment and follow-up scores, it should be possible to establish if the psychodrama group therapy has been able to bring forth any changes in
the trust of their capacity when performing math tasks.

4.3.2. Personal Problem Questionnaire

Every participant compiled his own Personal Problem Questionnaire before the start of the group sessions. I asked each of them to speak about everything that crossed their mind when thinking about mathematics, no matter whether past experiences or present states, physical or psychological issues, the subject or the teacher were concerned. Whenever the participant made a negative statement and I identified it as a problem, I asked if this was worth being included in the Personal Problem Questionnaire. If this was the case, the student proposed the definition of the problem and I sometimes helped with the detailed formulation. The students mentioned from 7 to 10 personal problems related to mathematics.

At the end of the interview the students confirmed that for the moment the items included in the list can be considered as their Personal Problem Questionnaire. Information about the possibility to include additional problems in the appropriate space on the paper, in case they should appear, was given. The participants were asked to indicate the extent to which each item reflected their feelings and thoughts on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = totally disagree, 7 = totally agree).

Most participants pointed out that they did not like mathematics, that their motivation to study mathematics was very low, that they tried to avoid mathematics whenever possible and that they were nervous before or during the math test. One student specifically mentioned that he suffered from headaches, another had sleep disorders some nights before an approaching math test. Two participants held strong negative beliefs regarding their ability to learn and to understand mathematics.

Typical statements in the Personal Problem Questionnaires were, for instance, “Shortly before a mathematics test I get very nervous”, “Sometimes I feel anger against my math teacher”, “I sometimes have a blackout when confronted with a mathematical problem”, “Some nights before a math test I find it hard to fall asleep and my sleep is restless”, “I get a headache when I have to sit a math exam”, “When I get a negative grade in a math test I would like to pack it all in”, “I am simply too stupid for doing math”.

Thus, the four different categories of problems of particular interest, seemed to be somatic or sleep disorders, impaired working memory due to high stress level, low motivation to learn mathematics and a disturbed relationship towards mathematics or the mathematics teacher as well as low self-efficacy related to mathematics.

4.3.3. Client Change Interview

In addition to the quantitative measurements of the effects of psychodrama therapy on students with mathematics anxiety, the Personal Problem Questionnaire and the “Self-efficacy Scale – Mathematics”, a qualitative measuring instrument was used. This consisted in the Client Change Interview, a semi-structured interview focusing on possible changes during or after the therapy, attributions to changes, helpful and non-helpful aspects of the therapy and possible suggestions for a further improvement of psychodrama sessions.

5. Results

Full data are available for 5 participants, 2 male and 3 female students. All the students have mathematics anxiety, their symptoms being present but transient. The symptoms are expectable reactions to psychosocial stressors, namely solving mathematical problems, particularly in written forms of assessment. Initially 7 participants wanted to take part in the study, 3 male and 4 female students. While one male student informed other participants that he could not take part because the sessions would overlap with the meetings of the group preparing for the school’s “Dance Olympics”, one female student just appeared at the fifth session, being too occupied with learning. None of the students showed any impairment in other school or social functioning.

5.1. Self-efficacy Scale- Mathematics

In this chapter the results of the students’ Self-efficacy Scale – Mathematics are presented. In all the following graphs the codes of the participants will be kept unaltered. In this way, on the one hand, the anonymity of the single group members is preserved, on the other hand, the students, who have repeatedly expressed their interest in seeing the results of their questionnaires published, can track back their own progress in the course of the sessions.

The first graph shows the scores of item 9 “I can calmly face a math test, because I feel well prepared” of the Self-efficacy Scale – Mathematics of the whole group. The different survey dates were on 20th November 2013, first session, on 12th February 2014, the tenth session and in May 2014, the follow-up survey.

The scores of two students have remained totally unaltered from the first to the follow-up session. One student’s scores have decreased and two students state that they feel slightly better prepared for a math test and approach the test more calmly.

The next graph shows the scores related to statement 10 “If a mathematical problem arises, I can solve it by myself”. Both statements, 9 and 10, focus on the students’ rating of their ability to come to terms with mathematical problems and in none of them significant changes can be noticed.

The scores of the whole group related to the trend in the students’ motivation towards mathematics expressed by statement 8 “My motivation to understand and study mathematics is great” are presented in the next graph. It shows that the students have differently assessed their motivation at the different times of data collection, but a clear trend cannot be recorded.

