Friday, October 16, 2009

Social media is really about networking, and networking is about sociometry

I just discovered David Armano who is tuned in to the connections that people make. He says -- and I agree -- that it's not about Twitter or Facebook or whatever. It's about people. Take a look at his slide show, below, and notice how many diagrams are related to the social atom, a basic unit in the study of sociometry and shows the value of visual thinking.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Zerka Moreno demonstrates the power of role reversal

Zerka Moreno masterfully conducts an actual psychodrama session with a group of experienced psychodrama practitioners. The protagonist "Frank" has been having great difficulty completing his doctoral thesis on psychodrama. Zerka directs him in several powerful scenes, including role reversals with his unfinished thesis as well as with his grandfather.

Frank’s head is full of what he knows – but “being” the other allows for powerful shifts within the person that is not possible just by thinking about it and talking about it.

Zerka collaborated in the development of psychodrama with her late husband, Dr. J.L. Moreno. I had the great privilege to study with her at Boughton Place in Highland, N.Y., and it was she who encouraged me to become a board-certified trainer. Now in her 90s, Zerka still conducts sessions in the living room of her home in Charlottesville, Va. Listen to what she has to say about creativity:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Getting ready for the psychodrama exam? Some tips.

In the psychodrama world, the tests for Certified Practitioner and Trainer, Educator and Practitioner are coming up this month.

As a supervisor and volunteer reader for the exam, which is conducted by the American Board of Examiners for Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Psychotherapy, I’ve compiled several suggestions that have been helpful for me and others.

I plan to add these tips to my next revision of The Psychodrama Notebook, but I want to offer them now for those candidates who are in high-prep mode after years of training. These suggestions can be adapted for other exams in school and for professional tests, too.

Get the American Psychological Association's code of conduct online and become familiar with the basics of the code.

Review sociometry by visiting Anne Hale’s great Web site International Sociometry Training Network, where you will find great discussion and answers.

Read each question carefully and make sure you fully understand the question. Make a few side notes to focus on the basic points you wish to cover in your essay.

Focus on answering the question, and all parts of the question, completely and accurately. If the question asks you to discuss three points of “x,” make sure that you cover three points, not two points, or one point on “x.”

In addition to the information that you present, identify how you might apply the information to a real-life practitioner or trainer situation in your psychodrama group or with a client.

Answer from your role. If you are taking the test to become practitioner, identify the points regarding to practice with clients; if you are taking the test to become a trainer, identify how you would train your students regarding the issue.

Practice exquisite self care – get yourself into the schedule of getting enough sleep and rest, eating properly and such in the weeks and days before the exam.

On the day of the exam, make sure you eat a healthy breakfast with high-quality protein. High-quality protein might include hard-cooked eggs, peanut butter, other nuts and seeds, yogurt, low-fat cheese and the like. Avoid foods that are heavy or sugary which might affect your mood or ability to think.

Bring a snack which should also include high-quality protein to the test.

Make sure you drink enough water. Dehydration will slow your brain and contribute to sluggish thinking. Think about it – plants wilt when they don’t have enough water.

Supplements that may be helpful are Vitamin B-12 and Omega-3 fish oil, which you can start taking now in preparation for the exam. Vitamin B is important for stress and Omega-3 feeds the brain. I also recommend Green Matcha Tea, a green tea from Japan, which offers four hours of ability to focus and easy concentration.

Remember to breathe.

Good luck!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Creativity is in high demand in these low economic times

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Difficult economic times have spawned zillions of new ideas, entrepreneurship and even millionaires. There are multiple stories on the Web claiming that that more millionaires were made during the era of the Great Depression than in any other era in U.S. history. Whether that story is true, I don’t know – but I do believe that many people saw opportunities amid inflation, unemployment and soup lines and found themselves thriving rather than just surviving.

