J. L. Moreno (1953, p. 81), originator of the psychodramatic
method, described it as follows, “Psychodrama can
be defined . . . as the science that explores the ‘truth’
by dramatic methods. It deals with inter-personal relations
and private worlds." Resistance is part of the personal
truth of the client, or in Moreno’s terminology, the
protagonist. As such, resistance can be explored, understood,
and resolved using psychodramatic methods. Psychodrama and
related action methods allow direct exploration of attitudes
and behaviors preventing spontaneity and creativity. Actions
can be observed and measured and can become subject to study,
hypothesizing, and intervention, the processes of science.
The science of action begins by focusing on the warming
up process, externalizing the unspoken dialogue one has
with him/herself or with another person. This leads to externalizing
the concrete situations, stories, and dynamics as if they
are happening now. The experience can be expanded upon and
played out clearly and fully and barriers can be confronted,
studied, evaluated, and changed through introducing surplus
reality or "what if" situations. Thus the canon
of creativity can be effectively applied to problematic
life situations. Moreno believed that what is learned in
action must also be unlearned in action and since learning
occurs in the context of other persons as interactors or
audience it is "co-produced." This presentation
will identify and demonstrate specific applications of psychodrama
and action methods approaches to resistance.
As a condition of attending these sessions attendees are
asked to commit to keeping confidentiality. Part of these
sessions (especially the second one) may consist of addressing
personal material of one or more of the participants. If
you cannot commit to honoring the confidentiality of what
we do here please do not attend.
As a condition of attending these sessions (especially the
second one) attendees are asked to participate in the experiential
exercises only to the degree that they are comfortable.
They understand that these experiential methods are powerful
vicariously, that is, just observing can have a significant
impact. If you have questions or concerns in this regard,
please discuss these with the presenter. He will be available
before and after the sessions.
There shall be no contact in terms of physical violence
in any way.
Attendees are encouraged to wear clothes in which they would
be comfortable moving around, sitting on the floor, etc.,
and to avoid wearing jewelry that could become snagged or
entangled should they volunteer to participate in an enactment.
Participants will be able to identify a psychodramatic conceptualization
Participants will be able to describe one or more psychodramatic
intervention(s) in response to resistance.
Participants will be able to implement one or more psychodramatic
intervention(s) that increases spontaneity and creativity
and counters resistance.
What is Psychodrama?
a. “Psychodrama can be defined . . . as the science
that explores the ‘truth’ by dramatic methods.
It deals with inter-personal relations and private worlds"
(Moreno, 1953, p. 81). J. L. Moreno, the creator of the
approach saw it as a religious revolution, a way to change
society as a whole, not merely an approach to psychotherapy.
“A truly therapeutic procedure cannot have less an
objective than the whole of mankind” (Moreno, 1953,
b. The five instruments, stage, protagonist, director, auxiliary
egos, and audience (Hare & Hare, 1996, Moreno, 1953,
p. 81-87, Moreno, 1972 p. a-e).
c. Stages: Warm up, action, sharing.
d. Moreno’s seminal influence: “Group Psychotherapy,”
role-playing, Fritz Pearls, Eric Berne, Virginia Satir.
“Psychodrama provided the ground out of which the
third force of psychotherapy emerged in the fifties and
sixties” (Johnson, 1992, p. ix-x.). Eric Berne (1970,
p 164), reviewing Fritz Pearl’s Gestalt Therapy Verbatim
wrote, “Pearls shares with other “active”
therapists the “Moreno problem: the fact that nearly
all known ‘active’ techniques were first tried
out by Moreno in psychodrama, so that it is difficult to
come up with an original idea in this regard.” Abraham
Maslow (1968) commented, “I would like to add one
credit-where-credit-is–due footnote. Many of the techniques
. . . were originally invented by Dr. Jacob Moreno . . .