The scores of the whole group related to the changes in the students’ assessment of the functioning of their working memory expressed in statement 4 “In written tests in mathematics I stay calm and I proceed to the solution of mathematical problems in a relaxed way” and statement 6 “I can fully concentrate on the required tasks and I am able to solve them within the given time limit” are shown below.

In none of the above shown graphs a clear tendency can be observed. The scores of some students have not changed at all from the start of the group sessions to the follow-up survey, the scores of others have increased from the beginning of the group sessions to the end, but show a decrease again at the follow-up survey.

5.2. Personal Problem Questionnaire

In the Personal Problem Questionnaire the students have made from 7 to 10 statements related to problems connected with mathematics. The measurements were taken from the same group of participants over different time periods. The first data were recorded on 20th November 2013 when the first group session took place. In the following weeks, whenever a group session was held, further data were collected until the end of the group sessions on 12th February 2014. Follow-up data were collected from 15th to 25th May, shortly before the Client Change Interview.

Not all the participants were present at the total number of group sessions. Data collection therefore varies from student to student, one student attended 6 group sessions, others 9 or 10.

The evaluation of the Personal Problem Questionnaire shows that no single problem stated in any of the participants’ questionnaires has remained unaltered, some changes, even if small ones can be found in all of them.

The statements that show only slight changes from the beginning of the group sessions to the follow-up survey, which make up the majority, will not be presented. None of the single problems included in the Personal Problem Questionnaire of one student (Code 1608) demonstrate any recognizable changes and will therefore not be presented in the following graphs.

In the next part the statements which show considerable differences between the students’ self-assessment recorded on the first session and the follow-up survey will be analyzed. The statements are grouped within the following headings: effects of psychodrama training on self-efficacy or belief in oneself, on somatic and sleep disorder, on working memory and on motivation.

5.3. Effects of psychodrama training on self-efficacy or belief in oneself

The following two graphs show the scores of two students related to their evaluation of self-efficacy in mathematics.

Both these graphs show a noticeable change in the students‘perception of their self-efficacy or belief in themselves, the scores related to the intensity of strain decreasing by 3 points in one student and by 2 points in the other.

5.4. Effects of psychodrama on somatic disorder and sleep disorder

The next graphs show the changes recorded in the Personal Problem Questionnaires of two different students related to somatic and sleep disorders.

In these two graphs a considerable change can be observed. In the first the stress caused by difficulties in falling asleep and by restless sleep is reduced by 2 points. In the second the student who mentioned strain because of a headache in combination with a math test, does not seem to consider this problem as seriously as before the psychodrama training.

5.5. Effects of psychodrama on working memory

The following graphs show the changes in the students’ Personal Problem questionnaires related to the functioning of their working memory.

In the course of the psychodrama group sessions the scores of these two students, mentioning first the risk of blackouts and second the difficulty to control impulses show a noteworthy decrease from 5 to 3 points and from 5 to 2 points, respectively.

5.6. Effects of psychodrama on motivation

The following four graphs show the results of two students regarding their motivation to study mathematics. Both students mention motivational problems related to mathematics twice and both of them manage to find it easier to study math or to be able to better cope with negative grades in this subject after the psychodrama group sessions. The student with the personal code 3005 shows a decrease in the intensity of strain related to his motivation from 6 to 3 points in the first statement and from 5 to 3 in the second.

The other student’s scores decrease from 5 to 2 regarding one statement and from 6 to 2 regarding while attending psychodrama training.

5.7. Client Change Interview

The Client Change Interviews with the students were conducted in mid-May 2014. This qualitative tool of the measurement of possible changes due to psychodrama group sessions among the students can naturally not be considered totally free of subjective interpretations. For all the following findings this limitation must be taken into account.

In the interviews the students all stated that the psychodrama group sessions had had some positive effects. The first positive effect mentioned regarded the improved performance in mathematics, then the different attitude to mathematics, next their thoughts related to the subject and the reduced stress level experienced when sitting a mathematics exam and finally the increased motivation to learn mathematics.

Three participants, who had struggled hard to get positive grades in written mathematics tests before the sessions, have managed to get a positive overall grade, one participant, who had always got positive grades, but suffered from blackouts, stated that no blackouts had occurred since the beginning of the sessions. One student managed to improve his mathematics achievements in general, even though at the time of the Client Change Interview 4 weeks before the end of the school year, he had not reached an overall positive assessment in mathematics.