There are people, me included, who say that the current recession is no exception the possibility of innovation and prosperity. I like how Andrew Razeghi, author of “The Riddle: Where Ideas Come From And How To Have Better Ones,” says that economic downturns are good times to break with the status quo. The fact is that creativity is a key skill in this economic market. Business people, large and small, must approach their businesses, employees, marketing strategies, products and services with new eyes and the willingness to make appropriate changes. People who are creative – who have the gifts of looking at timeworn cultural traditions and finding new possibilities -- are in great demand.

But what is creativity?
We have to banish the idea that: “Creativity is thinking outside of the box.” It is NOT! Creativity is using BOTH sides of the brain — the right brain and the left brain — and the ability of the brain cooperate and to put information together in new ways. We create best when we balance the brain and use both our thinking and feeling capacities. Here’s a quote from Rosabeth Moss Kanter that I love:

“Creativity is a lot like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope. You look at a set of elements, the same ones everyone else sees, but then reassemble those floating bits and pieces into an enticing new possibility. Effective leaders are able to.”
Or, as I like to say:
"Forget the box! It doesn’t work that way! Forget the emphasis on thinking. It doesn’t work that way. It’s the BRAIN, not the box."

Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing new book, “My Stroke Of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey,” eloquently tells about her stroke and how she could no longer think in a linear fashion. She experienced the different parts of her brain, gained in capacity to stay in the present moment, developed new skills and learned that the right brain is the key to enlightenment. See information about the book. read an interview and watch a video here and visit her own Web site here. She says:

"...although I lost my left cognitive mind that thinks in language, I retained my right hemisphere that thinks in pictures."
I am always available for creativity coaching by personal appointment and phone. With the magic of psychodrama theory and techniques -- which impact both the cognitive and imaginative sides of the brain -- we can delve deep to find your gifts, identify and refine new ideas and decide how to present them for public consumption. Right now I’m working on a free e-book about how creativity works. Let me know if you’d like to be on my mailing list to receive a copy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Next year, psychodrama in Philadelphia!

The 2010 psychodrama conference is scheduled for Philadelphia, Pa., from April 15-19. See American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama for more details, including the date for request for conference presentation proposals.

The 2009 conference in St. Louis, Mo., was wonderful. It was very good to connect with colleagues – some for a meal and a good talk and even just for a moment for a good hug – as well as meet new contacts and make new friends. It was great to see three of my trainees present, including one trainee new to psychodrama who was enjoying every inspiring and energetic minute!

As a psychodramatist now smitten with Systemic Constellation Work, I was pleased to note that was such an interest in that workshop that I presented with Ron Anderson – and also notice that more and more psychodramatists are pioneering and integrating some kind of energy work with their presentations and specialties – including Kate Cook, John Olesen, Jack Shupe, Georgia Rigg, Susan Aaron and of course, Donna Little who saw its possibilities long before me.

We were pleased with the feedback from our Constellation workshop:

“Practical application demonstrated -- all questions answered with competence and respect.”

“The strengths of the workshop was the power of the work and Ron and Karen’s obvious resonance with the work.

“Well done hands-on demonstration of unfamiliar material.”

“Excellent and generous handout.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bring health to your conference

It's well known that there is a growing surge of interest in alternative health, not only in private life but also in the business world. Activities such as yoga, tai chi, meditation and play are making inroads into the most conservative of businesses as more people realize that these activities pay dividends in energizing employees, reducing stress and maintaining health.

Adding healthy activities to your business meeting, conference or reunion will pay similar benefits.

There are lots of reasons to include these activities in your meeting. Attendees who are arriving weary and disoriented with jet lag, for instance, will appreciate activities that provide a little nurturing and the opportunity to truly "arrive," not only in body but in spirit.

Activities such as yoga, keep people awake and engaged. The breathing and stretching that is part of many styles of yoga provide energy and improve concentration and focus. Tai chi, the Asian art of moving meditation, provides similar benefits. Chair massage will help loosen muscles that have been crunched into a tight plane seat with little leg room. And modalities such as craniosacral therapy, which involves a very gentle manipulation of the head and neck, gives a refreshing and rejuvenating experience.

Other activities that are suitable for meetings include meditation, dance, walking or hiking, drumming and music-making, Feldenkrais, and chi gong, Reiki and other energy work.

