What makes The Wellness Institute’s Altered State Psychodrama modality different from other forms of psychodrama?

We have looked (in our last blog post) at the benefits of doing Heart-Centered Therapies in groups, benefits for the clients as well as for the therapeutic process. Now let’s look at the benefits for all in Altered State Psychodrama. Traditional psychodrama is done in a group with different group members playing assigned roles to assist the identified client (protagonist) to work through their family issues. Virginia Satir and Jacob Moreno were some of the leaders of these techniques. They have set a beautiful groundwork for us to go to the next level. The way that we have done this is to incorporate the work of Fritz Perls, Albert Ellis, Carl Jung, Eric Berne with that of Jacob Moreno. If we may use the image of baking a magnificent cake, these are the ingredients that we at The Wellness Institute have folded into Moreno’s original cake batter. So instead of just having a plain old basic white cake,  we can now enrich the basic batter in order to have a moist and tasty carrot/raisin cake or rich dark chocolate cake with cherries. In other words there is so much more depth available to us.

The original psychodramas were done mostly from the conscious mind of the therapist and the client. Of course, experienced psychodramatists recognize that protagonists engaged in their psychodrama often enter a trance-like state. We find that managing the trance within the context of traditional hypnosis adds containment, suspension of disbelief, and depth of access to the unconscious. All the latest research over the past 50 years clearly shows that the conscious or thinking part of the mind is only ten percent of our full capabilities: the basic white cake. This conscious mind is very effective for thinking, analyzing and for short term memory. However, with altered state therapies, we can quickly access the other 90 % of the mind which fills in the blanks and allows us to literally go back into the places where all the dysfunctional patterns and incongruent messages are stored.

Here is a profound example that occurred in our recent group. One of the therapist/ participants (we will call her Nancy) had entered a new, more advanced level of our training program. This third level of our training is called Personal Transformation Leadership. The very first weekend that she arrived she encountered new and different  people in her group and new trainers and assistants. This training was focused on teaching Altered State Psychodrama, which requires the groups to be split up into three smaller practice groups. This allows each participant to practice leading a psychodrama, as well as to be client for a psychodrama themselves. The groups are formed, one teacher per group, to work together for the next two days. So Nancy was in a group, which she felt wasn’t meeting her needs. She also specifically felt that the leaders were not supporting her. She created a lot of confusion and dysfunction in her group. She then went to our Director (authority figure) and asked to change groups. They had to do a lot of shuffling in order to accommodate Nancy’s request. After being in the new group for half a day, Nancy decided that her needs were not being met there either and so she again requested moving to the third group. The teacher there told her their schedule was already set so they couldn’t guarantee when of if she would get to lead a session.

By this time most of the group members and teachers were becoming more and more irritated with Nancy’s demands; however, they were all highly engaged with the ongoing psychodrama groups. Nancy left the third group and disappeared. When the Director found her, Nancy was sitting on the porch with her bags packed, saying, ”I can’t get my needs met anywhere, I’m very confused and I want to leave.” Yet it was clear that subconsciously she really did not want to go.

The trainers consulted and decided that Nancy would return to her original group and would both receive and facilitate a psychodrama, and she agreed. It became very clear that Nancy had begun her psychodrama when she first arrived. We began her session with the feelings that she had been expressing all weekend. Those feelings were:

  • “I don’t know if I belong here.”
  • “I can’t get my needs met here by the teachers (authority figures).”
  • “I don’t trust the teachers to keep me safe.”
  • “I’m so confused about where I’m supposed to be. Nobody really wants me here.”

We used those words and her feelings to regress her to the source of these issues in her life.

In her altered state psychodrama, Nancy quickly regressed back to being in the womb; her teenage Catholic mother had become pregnant with her without being married. Her father was an older man, married to someone else and not at all interested in marrying her teenage mother nor in becoming Nancy’s father. The discovery of Nancy’s existence in the womb was a shock to her young mother who considered an abortion but instead went to a secretive Catholic Maternity Home to give birth. Her existence was shameful to Her mother and grandparents and actually to the whole extended family. The family all cooked up a lie to tell everyone about Nancy. They actually announced that Nancy was the older sister’s child and they all made up stories for many years to cover up the original lie about her illegitimate birth. Nancy actually was the shameful family secret, the proverbial big pink elephant in the living room that no one talked about.

The hypnotic trance of altered state psychodrama really allowed Nancy to relax the ego defenses and access her deeply imprinted conception and birth experience. This depth would have been virtually impossible to reach from her conscious ego state, but was vitally important for the profound healing to occur.

So if we go back to the meta-drama that Nancy had created and experienced upon entering this new group, she was actually acting out her conception and birth process.  She was acting out in the group these early experiences of “I don’t know if I belong here, I can’t trust the big people to keep me safe or meet my needs, and I’m confused about where I’m supposed to be.” A very powerful healing took place for her individually as well as for her group members. The other group members played the roles of her unwed pregnant mother and of the older father who was not prepared to marry. They played the painful roles of family members trying to cover up Nancy’s existence and then having to present her as someone else’s child.

This entire psychodrama was very emotional for everyone involved and by playing the family roles for Nancy, the members of her group became very bonded with her and her struggle to survive.  They got to experience the deep shame that she was born into and the existential issues that followed her most of her life. The fact that her group members were able to actually participate in her healing process brought them much closer to her and to each other. Her story actually touched many people and activated their own birth issues. Each group member forgave her for the original chaos she had created in the group and warmly accepted her back where she belonged. This entire process made everything clear and was healing for everyone.

Then the next day, when the individual psychodrama groups gathered in the larger circle, the sharing began. When Nancy shared her process with the whole group, including the teachers, it all became clear. It was like a big cloud had lifted and this became an enormous teaching moment  for the entire group.

This is just one example of how altered state psychodrama goes down through the deepest layers of our defense systems so that we can heal not just our thinking but our body, mind and spirit.