Regarding motivation to learn mathematics only one student convincedly declared that this goal had been reached. None of the other participants said that the psychodrama training had positively influenced their motivation. However, all the students reported that some changes in the attitude towards mathematics had occurred. This change in the attitude could be seen in different ways. First, the constant confrontation with the problem seems to have led to a reconsideration of the relationship towards the subject. Second, a more relaxed dealing with mathematics had become possible, and third, the pressure or the fear the students often felt before tests had become less. All the participants reported that negative and worrisome thoughts about tests, causing great distress before the psychodrama training, had become less frequent now.

When asked about the reasons for these changes, four students mentioned the fact that they could talk about their problem with mathematics with others, and they became aware that others shared their difficulties.

None of the students could think of any important events in their private life, such as new happy relationships or the breaking-up of old relationships that could have been responsible for the positive changes or could have contributed to the fact that they could not make full use of the psychodrama training.

While two students think that the changes could have occurred also without the psychodrama group sessions, three of them are convinced that without them the changes would not have happened. All of them confirmed that the changes were very important for them, one student considered them as extremely important.

When asked about their positive personal traits that may have helped the students bring forth the changes, multiple answers were will power, patience, positive thoughts, open-mindedness and flexibility.

The most frequent answers to the question about the most detrimental aspect about the psychodrama that were listed by the participants were school stress and limited time resources.

6. Discussion

The present work is a modest contribution to the developing literature in adolescent psychodrama research. First of all, the fact that the students taking part in this study are functioning in the normal range, must be taken into consideration. Large effect sizes cannot be expected.

This work presents several limitations. Its major limitation is the small experimental group size (5 participants). It is well-known that small size samples do not lend themselves to the statistical methods, generally used with larger between-group samples.

Another limitation of this work is the very low number of group sessions. 10 group sessions can hardly generate significant changes in all the participants’ problem areas. A further weakness consists in the fact that only one follow-up survey was made. In this way it was not possible to establish the possible long-term effects of group participation benefits.

Still another weak point regards the quantitative instrument used in this work, namely Self-efficacy Scale – Mathematics. This questionnaire has been created specifically for this work and it is not a scientifically recognized measuring instrument and it has not been able to show any significant changes in the students’ problem areas. This may in part be due to the fact that on a 4-point Likert scale participants tend to choose central scores rather than scores on the extremes, in part it may be explained by the fact that students are not used to a positive way of thinking when mathematics is involved.

The statements made by the participants during the Client Change Interview must be considered with particular care. First, because the students tend to please the person conducting the research, in this case probably even more since I am a teacher at the school, second, because they may have found it more appropriate to speak about positive aspects of their personality than negative ones.

The evaluation of results of the Self-efficacy Scale – Mathematics do not show any great changes apart from statement 4 “In written tests in mathematics I stay calm and I proceed the solution of mathematical problems in a relaxed way”, related to the changes in impaired working memory.

The evaluation of the Personal Problem Questionnaire and the statements made in the Client Change Interview mostly correspond. The findings of the present work in relation to the research questions stated in chapter 4 can be summed up as follows.

As far as somatic problems are concerned, two students have mentioned them in their Personal Problem Questionnaire. One declared of suffering from headaches before or during math tests, one from sleep disorders. The intensity of strain has decreased from 3 to 1 and 5 to 3 respectively, which can be considered as a noteworthy change.

The next research question was related to the effectiveness of psychodrama group therapy in the reduction of the students’ stress level, which would have positive effects on their working memory. The scores of the student who mentioned the risk of blackouts in test situations in his Personal Problem Questionnaire decreased from 5 to 3, another significant change. In the Client Change Interview he even said that no such blackout had occurred in the course of this school year.

Another student’s scores, who according to statement 7 of his Personal Problem Questionnaire “feels livid and laded, about to explode”, show a decrease of the stress level from 5 to 2. This change may be due to a protagonist’s play focusing on the student’s aggression when getting a negative mark in a math test. This protagonist play has been described in detail in a previous section.