.” Will Schutz (1971) similarly acknowledges “virtually
all of the methods that I had proudly compiled or invented
[Moreno] had more or less anticipated, in some cases forty
years earlier . . . .”
e. Practicing psychodramatists include persons who identify
themselves as holding a variety of therapeutic orientations
and psychodrama is readily compatible with a variety of
therapeutic orientations (Blatner, 2000, pp. 128 –
What is resistance from a psychodramatic perspective?
a. In an operational sense, “resistance means merely
that the protagonist does not wish to participate in the
production” (Moreno, 1972, p. viii). This could include
opposition to justifiable and realistic shortcomings in
the method or director/therapist.
b. Resistance can be understood in terms of “the science
of action” (Moreno, 1953, p. 73). “The science
of action is concerned with preparation for action, barriers
to action (resistance), inability to be in the moment, and
therapeutic methods designed to assist the creative process
in life. The task of action methods is to explore those
events and situation in which a person has learned attitudes
and behavior preventing spontaneity and creativity”
(Hale, 1981, p. 7).
c. “Resistance is a function of spontaneity; it is
due to a decrease or loss of it” (Moreno, 1953, p.
liv). It is a response to a situation that is novel, useful
and adequate (Hale, 1981, p. 6) instead of one that merely
results in conformity to role-conserves (frozen, habituated
behavior) (Kellerman, 1992, p. 138).
d. In psychodrama, resistance and anxiety are related. Anxiety,
according to Moreno (1953, p. 42), results from “a
loss of spontaneity,” an inability to live in the
here-and-now. “Protagonists become anxious and resist
when they cannot find adequate responses to internal and
external pressures” (Kellermann, 1992, p. 139).
e. Resistance can be understood as a “counter-action,”
a protagonist’s active or passive attempt to block
their own spontaneous energy (Kellerman, 1992).
f. Moreno (Moreno and Ennis, 1950) sees psychodrama as transforming
and transcending psychoanalytic concepts, including transference
and resistance, but not eliminating the useful part of the
psychoanalytic contribution. Resistance is understood to
be part of the interaction dynamics.
Manifestations of resistance (Kellerman, 1992).
a. Expression of one feeling may be a defense against the
expression of another such as expressing laughter instead
b. “I don’t feel like acting” conveys
they do not want to feel or express their feelings and thoughts.
c. Resistance may be active or passive.
d. First time participants may resist role-playing because
of fear of being the center of attention, fear of public
exposure/stage fright, and lack of sufficient emotional
e. Experienced participants may draw back from prematurely
uncovered sensitive areas.
f. Avoidance of personal and emotional engagement, not letting
it matter or count in terms of “real life” (Korn,
g. Difficult protagonists, including those who: narrate
or intellectualize, can tolerate little participation, refuse
to get on stage or who leave prematurely, or disrupt (psychotic
hysteric, homicidal/suicidal) (Seaborne, 1966) or become
confused, forget the purpose of the session, express themselves
in short sentences, laugh inappropriately, inhibit body
expression, or block their voices (Sacks, 1976).
h. “Interpersonal” resistances, Moreno’s
(1972, p. 215) terminology for transference or barriers
between members of the group or the member and director.
i. Auxiliaries may refuse to take certain roles. Moreno
(1972, p. xvi) identifies the reasons as “therapeutic”
(the protagonist “uses” the role playing situation
without any willingness to reverse roles with the auxiliary),
or “private” (indicating personal difficulties
with certain roles).
j. Group norms, climate, or sociometric structure may cause
resistance in certain group members.
k. Resistance may be further categorized in terms of Bion’s
(1961) basic assumption groups (dependency, flight-fight,
and pairing) or Whitaker and Lieberman’s (1964) group
focal conflict (the solution of a shared group conflict).
Functions of resistance (Kellerman, 1992).
a. Avoidance of uncomfortable feelings, e.g. anxiety, guilt,
b. Drawing on psychoanalytic theory resistances can be understood
as defense mechanisms or security operations to cope with
internal external threats.
c. Protagonists presenting as “feeling nothing,”
or “empty” or “blocked” have chosen
the defense mechanism of “isolation” as a way
of escaping feelings and may strongly resist enactment preferring
to be spectators.
d. From a psychoanalytic ego-psychological framework resistances
are understood to function to maintain psychic equilibrium.
Protagonists have stronger or weaker egos and need correspondingly
less or more rigid defenses. Ego strong protagonists, who
use resistances to defend the status quo in their neuroses,
need psychodramatic enactments that allow them to regress,
abreact, progress to, and reach a new integration. In contrast,
ego-weak protagonists, who use resistances to maintain a
fragile emotional homeostasis to protect from excessive
anxiety or ego fragmentation, need enactments that strengthen
their ego functions and build up an independent ego-structure.