There is the added value -- another reason to make your meeting special and memorable, which is always the goal of meeting planners, Whether in the morning, after a large lunch or several hours of sitting, these healthy activities will reenergize you more easily than a gallon of coffee or a sugary soda -- and more healthful, too. In the evening, they will support you to calm and relax in such a way that you'll forget that you are sleeping in an unfamiliar place.

Finally, many attendees will enjoy the opportunity to get acquainted with others in less formal settings.

Taylor Rockwell, a psychodramatist and psychologist from Freeport, Ill., facilitates drumming circles for reunions, weddings and other gatherings. These drumming activities quickly build a community spirit while dissolving feelings of stress and disconnection.

The American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama, my professional organization, has offered Zumba, Nia, yoga and other fun wake-up or cool-down activities thorough the years. At numerous conferences and gatherings, I’ve offered simple meditations, guided imageries, stretching and mirroring movement exercises which can be easily learned when you’re not a specialist in one of the fields.

If you're organizing, here are some tips to remember:

Check to learn if your conference venue has staff members or contractors who are available to facilitate or offer these activities.

If your conference venue does not offer such services, you will need to find your own. Ask for instructors who are experienced, educated and knowledgeable in their fields who are able to communicate their specialties easily. Chances are that your attendees will come from a variety of backgrounds, including ages, ability and level of knowledge. Your instructor should be able to professionally deal with these various types of people and be able to respond knowledgeably to various needs or concerns.

Offer a variety of activities. Not everyone enjoys the same activities or has the same level of physical ability; others may prefer to experiment with a new activity away from home.

In your registration literature, alert attendees to the opportunities that will be available at your meeting and inform them about any particular clothing or equipment they will need to bring to the conference. Usually comfortable and loose clothing is best, but sometimes sneakers or other warm weather clothing are required if you plan a nature activity such as hiking in the woods, for instance.

Work closely with the instructor or facilitator to learn what kinds of space will be most suitable for each activity. Check for areas that will offer adequate room to move comfortably if you are offering a class such as tai chi, yoga or dance. Other activities, such as chair massage, may benefit from spaces that are quiet and relaxing. Some attendees, particularly those who are a bit shy about trying these activities for the first time, may also enjoy some level of privacy from the bustling crowd. If you are offering more than one activity at the same time, be sure that they complement each other in terms of sound or schedule each one at a different location; for instance, you won't want to schedule a loud drumming circle next door to an hour of meditation.

Determine if you will have to supply any equipment -- such as a sound system or CD player, yoga mats or massage chair -- or if the instructor will provide his or her materials or equipment.

Have a back-up plan. Doing tai chi at sunrise at on the shores of Lake Michigan may sound like a wonderful idea, but it won't be so wonderful if it's raining like cats and dogs between strikes of thunder and brain-rattling bolts of lightning. Be sure to have alternate plans to account for inclement weather, insect infestations and other uncomfortable situations.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Inspired and enchanted by Bert Hellinger's Systemic Constellation Work

I’ve just returned from a training on Systemic Constellation Work and I’m truly inspired – not only by the method but the opportunity to meet several helping professionals offering leading-edge healing and change.

Systemic Constellation Work – sometimes called Systemic Family Constellation Work – is a trans-generational healing process developed by Bert Hellinger, a German psychotherapist and former missionary in photo above, about 20-plus years ago and has been spreading rapidly throughout Europe and is gradually coming to the United States.

I am completely enchanted with this approach, which I have been studying and reading about for more than two years – more in depth recently – and I have begun to integrate its principles into my work with psychodrama and the creative arts therapies.

It has a spiritual approach – with lots of talk about the “soul” of a family; Hellinger calls this the “greater force.” Basically, Systemic Constellation Work says that we are connected to our ancestors by an invisible energetic network and that we may carry their pain and difficulties as a way of staying energetically connected to the larger family soul. When we are able to address and heal these energetic entanglements, the ancestors are able to rest peacefully and we stay connected to our family members in more appropriate ways. And, our own lives change gradually for the better.