As far as positive effects of psychodrama group sessions on the students’ motivation are concerned, two students seem to have managed to increase their motivation of studying mathematics. The statement “I’m trying to get a positive attitude to mathematics, which sometimes is really hard”, for instance, is seen as much less stressful, the scores decreasing from 6 in the first session to 3 in the follow-up survey. The other student’s scores referring to the statement “If I get negative grades in mathematics, I get irritated and edgy” even decrease from 6 to 2. The scores of other students’, who mentioned their attitude to mathematics and their relationship to the math teacher, show only minimal changes.

Statements in the Personal Problem Questionnaire related to the students’ self-efficacy in mathematics resulting in higher self-esteem were mentioned by two students. One such statements for example reads “I shellack myself (I am simply too stupid for mathematics)”, the other“, “I frequently tell myself that I simply can’t do math”. For both statements the intensity of stress has considerably decreased from 5 to 3 and from 6 to 3 respectively. However, it is possible that unknown factors that have not been mentioned or considered by the participants, have influenced the outcomes of the students’ scores in the Personal Problem Questionnaires.

These data, although several improvements would be needed in future studies on the effectiveness of psychodrama on students with mathematics anxiety, are encouraging. The changes emerging from the Personal Problem Questionnaires and the statements made during the interview seem to support the initial hypotheses that psychodrama group sessions seem to be able to produce positive effects on the students’ motivation, on their physical well-being, to enhance adolescents’ self-efficacy related to mathematics, and last but not least improve their mathematics performance. In addition the results provide reasons to believe that psychodrama training can reduce the students’ stress level.

Another interesting feature, frequently pointed out by our highly experienced and most supportive instructor Dr. Jutta Fürst, is that the biggest changes happen within the first three or four sessions. Also in this study the students’ scores changed most from the second to the fourth group session.

The changes shown in the students’ Personal Problem Questionnaires and stated during the interviews suggest that the group therapy provided a medium in which the students could bring in their feelings, could share their partly traumatic early experiences with mathematics with other students and through the frequent sharings given by other group members definitely got the feeling they were not alone with their specific problem, mathematics anxiety. The representation of fantasies and imaginations on the psychodramatic stage seems to have offered them the opportunity to re-live and to re-experience an unpleasant event in their life. Through psychodrama their repeated worrisome thoughts, their fearful images and pictures, have been rendered alterable (Fürst 2004, p. 245).

It can be assumed that reenacting an uncomfortable experience of their lives has brought the students in contact with painful emotions, and this seems to be a crucial step to make corrective emotional experiences. Especially the technique of role reversal, of stepping into the role of someone else or into an element unknown so far, seems to have been important for self- integration and for interpersonal socialization.

Apart from these changes another goal of the study was reached, namely to enable the participants to gain insight in their personal problems and to develop significant awareness of them. During the group sessions, as some of them have pointed out also in the Client Change Interview, they became certainly more aware of their strengths and weaknesses, in other words, they got to know themselves better. In the Client Change Interview the participants stated that the feedback they got from their fellow-students improved their awareness of not seeing events, feelings and thoughts objectively and of not recognizing their own strength. Sometimes this may have been painful, but it seems to have initiated a process of reflection, which allows the students to work on their behavioral weaknesses.

7. Outlook

The present study can be considered an exploratory case study showing the effects of psychodrama on students with mathematics anxiety. The findings of this study highlight the need for further research to clarify the conditions under which psychodrama group sessions are maximally effective. Better measuring instruments should be developed and adopted in order to allow more convincing results.

The number of subjects taking part in the group sessions should be increased, in this way not only the collected data would become more meaningful, but the students would have the opportunity to feel even more understood by their fellow-students suffering from mathematics anxiety.

Another suggestion could be to combine psychodrama therapy with other forms of therapy or relaxation methods. The cognitive behavioral approach may be helpful in the way that students could work specifically on their belief system. Relaxation methods may help to further reduce the students’ stress level. These could be two possible ways of support enhancing the effectiveness of psychodrama therapy.

Concluding, it can be said that more time, more group sessions and a higher number of participants would be needed to generate significant changes in deep-rooted convictions of the students’ negative beliefs related to mathematics.



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This paper was originally submitted as a thesis in fulfillment of the requirements for the qualification in Advanced Studies in Psychotherapy Method, Specific Branch: Psychodrama, at the Leopold Franzens University Innsbruck in 2014.

Information about the author:
G. Dorothea,  Italy : dorotheagstrein@hotmail.com