What is the difference between a thought and an experience? As with mindfulness and reflection, psychodramatic interventions mobilize more of the whole person. When students in psychodrama training are stumped and lapse into excessive talking, the director will declare, “On your feet! Let's figure this out!”

I introduced one psychodramatic warm-up technique each week for the first half of the course, progressing from relatively simple exercises to ones demanding more facilitation and participation. Thereafter, each student chose one of the techniques to demonstrate with classmates' participation. Each student facilitator identified the types of client roles we were to play, generally corresponding to the facilitator's internship placement. With 20 students in the class to cover five psychodrama exercises, everyone had a chance to see four different interpretations of the same technique. Each student completed a summary sheet in preparation for the in-class demo and also submitted a follow-up reflection aided by feedback notes from class members (Mingun & Fortune, 2013).

An activity known as “the spectrogram” is one of the action method warmup techniques from psychodrama that I demonstrated. Its purpose is to establish and reinforce contracting, warm-up/deinhibitize, and allow assessment. An imaginary continuum is established across the room, with position statements at opposite ends—for example, “I'm satisfied with the supervision at my internship” on one end and “I'm unsatisfied with the supervision at my internship” at the opposite end. Class members choose to stand somewhere along the line, sometimes consulting with their neighbors to refine their exact placement. Some facilitators prefer to disqualify the center location. With smaller groups, members can report on why they are where they are. If the group is large, a student can explain his or her choice to a neighbor, or the instructor can ask for sharing from a sample of participants. Another variation is to hinge the line in the center, having one side swing around to face the other so that those on opposite sides of an issue can discuss their diverging views.

The level of demand between questions should be progressively increased. Two types of questions work best. One requires them to locate themselves in comparison to other members. “Line up, without talking, by order of birthday throughout the year.” “How long have you been coming to this program?” The other type simply asks each member to reflect on how he or she feels in relation to the end points. “Do you prefer a supervisor who stays nearby or keeps his or her distance?” “When trying new things, do you tend to wade into the shallow end of the pool or jump into the deep end?”[1]

Following any psychodrama exercise, students debrief on three questions: What? So what? Now what? Although originally found in treatment settings, I have been able to apply this debrief approach to good effect in the classroom. In order to answer the first question, group members chime in simply to describe the task completed. The second question asks members about how the activity was relevant to their own work or learning. The final question invites members to consider how they can apply what they learned outside this setting. I ask students to think of a continuum that would fit a group at their internship, such as the many gradients of sobriety. Other questions could apply to all groups and provide the leader useful information as part of a process intervention. “How safe do you feel in this group? How safe would you like to feel?” “Do you think other members have problems similar to yours?” “Do you prefer a group leader who is quite active or participates less often?” Such questions can provide an opportunity for re-contracting and a focus for deeper work.

The typical size of this class is 25 students. I subdivide them into groups of 5 that remain together for the semester. They collaborate on activities and assignments from a team-based learning perspective. I plan to put more emphasis in the future on students sharing their experience of mindfulness practices with one another in small groups and pairs. I expect this combination of format and content to amplify safety and trust within the small groups and increase the cohesiveness of the class overall. Sacrificing safety for anonymity is often the trade-off when working with larger classes. In such cases, the motivation level of the participant is important. Although I have had positive experiences attending large gatherings centered on learning contemplative practices, these participants represent a self-selected group with background with the topic or keen curiosity.

  • [1] As a teacher, I have long been perplexed by silent students. I had difficulty identifyingwith them, and they seemed to make my job more difficult. Over the years, I have extended avariety of invitations to help quiet students find and own their professional voice. There arequiet members in every group, and psychodrama trainings are no exception. By the luck ofthe draw (or maybe not), a few years ago I was put in a small workgroup with the two quietest trainees. Both seemed to work very hard at invisibility. They each did profound workover the next 3 days with a very skilled director. By age 9 years, one had caught enough flakfrom teachers in school to keep her mother coming for conferences. Her intentions werelaudable, even beyond her years, but it was her behavior that caused static. Her takeaway?Being myself is not okay. Escape was more literal for the other. To avoid a perpetually angrymother, she took to climbing trees for hours on end and also reconstructed for us a hideoutshe maintained in the crawlspace between walls in her house. I have never looked at quietmembers quite the same since.
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