When you experience a traumatic event, the body is responsible for storing emotional pain. There are all kinds of physical stress reactions – such as muscle tension, heavy breathing, or chest tightness – commonly experienced in the wake of trauma. The mind, while certainly a powerful tool in understanding trauma, cannot control these reactions. For this reason, there are limits in trying to treat trauma rationally, logically, and through mere conversation. Trauma treatment requires a deeper approach.
Why Can’t Talk Therapy Resolve Trauma?
During a traumatic experience, the speech and language centers of your brain shut down. This is because the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for rational thought, cannot process what is happening. Yet, the limbic system, the part responsible for feelings and sensations, becomes activated. That’s why no one can “control” the effects of trauma.
When you feel threatened, your body discharges two chemicals called adrenaline and cortisol. When a situation reminds you of that threat, your body keeps releasing these chemicals automatically.
Talk therapy uses the thinking side of the brain to work through trauma. Yet, as we’ve seen, speech and language cannot access your stress reactions to trauma. As a result, talk therapy makes you more susceptible to false interpretations of what happened. You may think your emotions tell you one thing when they’re really telling you something else.
How Can Psychodrama Help You Process and Resolve Trauma?
Thankfully, an approach like psychodrama allows you to connect with your emotions authentically. By creatively acting out situations where you might feel stressed, you can safely “feel” your way through trauma and understand how it affects you on a deeper level.
Psychodrama uses role-play to help you deepen your self-awareness and work through your challenges. You might think of it like theater for mental health – except that there is no audience but your therapist, and it doesn’t matter if the acting is “good” or “bad.”
The important thing is what you feel when you act out different situations, not how well you can act or how accurately you can portray certain people. In this way, psychodrama avoids being a breeding ground for social anxiety since there is no need to judge or assess the acting skills of the clients involved.
The Goal of Psychodrama
The goal of psychodrama is to help you understand how trauma impacts your life today. For instance, suppose that you dread family reunions because every time you go, your parents always get into arguments. In that case, your therapist may have you (and any other family members present) creatively imagine yourself at a family reunion. During this enactment, perhaps you realize that you feel stressed and exasperated even before your parents begin fighting. Simply being at the reunion evokes an unconscious stress response.
You may also realize that this stress response is connected to more than present-day reunions. Perhaps your parents fought a lot when you were a child, and their fights would make you sad, scared, and unable to sleep at night. In this way, you discover that you dread going to reunions because it is connected to unresolved trauma from your childhood.
Psychodrama Gets to the Root of Your Trauma
Trauma is like scar tissue – it blocks an emotional wound from healing. Psychodrama peels back the layers of hurt in your life and lets you access those emotional wounds. It helps you bring to light the ways that adverse childhood experiences impact you today. By healing your inner child, you can heal the wounds affecting your adult life. As the great psychologist Carl Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.”
The beauty of psychodrama is that it can make you aware of unconscious trauma patterns in your life. This newfound awareness can help you change the way you react to these patterns, resulting in healthier thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
What Does Psychodrama Treatment Look Like?
Although psychodrama is generally used in group therapy, it is possible to use it in individual counseling. The approach is customizable based on who is involved. It is a very straightforward process and follows a basic three-step protocol.
#1. The warm-up phase: During this phase, your therapist will work to establish safety and trust with you (and any other clients involved) before launching into actual psychodrama.
#2. The action phase: This is where you will act out different scenarios in your life, sometimes playing yourself and sometimes playing other people.
#3. The sharing phase: This is the processing stage of psychodrama, where you and your therapist will talk about what you learned and what you can do differently in the future.
Getting Support for Trauma
If you or a loved one is wrestling with trauma, it’s essential to seek help. On your own, it’s tempting to turn to coping habits like drug use or drinking to deal with the pain of the past, but these behaviors usually only add to the burden of trauma. Psychodrama can help you get to the root of your emotional pain and identify how past hurt impacts you today.