Techniques for resolving resistance.
a. Warming up (to the group and the process)
i. “The necessary conditions for spontaneous behavior
include (a) a sense of trust and safety, (b) a receptivity
to intuitions, images, feeling, and other non-rational mental
processes; (c) a bit of playfulness – so one doesn’t
feel overidentified with the success of every move in the
process – and (d) a movement toward risk taking and
exploration into novelty” (Blatner,1996, p. 43, see
also Moreno, 1983).
ii. The process begins with the director. For examples of
the process and warm-ups see Pramann, 2002, 2005c at http://www.ssccc.com/articles.htm
iii. Within the enactment, scene-setting, role-reversal,
and the other techniques serve to warm-up the protagonist
as the psychodrama unfolds.
Soliloquy. The protagonist shares with the audience inner
feelings and thoughts that would not be normally be expressed.
By convention, other role-players don’t hear or respond
to these expressions. In so doing, the protagonist can become
aware of his or her own motives and purposes.
Double and Doubling.
i. Doubling has been identified as “the heart of psychodrama”
(Blatner, 1996) because it serves to bring out the protagonist’s
deepest emotions, one of the major purposes of psychodrama.
Thus the double serves additional and unique functions:
1) To stimulate interaction by portraying the protagonist’s
experience to its fullest degree, 2) To provide support
for the protagonist to enable him to risk and interact more
completely, and 3) To effectively give suggestions and interpretations
to the protagonist.
ii. An auxiliary may be appointed to double the participant
and soliloquize their anticipated reasons for refusal, thereby
drawing the participant in to “own” or “correct”
the characterization and reveal the hidden reasons for their
refusal to participate.
iii. The director may sit to the side of the stage and soliloquize.
“I know that Jack (the patient) doesn’t like
me. I don’t see what other reason he would have for
not cooperation” (Moreno, 1972, p.viii).
iv. Doubling has been identified as perhaps the most effective
psychodramatic technique for understanding resistance (Kellerman,
v. For further discussion of doubling interventions see
Pramann, 2005a, http://www.ssccc.com/articles.htm
i. A participant may not be willing to play a protagonist
role but may be willing to play an auxiliary role to help
ii. The playing out of the auxiliary ego roles often servers
the function of provoking the protagonist into action.
iii. For further discussion of doubling interventions see
Pramann, 2005a, http://www.ssccc.com/articles.htm
Mirror or Mirroring.
i. Mirroring can be useful in portraying nonverbal resistance
ii. When a patient is unable to represent himself an auxiliary
reenacts his role while the patient remains seated in the
iii. “The mirror may be exaggerated, employing techniques
of deliberate distortion in order to arouse the patient
to come forth and change from a passive spectator into an
active participant, to correct what he feels is not the
right enactment and interpretation of himself” (Moreno
and Moreno, 1969, p. 241).
i. Resistance to portraying one’s self, specifically
to fully portray personal detail and emotional intensity,
can be superseded by role-reversal.
ii. The patient, in an interpersonal situation, steps into
the other’s shoes.
iii. In the role of the other, emotional intensity may more
easily be portrayed.
iv. Returning to their (own) role, personal involvement
flows naturally in response to the other role.
v. Role-reversal with the psychodrama director may be effective
with very resistant protagonists when other devices have
failed. They are confronted with the therapeutic contract,
challenged to be their own therapist, and to disclose how
they may be reached. The director may take the protagonist
role or designate an empty chair or auxiliary to play the
role of the protagonist.
i. Protagonists can be asked to maximize their counter-actions,
exaggerate their blocks, and to intensify their noninvolvement.
ii. Such “prescribing the symptom” results in
the protagonist acting out their resistance and taking responsibility
for their actions.
iii. If a resistance can be produced at will it can be removed
i. Concretization makes abstract resistance tangible.
ii. Resistance manifest as physical symptoms can be portrayed
directly by the protagonist role-reversing with that part
of the body, e.g. trembling hands, tightness in the chest,
iii. Other metaphorical speech can be portrayed and explored
through role-reversal, e.g. a “wall,” cocoon,
safety net, etc.