The training center where I study is the Hellinger Center of D.C., and the trainer is Heinz Stark, who is from Bremen, Germany, and one of Hellinger’s early protégées. You can go to Hellinger Center of D.C. and find several links to Hellinger, Stark and other important trainers as well as papers and lectures by many facilitators. I will warn you that a number of the principles is NOT related to the traditional mental health model – sometimes quite startling in its differences – but I can vouch for Constellation Work as an amazing method which has already made a difference in my life.

Constellation Work is an action method like psychodrama and is very similar in some ways -- yet very different. While it is rooted in the psychotherapeutic tradition, the method is distinguished from conventional psychotherapy in that the client hardly speaks and aim is to identify and release deep patterns embedded within the family system rather than to explore or process narrative, cognitive or emotional content.

Here’s a link from a lecture from Bert Hellinger on peace of mind, soul and love; there are many more lectures at his Web site.

And there's more. Science is now offering studies that back up this approach of the contention that experiences are inherited. Here is the link to the BBC documentary, “The Ghost In Your Genes,” that actually offers fascinating proof about inheritance beyond hair and eye color and height. There very short version of this video on You Tube but does not go into the good details. The BCC version is 48 minutes, so you'll want to link to it when you have some time. I think it’s excellently done and is completely fascinating.

You can find several examples of actual Constellation sessions on YouTube – just go to to the site and search for “Systemic Family Constellation Work.” Most of them are in another language but you can get the idea of how it looks. I'll be co-presenting with my colleague Ron Anderson on "Couples Work With Systemic Constellation Work" at the annual conference of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama later this week in St. Louis, Mo. Watch for our handouts to be posted at another time.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Facebook, networking and psychodrama

Networking refers to the connections that you have to people in your professional and personal worlds. The larger your network, then the more opportunities that you will have to share your work and beliefs, talk about your businesses and practices and find referrals, resources, information and encouragement. (Actually, this is what Facebook is all about!)

In the world of psychodrama, there is a related field known as sociometry, which refers to the measurement of social connections in any given group. Knowledge of sociometric measurement and the ability to apply sociometric skills to expand your network will ease those times when you enter events such as mixers, open houses, club meetings, awards events and community functions where we know very few or no people.

Although these getting-to-know-you events are good ways of meeting new people and enlarging our circles of friends and colleagues, they also test our abilities to be creative and relaxed in situations where we may experience pressure, confusion or shyness. Many professionals work on carefully crafting a two-minute "elevator speech" — the mini-introduction that explains what they do in the time it takes an elevator to travel a few floors. Others avoid large crowds and prefer to do their networking one at a time over lunch, breakfast or a cup of coffee.

However, to make best use of special events, here are a few simple suggestions that are helpful and fit a large variety of situations:

Notice who you are drawn to. These connections are "telic" connections, relating to the "tele" that Dr. J.L. Moreno named as an invisible level of energy between people. Trust your instincts regarding what people you notice and who seems to catch your eye in the crowd. The way someone dresses, his or her level of energy, even the expression on his or her face may draw you to learn more about that person. You may not know why you are drawn to this person, but make time to learn what is attracting your attention.

Develop the role of the "interviewer." Identify a range of questions that are related to your business or occupation. Perhaps you are experiencing a small problem in your work; the networking event is an ideal time to seek out solutions or resources. Are you looking for a new long distance phone company? Trying to decide where to advertise? Or seeking good accountant, graphic designer or coach? Begin your question with, "Do you know someone who…" and this may help you meet more people — in addition to getting actual help in solving your problem.

Be creative and spontaneous. If you have the opportunity to introduce yourself to a lot or people, practice varying your "spiel" with each person so that you don't say the same thing twice. Your words will stay fresh, you will feel more energy and you may find new connections and topics to talk about — even among people whom you have met before. It is a good alternative to going on "remote control," which you will forget to listen to yourself.

