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  • Psychodramatic Psychotherapy for Schizophrenic Individuals
  • John Nolte, MD, PhD (bio)

As a long-time student, practitioner, trainer, author and advocate of J. L. Moreno, MD,’s works and specifically the psychodramatic method, I am always appreciative of efforts, like Chapy’s, to commend and advocate for psychodrama. This is especially so because for a time, Moreno and psychodrama were heavily criticized, even maligned in the mental health professions. At the same time, considering how poorly Moreno and his methods have been understood as well as the difficulty of accessing his original material, I feel an obligation to set the record straight when confronted with incomplete, inadequate, or sometimes incompetent expositions of Moreno’s psychodrama.

Chapy’s article recommends psychodrama as a treatment method for schizophrenic people by calling upon existentialist and phenomenological concepts. Psychodrama, he proposes, opens up existence by allowing “schizophrenic patients to incorporate the experience of an ‘absolutely other.’”

There are major flaws in Chapy’s presentation. His “clinical illustration,” the presentation of a psychodrama with a schizophrenic patient, while it may be considered psychodrama under the broadest definition of the term, hardly fulfills the requirements of a psychotherapeutic psychodrama. We must question the competence of the psychodramatist in Chapy’s example. Chapy’s description of the drama itself falls short of being an adequate account of a psychodrama, failing to convey the emotional intensity and realness which a well directed and reported psychodrama achieves. We do not learn, for example, if Damien’s perception of his father is introduced through role reversal with the father, a standard psychodramatic technique which is done in order to give the auxiliary ego taking that role an understanding how Damien experiences his father. We do not know if role reversals are made throughout the drama so that Damien can experience how he is perceived by father, can feel the force of his confrontation in the role of father, and is required to reply as his father to his confrontation. We are given little information about the psychodramatic techniques employed by the director other than the scene setting of the studio in which the psychodramatic [End Page 227] encounter takes place, and the soliloquy in which Damien expresses his worry and hopes for the outcome of the confrontation. It should be clear in the description of the drama whether the father’s statements in the drama were produced by Damien in role reversal, or by the auxiliary ego playing the role. There is a difference and it is significant. Although we are told that Damien “evokes a systematic relationship between him and his father” during the psychodrama, we do not see how this happens. Every psychodrama is an existential experience and its description should fully communicate its meaning and emotion.

A more serious problem, however, is that this drama does not deal with Damien’s psychosis. Although Damien may be diagnosed as schizophrenic, his disorder is obviously in remission or controlled by psychotropic drugs. The drama reveals none of the hallucinations, delusions, or disorder characteristic of schizophrenic disorders. It could be psychodrama of any young man with a complaint about his father.

The notion that people with schizophrenia can be successfully treated by psychodrama is not new. Moreno began developing psychodramatic psychotherapy at his Beacon Hill Sanitarium, established in 1936. He and psychodrama gained some fame because of his success in treating schizophrenic patients at a time when schizophrenic individuals were considered incapable of benefitting from psychotherapy. Moreno’s approach to the treatment of schizophrenic patients was much more robust than the psychodrama described by Chapy. During a psychotic attack, the individual’s perception of the world and self are distorted in ways that made action and interaction in the world of conventional reality impossible. Additionally, the psychotic episode makes the psychotic person incapable of being comprehended by anyone else, including the psychiatrist. Moreno’s solution was to make the chaotic, bewildering, sometimes violent and always terrifying inner world visible and tangible in the surplus reality of the psychodramatic stage. In moments of lucidity following the psychotic episode, he asked his schizophrenic patients to reenact their psychotic experiences. The result was that, “In this imaginary reality on the psychodramatic stage, the...

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