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From ‘having to’ to ‘wanting to’...

How psychodrama can help bring about behavioural change

Behavioural changes in organisations are easier said than done. Because real behavioural change involves the risk of having to change. That's why it takes courage. Psychodrama can help employees get over their resistance. What exactly is it and how can it contribute to change?

"A major government research agency is facing new regulations. Having had negative publicity about the demonstrability of their research findings, the institute is keen to show the outside world that they do adhere to established methods. The problem this organisation faces is that it employs all highly trained professionals who are not used to the discipline of adhering to procedures and feel strong resistance to this. A transformation is therefore needed in the actions, feelings and thinking of employees as well. "

The “normal” approach to such change issues is that there will be a lot of meetings and a lot of talking. The problem with this is that a lot of opposition remains beneath the surface. Techniques from psychodrama can be used excellently in such a case to bring about cultural change. Psychodrama is a playful, active and experiential method for personal development in groups. Problems are elaborated through drama play.

The creation of psychodrama

Psychodrama was developed around 1910 by Viennese psychiatrist J.L. Moreno. He had a habit of telling stories to children in parks and having them depict events in groups. Later, he and a group of adults developed the Stehgreiftheater where people staged events of the day. A young actress who participated in this regularly, one of the “stars” of the audience, noticed that her marriage improved by playing and later reviewing certain roles. For Moreno, this prompted him to derive the techniques for psychodrama from it.

How does psychodrama work?

A range of conflicting convictions are at play inside each of us. We are tossed back and forth by opposing standards, expectations and experiences that live inside us. In psychodrama, these dramatic scenes are depicted. Under the direction of the psychodrama leader, the protagonist works on their problem. Their inner dialogues, tensions and intrapsychic conflicts take centre stage. By letting these inner dilemmas "come alive" outside themselves, they are better able to face themselves and confront different aspects of their personality.

"In the case of those large government institutions, we let people express their aggression and resistance through role-plays. It becomes clear that conflicting beliefs are masked under this aggression. On the one hand, people feel resistance; on the other, they are also aware of the reasonableness of the desired system. We make the two beliefs visible by giving them a voice. As a result, resistance becomes manageable and comes to a resolution. The risk that the system would become a 'paper tiger' and that all the energy put into it would be wasted money is thus greatly reduced."

Psychodrama thus brings hidden, psychological thought patterns "to life", so to speak. The experience provides players with a clearer and more realistic view of themselves as well as the environment. As a result, employees become freer to interact with others and more effective in their performance.

Why psychodrama techniques are so powerful

Behavioural changes are difficult because there are often inner voices resisting this change. Getting to know what's inside you is far from easy, because this encounter involves a risk: you see aspects of yourself that you normally prefer not to see. In general, "engaging" with neglected parts of themselves does not leave people unmoved: it changes their self-image, but also the image of how others should be. Psychodrama is very effective here, as it generates a powerful learning effect and lowers the threshold to look at oneself. Here are five reasons why the techniques of psychodrama have such a powerful effect:

  1. They force emotional engagement. Psychodrama can hardly be experienced "without obligation". The dramatic nature creates a fierce learning effect that is long lasting. Going back to the situation before that will be really hard.

  2. They are holistic in nature: they simultaneously approach the individual in their thinking, feeling and doing. This makes psychodrama a very natural and complete way of learning.

  3. They enhance spontaneity and creativity. In a neutral, safe situation, employees can examine situations, reflect on their own feelings and practise more effective behaviour. This opens up perspective on what is possible, where at first only one way of responding seemed possible.

  4. They are truthful. In the game, reality comes to life, and even more than that, as the emotional barrier also comes to the surface. As a result, employees are better able to connect with what is going on inside them.

  5. They are accompanied by humour and playfulness. This has a threshold-reducing effect: they reduce resistance to taking action and they facilitate focus on the actual, underlying problem.

The results of psychodrama

Precisely because of its powerful effect, psychodrama can effectively contribute to better cooperation. It can produce the following effects in people:

  • Employees gain a better understanding of each other

  • Employees are more capable of self-management and self-reliance

  • Employees are better able to choose their own behaviour

  • They have an increasing capacity for self-reflection and personal growth

  • They are more willing to look at their own part in the problem

  • Their knowledge and visions can be better utilised

  • More mutual openness and trust is created between stakeholders


In summary, psychodrama offers a powerful stimulus to new behaviour and attitudes. Employees develop the courage to change behaviour. They learn to be able to function more freely and effectively. In other words: "The more I know myself, the better I can face the other and any change in my situation freely and openly."

Would you like to know more about how psychodrama can also make a difference in your organisation? Request an informal introductory meeting.


“Gruppenpsychotherapie und Psychodrama. Einleitung in die Theorie und Praxis”. Jacob L. Moreno. Georg Thieme Verlag Stuttgart, New York, 1993.


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