Play the role of listener. Our energy ebbs and flows, and it's all right to take a break from talking to just listen, breathe and pause. If you notice a twosome or cluster of people talking with animation, stroll over to check out what's so interesting. Listen and ponder. You may be surprised to know what you can learn by listening.

Expand your repertoire of roles. You can also easily meet people by volunteering to fill a particular role or task for an organization or club where you are a member. The task — such as greeter, survey taker or chairperson of a committee —will give you specific reasons to meet new people while you are also making yourself valuable to the organization.

Oh, yes, Facebook. Facebook, like LinkedIn and the new Social Networking for Therapists, offers the opportunity to adapt these skills and build networks online. See this link for a group of psychodramatists and sociometrists who have joined Facebook and are creating a growing Global Sociometric Encounter.

This article is adapted from Karen's "Whole Person Marketing" e-book which offers friendly ideas on creative marketing for holistic professionals, including tips for brochures, press releases, contact with various media, mailing lists, Internet visibility, community presentations, health fairs, conferences, handouts, plus marketing and advertising resources. 90+ pages. Available in PDF format on CD for sale price of $15, with $5 extra for postage and handling. See Lake House Health & Learning Center to order and use this sale code: Blog0302.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Living Newspaper, 21st century

One of the early sociodramatic structures created by Dr. J.L. Moreno, the physician who developed the action method of psychodrama, was what he called "The Living Newspaper." Participants in Dr. Moreno's groups in Vienna, Austria, would peruse a copy of the day's newspaper, select articles that were of interest and then improvise the scenes of the story, as biographer Rene Marineau tells here. Later, Dr. Moreno enacted significant events with larger groups at professional conferences, including such issues as the 1948 race riots in Harlem, the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963.

Now two news-loving entrepreneurs have created gaming platforms that focus on role-playing discussions with world leaders about significant issues and other interactive news events. Using audio, video and interactivity, Eric Brown and Asi Burak have created more than 100 games on "Play the News." The games are designed to help people understand complex topics that range from the U.S. election, auto mergers, big oil in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Poynter Institute reports here.

The facts of change, one stage at a time

How are you changing today?

Change is more than a buzzword, more than a political slogan – it’s a fact of life. Today’s training workshop took a look at the six stages of change as identified by psychologist James Prochaska, author of “Changing For Good” with John C. Norcorss and Carol DiClemente.

First, we borrowed Natalie Miller’s “Walking The Wheel Of Change” action structure that she used when presenting at the annual conference of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama in 2006. Then, using the psychodramatic techniques of concretization, locograms and spectograms and the role-play techniques of role reversal and doubling, we explored at how these six stages can be enlivened with props -- notice the beautiful butterfly above -- metaphors and dramatic vignettes. As we proceeded, we covered examples of personal growth, psychotherapy, coaching, staff training and clinical supervision.

Some responses from today's trainees:

"I learned group activities that can be used with staff and clients."
"It was a good learning experience."
"Was helpful to have a local or near location."
"Found a sense of acceptance and patience ...."
"Short presentations are wonderful -- I like Fridays."

If you're not familiar with Prochaska’s model – developed after studying how 1,000 people significantly changed their lives in some way – here’s a quick overview:

Pre-contemplation – In this stage, people not only can’t see the solution, they can’t even see the problem. They don’t believe they have a problem so they don’t need to change. But people around them can see problems developing.

Contemplation – Here, people start to think that they have a problem. They try to understand it and learn its causes, and they wonder about how to solve it. They believe that some day they will need to change, but they think this day is sometime in the future.

Preparation – Most people in this stage are planning to take action within a month. They’re going to save money, eat less junk food, stop smoking, reduce their drinking or somehow change their lives. The point here is that they’re making plans. They may question their motives and trying to convince themselves that they need to take action soon.

Action – At this stage, people stop the unhealthy behavior or begin the behavior they want to follow. They pour out the rest of that bottle of vodka. They break or tear up their drug paraphernalia and throw it in the trash. They decide they’re not going to hang with the same old crowd. They stop going to the same old places. They start planning their meals, cleaning out the clutter or putting a part of their paycheck into a savings account.

