More than twenty years ago I first taught at the Trial College College created by Gerry Spence and conducted in Wyoming. It was there that I met Dr. John Nolte from Connecticut. He was trained as a psychologist and became involved in the Mareno Institute where he was educated in psychodrama. John was the certified psychodrama conductor at the ranch and was extremely gifted in its use. The lawyer students were immediately introduced to psychodrama and personally experienced it as the initial part of the training program. Gerry made psychodrama the essential part of the training program for lawyers.
What is psychodrama? Developed by Jacob Mareno, psychodrama is a method using action, ordinarily intended as psychotherapy, in which the participants use drama and role-playing to gain insight into their past lives and thinking process. The procedure involves a licensed psychodramatist who directs the process by reenacting real life past situations or enter mental thinking through acting them out. By re-creating the past events as if they were now happening, participants have the opportunity to see their own behavior and reflect on it. By doing so they have a clearer understanding of these events and how they affect them now.
This process is accomplished by having other people participate with the individual who is undergoing the psychodrama. There is, as there is in theater, a “stage” which is simply an area where the a reenactment takes place. The individual who is reenacting the occurrence is called the “protagonist.” To reenact an event, the stage must have enough room for the use of required chairs, tables or other objects required to re-create the scene as it is relived and described by the protagonist. The person trained in psychodrama conducts the process and is known as the “director.” The reenactment they require other people to play roles in the reenactment. They are usually referred to as “the auxiliary.”
There is a “audience.” For lawyers this usually consists of paralegals other lawyers in the firm and people working with the attorney. The person telling the story relives an event by bringing back memories and re-creating it as if it were happening right now.
The steps in accomplishing this by the director involves setting the scene to start with. It’s done by helping the protagonist through questions such as: “where is this happening? Who else is present?” The person should sit or stand in the way in which the event was taking place. They are encouraged to explain what’s happening by questions such as: “what do you see? What are you wearing? What do you hear? What are you doing?” The goal is to re-create the scene as if it were right now.
The protagonist paints a mental image and sets the scene. The next step is to relive the event by recalling the details that may have been long forgotten. The story should be told in the present tense as if it were happening right now: “I see the automobile turning the corner.” The director’s role is to paint a mental image of the event. That includes the emotions at the time such as sight, smell, touch etc. Questions such as “what do you see? How does it smell? What you hear? How do you feel?” More importantly, the event is acted out with the assistance of the director. This process of re-creation is important. The director may use others to assist. For example, if it involves conversations with other people, someone in the audience can act out that rule. The person involved reconstructs the conversation from memory and the other person repeats it as a participant. To help clarify role reversal is a device in which the two momentarily reverse roles.
There are a lot of benefits to psychodrama properly conducted. To start with, the lawyer observer sees the event as if it were occurring now. In an injury case, the reenactment of the events at the time can give clarity to the lawyer as well as helping the client remember forgotten things plus clarify for both of them. Properly conducted, psychodrama has benefits for clients who may be troubled by issues involved in the case. It may help the lawyer understand the mindset of the client. I recommend working with a certified pyscodramatist as an experiment with either client understanding or witness interviewing to see how you feel about the technique.