The Symbolic Technique or Sociodrama (Sternberg & Garcia,
i. Moreno (1972, p. ix) suggested the use of the“symbolic
technique” to eliminate the fear of “private
ii. A brief preface can be given about a conflict between
a husband and wife, which effects their child. The group
is asked to volunteer to play out the roles.
iii. Playing out roles that are noncommittal for the private
lives of the members may more easily provoke some to participate.
iv. Sociodrama uses the same techniques as psychodrama but
focuses on collective role components whereas psychodrama
focuses on private role components.
v. A group may be convened for “sociodrama”
as opposed to “psychodrama” with this social
verses personal focus as part of the group contract.
Diamond of Opposites.
i. The diamond of opposites can be used to address ambivalence
in a direct manner (Carlson-Sabelli,, Sabelli, and Hale,
1994; White, 2002, p. 75).
ii. This represents a special kind of concretizing of the
iii. Both the pull “to choose” and “not
to choose can be explored.”
i. Moreno (1974, p. ix) alludes to several other possibilities
1. Use of significant relations. If a rivalry is known to
exist between two individuals, invite them to fight it out
on stage and let the group identify who is fair and who
is unfair. Hale (1981, pp. 105-108) describes a somewhat
similar structured psychodramatic intervention for facilitating
2. Use of “leader tensions” or “ethnic
hostilities.” Sociodrama may be used to explore tensions
within a group.
Zerka Moreno (Moreno and Moreno, 1969, p. 235), in addition
to techniques already mentioned, suggests the following:
1. Ask the patient to choose another director.
2. Ask the patient to choose another scene.
3. Explain the rationale for choosing a scene even though
it may not be enacted.
4. Return to the avoided enactment if the director continues
to believe the patient needs it.
5. Insist on the enactment if the benefits derived thereby
for the patient are greater than their resistance.
Seabourn (1966) suggests the following for dealing with
1. Construct pleasant scenes. Moreno (1974, p. ix.) suggests
using comical themes or caricatures to arouse the sense
of humor of the members.
2. Facilitate participation in many different psychodramas.
3. Encourage the protagonist to play all the roles in a
particular drama (autodrama, monodrama).
4. Utilize fantasy material or confrontation scenes.
5. Facilitate group or audience reactions.
6. Talk with the protagonist privately before the session.
i. As a drama unfolds, the director follows it, allowing
the protagonist to lead the way. Each scene and interaction
serves as a warm up to the next. In this way, “the
warming up process proceeds from the periphery to the center”
(Moreno & Moreno, 1969, p. 241). Blatner (1996, p. 78)
states, “I find that if the director works with the
resistances, she can often find a way to gradually explore
the deeper conflicts. Moreno puts it this way, ‘We
don’t tear down the protagonist’s walls; rather,
we simply try some of the handles on the many doors, and
see which one opens.’”
Moreno (1972, p. ix) writes, “ It is up to the resourcefulness
of the director to find clues to get the session started
and, once it is started, to see that it grows further along
Because the director is asking the protagonist to produce,
exposing their whole inner drama, including the inner world
of those to whom they are close, secrets and all, “a
battle of wits” may develop. However this often dissipates
as the protagonists recognize the production is of their
own making. Transference is replaced by “spontaneity,
productivity, the warming up process, tele and role processes”
(Moreno and Ennis, 1950).
Auxiliary egos or auxiliary therapists, representative of
persons within the protagonists’ private world, are
introduced with whom they can interact. Resistance in terms
of “acting out” can then be used to therapeutic
advantage. “By taking advantage of the aggressive
feelings to which the patient is warmed up at the moment,
a negative and resistant patient may be turned into a productive
and clarifying agent” (Moreno and Moreno, 1959, p.
Special care should be exercised when addressing traumatic
material. The addressing of it should be titrated to the
readiness and resources of both the group and protagonist.
See Pramann, 2005b, http://www.ssccc.com/articles.htm
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Searchable Bibliography of Psychodrama (over 5,000
references) –- http://www.asgpp.org/
Empirical Research References on Psychodrama –-