Maintenance – At this stage, people work on maintaining new habits. They find ways to prevent lapses and relapses. They learn how to deal with cravings and how to deal with their emotions without resorting to substances or junk food. They keep the closet clean or exercise according to schedule. Often they need to rebuild family relationships and develop new friendships.

Recycling – Change is circular and sometimes people aren't able to keep their change pattern. Although your new pattern is the ultimate goal, if you have a relapse (the doughnuts your coworker brings to work, perhaps) remember that it's not an "all or nothing" proposition: you have not failed, you had one misstep; keep working at it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sex addiction and psychodrama

Sex addiction and psychodrama.

Yesterday’s request of Racine’s former mayor to attend treatment center for compulsive sexual behavior and trauma are bringing his legal charges – and discussions about sex addiction – back into the public eye.

Questions about what is effective treatment are coming forward, as well as what effective treatment involves. Many good programs are available for in-depth treatment of sex addiction and compulsivity, and a number of programs include psychodrama as an important component of their treatment structure. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that psychodrama is a powerful action method that can bring deeper insights to an emotional difficult issue. Because addicts typically use compulsive behaviors to avoid the experience of self, experiential therapy offers opportunities to have direct experience of self, behaviors and feelings in a structured setting. It has the potential to quickly address issues, feelings and patterns that have been hidden and would take months, or even years, to discover in conventional talk therapy. Experiential treatment allows the addict to actually experience the unmanageability of their lives, the possibility of change and the promise of recovery.

Psychodrama is compatible with the 12-Step ideals that are the core of many treatment programs. J.L. Moreno, the physician who developed psychodrama, understood the healing value of the group as early as 1913 — long before 12-Step groups got their start — and coined the phrase “group psychotherapy.” Several skilled clinicians facilitate psychodrama in a number of well-known treatment centers, including:

Robert Fuhlrodt, LCSW, TEP, at Montclair STAR in Montclair, N.J.
Arlene Story, LPC, CADC III, TEP, at The Refuge-A Healing Place in Ocklawaha, Fla.
Nancy Roberts Willis, LCSW, CP, at Keystone Center Extended Care Unit, Chester, Pa.

Tian Dayton, my friend and colleague, offers background and ideas for using psychodramatic and sociometric techniques with addiction in online article here.

For information, see my online booklet, "Addiction, Action and Change: Experiential Methods Make The Big Difference In Treatment," which includes an essay on psychodrama and addiction treatment.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Annual conference coming right up

The 67th annual gathering of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama is getting ready to roll.

The professional association's 2009 conference takes place in the Midwest, this year in the gateway city of St. Louis, Mo., from March 26-30. I'm proud to be co-presenting with my colleague Ron Anderson, LPC, CADC III, TEP, on the topic, "Couples Work With Systemic Family Constellation Work." See the online catalog here. There's still time to register, too.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why warm-ups for groups are so important

Any group that gathers will move ahead in certain predictable stages.

The more that the group facilitator knows about these stages, the moreher or she will be able to facilitate a group with genuine involvement, depth and disclosure. The best group leaders follow a directed but flexible three-part process:

· A warm-up
· High involvement
· Wrap-up

The proper warm-up allows the group to create readiness for the core of the meeting, whether it is designed for education, planning or another task. The core of the meeting is the high involvement, which may take several forms depending on the task and reason for the gathering — Learning? Brainstorming? Healing? Facilitating an exploration of the participants' deepest thoughts and needs? Making plans or organizing the next step? Or something else?

Finally, the wrap-up bring closure to the meeting itself, even if more work is planned later or other needs must be addressed.

Many facilitators know the value of warm ups — sometimes popularly called "ice breakers" — but often don't know how to select the proper activity for a group. Manuals and books have lots of ideas, but veteran facilitators know from experience that what looks great on paper may not work so well in reality.

In preparing the warm-up segment, each group facilitator must always ask: what do I want to warm the group up to?

