-Ray Holland, MS, LMHC, LPC
Almost by definition, addiction is experienced as an inescapable shock, imprisoning you and conveying a pervasive “felt sense” of learned helplessness.
That’s important to fully grasp because it helps explain why, as the emotional ice cube melts in rehab, one of the hardest tasks is to gain any emotional sobriety. Your nervous system is triggered into remembrances of overwhelm. Making it worse, a strange time travel happens sometimes, as unresolved memories feel like they are happening now. Pain, terror, panic, grief. Talk therapy can help, but it has its limitations.
Consider the above as a prelude for what I want to talk about: Psychodrama.
We use more than one type of therapy at Pavillon that is focused on providing a new sense of emotional freedom. But, I have found, psychodrama is particularly helpful for addictions and trauma.
This therapeutic method was invented by Jacob Levy Moreno, and is the earliest form of group therapy, maybe the purest form of group therapy. The goal is to create an experience that draws on what Moreno believed were the propelling forces in human progress: Spontaneity and Creativity expressed with love and mutual sharing in order to create a “super dynamic community.”
As you can imagine, it is very hard to explain “an experience.” But most of the time it is a dramatic and powerful experience, not for the faint of heart.
Did you know that psychodrama has been used in the training of trial lawyers?
In 1994 Gerry Spence started an intensive trial advocacy course at his 34,000 acre Thunder Ranch in Dubois Wyoming, which is now known as the Trial Lawyer’s College. In Give Me Liberty, Spence describes how trial lawyers are put through days of psychodrama , “By the end of their experience, we have witnessed a miracle….They have learned to tell the truth, not only about their case but about themselves. They have learned the power of credibility.” They “crawl into the hides” of the witnesses on the stand, their clients, their opponents, the judge and the jurors.
At Pavillon, through psychodrama, the men and women in Extended Care also experience each other’s stories from the inside out and learn the power of credibility in a way that is difficult to articulate. It does often seem miraculous.
In each session, the group travels with one person—called the protagonist—who has what Moreno calls an “act hunger,” a willingness and the courage to journey back to their worst wounds. Pain, terror, panic, grief. At whatever pace they need, the protagonist enters into the internal drama. It is necessarily emotional. In fact, the neurobiologist tell us that “what fires together wires together,” meaning that it requires emotional energy to begin to rewire our neural pathways.
It takes courage to be the protagonist and move to your darkest nights of the soul. But it also takes courage for group members to stay engaged in the face of such strong emotion.
In the end I am always struck by what has unfolded. I would certainly agree with Moreno’s description. Any resolution in a psychodrama draws on the spontaneity and creativity of the whole group to carry the protagonist, always with love and mutual sharing, out of their helpless enslavement into a super dynamic community, That kind of indescribable experience just might help you stay sober.