Resolving painful emotional experience during psychodrama

McVea, Charmaine Susan (2009) Resolving painful emotional experience during psychodrama. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Unresolved painful emotional experiences such as bereavement, trauma and disturbances in core relationships, are common presenting problems for clients of psychodrama or psychotherapy more generally. Emotional pain is experienced as a shattering of the sense of self and disconnection from others and, when unresolved, produces avoidant responses which inhibit the healing process.
There is agreement across therapeutic modalities that exposure to emotional experience can increase the efficacy of therapeutic interventions. Moreno proposes that the activation of spontaneity is the primary curative factor in psychodrama and that healing occurs when the protagonist (client) engages with his or her wider social system and develops greater flexibility in response to that system. An extensive case-report literature describes the application of the psychodrama method in healing unresolved painful emotional experiences, but there is limited empirical research to verify the efficacy of the method or to identify the processes that are linked to therapeutic change.
The purpose of this current research was to construct a model of protagonist change processes that could extend psychodrama theory, inform practitioners’ therapeutic decisions and contribute to understanding the common factors in therapeutic change. Four studies investigated protagonist processes linked to in-session resolution of painful emotional experiences. Significant therapeutic events were analysed using recordings and transcripts of psychodrama enactments, protagonist and director recall interviews and a range of process and outcome measures.
A preliminary study (3 cases) identified four themes that were associated with helpful therapeutic events: enactment, the working alliance with the director and with group members, emotional release or relief and social atom repair. The second study (7 cases) used Comprehensive Process Analysis (CPA) to construct a model of protagonists’ processes linked to in-session resolution. This model was then validated across four more cases in Study 3. Five meta-processes were identified: (i) a readiness to engage in the psychodrama process; (ii) re-experiencing and insight; (iii) activating resourcefulness; (iv) social atom repair with emotional release and (v) integration. Social atom repair with emotional release involved deeply experiencing a wished-for interpersonal experience accompanied by a free flowing release of previously restricted emotion and was most clearly linked to protagonists’ reports of reaching resolution and to post session improvements in interpersonal relationships and sense of self. Acceptance of self in the moment increased protagonists’ capacity to generate new responses within each meta-process and, in resolved cases, there was evidence of spontaneity developing over time.
The fourth study tested Greenberg’s allowing and accepting painful emotional experience model as an alternative explanation of protagonist change. The findings of this study suggested that while the process of allowing emotional pain was present in resolved cases, Greenberg’s model was not sufficient to explain the processes that lead to in-session resolution. The protagonist’s readiness to engage and activation of resourcefulness appear to facilitate the transition from problem identification to emotional release. Furthermore, experiencing a reparative relationship was found to be central to the healing process. This research verifies that there can be in-session resolution of painful emotional experience during psychodrama and protagonists’ reports suggest that in-session resolution can heal the damage to the sense of self and the interpersonal disconnection that are associated with unresolved emotional pain. A model of protagonist change processes has been constructed that challenges the view of psychodrama as a primarily cathartic therapy, by locating the therapeutic experience of emotional release within the development of new role relationships. The five meta-processes which are described within the model suggest broad change principles which can assist practitioners to make sense of events as they unfold and guide their clinical decision making in the moment. Each meta-process was linked to specific post-session changes, so that the model can inform the development of therapeutic plans for individual clients and can aid communication for practitioners when a psychodrama intervention is used for a specific therapeutic purpose within a comprehensive program of therapy.

Impact and interest:

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

1,808 since deposited on 09 Feb 2010
177 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 30310
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Gow, Kathryn & Lowe, Roger
Keywords: brief structured recall, catharsis, change process research, comprehensive process analysis, emotion, enactment, in-session resolution, interpersonal process recall, Morenian role theory, psychodrama, painful emotional experience, multiple case studies, social atom, spontaneity theory
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 09 Feb 2010 01:34
Last Modified: 30 Jul 2012 14:10

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page