HVPI post 2

Our scarf sculpture on the Moreno stage, each scarf representing a gift one of us brings to the group.

Our scarf sculpture on the Moreno stage, each scarf representing a gift one of us brings to the group.

First, some corrections:

  • Boughton Place was not Moreno’s summer home. He never lived here. He lived in Beacon NY and the theater he designed – and all the workshops he taught – were there. Over lunch yesterday, Rebecca Walters told me the abbreviated story: that the Horsham Clinic bought Moreno’s building after he died in 1974, then couldn’t afford it and was going to tear it down, when Zirka Moreno (J.L.’s wife) managed to have it delivered to Boughton Place in the late seventies. I’m still not clear what the connection was there.
  • Rebecca and Judy did not study with Moreno, they studied with Zerka, who was primarily responsible for carrying on the training through the eighties and early nineties.
  • The Hudson Valley Psychodrama Institute rents space from Boughton Place, which is it’s own organization.
Entrance to Boughton Place and the Moreno Stage.

Entrance to Boughton Place and the Moreno Stage.

Yesterday began with the “well of confidentiality”. We committed to keeping all names private – so as I said before – I will not use the names of any of the other participants in the intensive.  Then came what I call “get to know ya” exercises. Several of them I have led and participated in before thorough my work as a theater teacher and actor. Our trainers stressed the importance of going from the periphery to the center, in terms the subject matter each exercise dealt with. “You don’t lead off with, everyone who loves their mother on this side, and everyone who hates their mother on that side. Tea vs. coffee first.” This series of exercises are called sociometry, and deal with polarities, continuums and specific locations for identity markers, like whether you like tea or coffee more, where you’re from, and how much experience you have with psychodrama.

The one which got the most attention was, arrange yourself on a continuum based on how comfortable you are being touched. Psychodrama is physical work, and the trainers (directors) need to know what kinds of boundaries people have around being touched. I placed myself in the “puppy pile” at one end: touch me all you want . . .

After lunch, we did some “dyad” work – work in pairs, deepening our connections to each other. Part of this work invovled a beautiful exercise in in pairs called the “heart sandwich” in which we took turns holding each other’s heart chakras (with permission).

Yesterday ended with our first psychodrama, directed by Judy. It concerned a man confronting some critical voices in his head. As Judy developed the psychodrama with him, some of us played some of those voices, some of us played family members, and some played versions of himself at a different age. I got to be his surrogate, lashing out at an abusive family member on his behalf.

“Ordinary talking therapy is cognitive,” Rebecca said, “and there are some – like me – that believe that can never be enough. Psychodrama is also cognitive, but is at least as much, if not more, emotional.” The emotional releases I witnessed in our first psychodrama were startling and affecting. One of the things that is surprising right away is that even though the drama has a protagonist, the central person being studied, the benefits and revelations can occur just as readily for those of us playing “auxiliaries”  – the other people in his life, the voices, even fears and ambitions. Our protagonist experienced an emotional release, as did the person playing his younger self and several people in the audience.

Perhaps it is the word “release” that contains a key to psychodrama’s power. What is it we seek when we enter therapy? Yes, it is understanding about ourselves and the demons that plague us. But more profoundly I think, it is release from our pain and confusion we seek. Psychodrama provides a powerful and structured format for those kinds of releases. While that release is never permanent – our core issues remain with us until we die – the frequency and intensity of their effect on us through triggering and depression is lessoned. “Each time we have an emotional release through psychodrama,” one of our trainers said, “the abscess is drained a little drier.”


Today we focused on the two essential techniques of psychodrama: role reversal and doubling. In role reversal, we assume the role of the other person in our drama, usually (but not always) a person we have something to work out with – called the antagonist (which doesn’t mean a person who pisses us off, it simply means the “not-protagonist.”). This serves a variety of purposes. On a technical level, it instructs others in the group how to play this person if they are called to step in. More deeply though, it is a pathway to empathy and therefore release.

Doubling is when we stand just behind and to one side of the patient or protagonist and verbalize what they are not saying. Sometimes these are simply affirmations of what is already being said. Sometimes these are words, sounds or or phrases which describe something unsaid. Sometimes the director doubles, sometimes another person in the group (after receiving permission) and sometime the protagonist herself either doubles herself – to voice something she can’t voice in “reality” – or she doubles the antagonist, giving voice to something she senses the other is thinking but not saying. Of crucial importance is that the protagonist always gets to approve, or not, of what a double is saying. So if as a double I start swearing at the antagonist, the protagonist (who I am doubling) may say, “no Ben, that’s not right. I’m not that angry.” In this way, support for the story being told is ensured.

We paired off into “allies” today, taking on one other person in the intensive to touch base with as we move forward. My ally picked me and I was surprised. Remember how I put myself in the “puppy pile” when it comes to touching? Well my ally is on the other end of that continuum. “You know,” I said to her as we stood next to each other, “I might need a hug from you sometime.” She said no problem, and I have taken her up on it a few times since. This too is an attribute of psychodrama: the creation of a safe space for vulnerable exploration, which somehow includes our bodies, or voices, our touches. We make a great and unlikely pair, for reasons I will not share – you’ll just have to trust me.

Today ended with me being selected as a protagonist for a psychodrama. My issue being dealt with: lessoning my fear of abandonment. And I’m afraid to say that will be all you will learn about it. But I can tell you this, I bumped up against many of my old blocks: about not feeling, numbing in the face of emotions, and yes, the fear of abandonment. And while I cannot report that I was cured in any sense, I can report that I shared something profound and altering with a room full of people who were strangers to me two days ago, and who now feel like fellow sailors on voyage of consequence.