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  • Notes on Psychodramatic Treatment of a Person with Schizophrenia
  • Jonathan D. Moreno, PhD (bio)

I have enjoyed reflecting on Mr. Chapy’s account of work in psychodrama with a patient with schizophrenia.

Although at one time many years ago I was interested in phenomenological psychiatry, and especially the writings of Ludwig Binswanger and Medard Boss, I am not an authority on dasein-analysis, so I have nothing to add to the discussion. I should say, however, that my father had little interest in this approach, which was far too abstract for his taste. He proceeded from the standpoint of the theater, of action and enactment. He believed that the drama itself provided the insight.

For the purposes of this response, I take it as a given that the patient in question has been accurately diagnosed, although in the description of the scene with his father he does not exhibit the usual symptoms, such as auditory hallucinations. People with schizophrenia often find it difficult to manage the voices they are hearing without substantial preparation for a psychodrama. According to psychodramatic method, one way to prepare them is to externalize the voices, allowing a different therapist to take the role of each one as the protagonist instructs them how to play that role. Chair may be set up so that each “voice,” personified by an auxiliary ego, can sit in each chair in an array. This preparation may require a number of sessions. If the scene is to be enacted with a significant other, like the father in this instance, the patient may not be able to warm up to a direct encounter, especially with all the different voices competing for his internal attention. So he may be directed to observe each voice in the encounter with his father, preferably played by a therapist of his choosing and trained for the role, usually by giving the father-player certain lines so that they can learn something about the father and the way he addresses his son.

Or consider the patient whose illness manifests itself as delusions, often of a megalomaniac character. They may be a messiah, for example, or the rightful heir of a royal line whose identity is being suppressed by governmental forces. The patient might be invited to choose key therapists to play the roles of key members of their circle, [End Page 225] enacting critical scenes like the sermon on the mount or speeches to their oppressed followers. In this way the patient’s “act hunger” may be to some degree satiated and have a calming effect on their anxiety and irritation with the frustrating world around them that refuses to accept their “authentic” identity and belief system.

In these ways, psychodrama therapy can take advantage of one of the remarkable advantages of this method for such patients, who are generally recalcitrant to talk therapy alone and for whom medication is at best modestly effective. Still, these disorders are among the most challenging for psychotherapists. Although the process of treating them may open up insights into the nature of the human mind, as Chapy has pursued in this paper, we await the neuroscience that can affect the kind of long-term remission they and their families so desperately wish. [End Page 226]

Jonathan D. Moreno
University of Pennsylvania
morenojd@pennmedicine.upenn.edu
Jonathan D. Moreno

Jonathan D. Moreno is a philosopher and historian who specializes in the intersection of bioethics, culture, science, and national security, and has published seminal works on the history, sociology and politics of biology and medicine. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Medicine.

submitted on January 27, 2023
Accepted on January 30, 2023
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