Friday, January 30, 2009

A journey of learning and time-shifting too

I did not plan to be a healer. Yet more than 20 years ago, while working as a daily newspaper journalist, I learned about a five-day residential program that treated adults reared in chaotic homes with an unusual interactive style of psychotherapy. Since I was researching an in-depth series of articles on the adult children of alcoholics movement -- just beginning to gain public attention at that time -- I wanted to learn more.

That residential treatment program, now known as Breakthrough, is part of Caron Treatment Centers, a sprawling campus in south-central Pennsylvania devoted to recovery from the ravages of drug and alcohol addiction. I signed up for the program to experience its philosophy firsthand, and I was startled to observe a method of psychotherapy that was very different from the usual sedentary talk therapy that I had known. The psychotherapists, wearing jeans and casual clothes, were approachable and relaxed. They encouraged members of the group to play roles for each other, creating dramatic vignettes that revealed the landscape of their inner lives, struggles and dreams. The premise was that drama, other creative arts, and play could repair the early wounds of our families.

By mid-week, I was asked by a group member -- let's call him Jerry -- to play the role of his mother.

Since he recalled his mother as the hard-working wife of a hard-drinking man, we decided that I would pose in the way that he most clearly remembered her: on her hands and knees, vigorously scrubbing the kitchen floor when he returned home from school. I took the pose, using an imaginary "scrub brush" as I "washed" the dusty "floor. "

Then something very powerful happened, a kind of time shifting. I was no longer the journalist, pretending to be a middle-aged mother in a therapy group in a treatment center somewhere in rural south-central Pennsylvania. I BECAME Jerry's mother, and he seemed to know it. With tears streaming on his reddened face, he talked and sobbed for at least 30 minutes, untangling the thick knot of memories and pain that he had held so closely for so many years.

"I needed you when I was a child and you weren't there," Jerry said, between the floods of tears.

As his "mother," I listened as he told "me" how the combination of alcohol, neglect, fear and abandonment had wounded him as a child. How it had contributed to decades of bad decisions, destructive relationships and feelings of low self worth. How he had continued to carry the pain inside him, without relief, to this very day.

I was aware of an equally complex experience in the moment within me. As the mother, my heart felt a hint of the tiredness and hopelessness of that difficult life. As myself, it was easy to identify with the pain of an adult who looked back to a childhood of loneliness. And there was yet another part of me -- the observer -- who was completely fascinated with this time-shifting and shape-shifting process.

"Wow," I remember thinking, "This stuff is powerful! Where did it come from, and why haven't I known about it before?"

When the drama concluded, it was clear that Jerry had changed in a deep way. His face seemed to be calmer and more open. He seemed to hold his body more loosely, and he was able to joke and talk more comfortably in our group.

My encounter with Jerry -- as well as my exposure to these different style of therapy -- led me on a journey that I am still traveling today. I began group therapy that employed these experiential methods and found profound personal change. Later I would return to school to study substance abuse, addiction and family systems; I learned that this interactive style of therapy came from the long-standing theory and practice of psychodrama and sociometry, a larger method developed by the European-born physician, Dr. J.L. Moreno. I found teachers, pioneers in this unique field, who demonstrated the subtle nuances of the use of the action methods, taking me beyond that single week in September.

Jerry and I would see each other periodically at group reunions at Caron and share a hug. He shared the victories and changes in his life and generously celebrated my own growth, both personal and professional. It has been a good journey, and I know the good will continue.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Freeing minds and building hope with drama therapy in prison

Here's a hopeful and inspiring story about how the powerful tools of creativity and drama therapy can change inmates in prison. The story is about drama therapy -- a cousin to psychodrama -- and how it gives convicted criminals opportunity to discover and communicate their identities. See:

Freeing the minds behind the bars of Lebanon’s most notorious prison

A resource for psychodrama books

Mental Health Resources works with the Inquiring Minds Bookstore and finally has a Web site where you can find many books about psychodrama and drama therapy -- at least 80 items, including some past issues of classic psychodrama and sociometry journals. Check it out!

The books are listed on the Mental Health Resources site so that the site compares prices on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble sites. See: