A group therapy approach in which clients act out their problems to gain new insights and achieve emotional catharsis.
Role playing was developed by Jacob Moreno, a Viennese psychologist who contended that people could gain more from acting out their problems than from talking about them. This method requires a protagonist (the client whose problems are being acted out); auxiliary egos (group members who assume the roles of other people in the protagonist's life); an audience (other group members who observe and react to the drama); and a director (the therapist). The protagonist selects an event from his or her life and provides the information necessary for it to be reenacted. Although every detail of the event cannot be reproduced, the reenactment can be effective if it captures the essence of the original experience. The group members who serve as auxiliary egos impersonate significant people from the protagonist's past or present, following the protagonist's instructions as closely as possible. Techniques used in the reenactment may include role reversal, doubling, mirror technique, future projection, and dream work.
The therapist, acting as facilitator and director, assists the protagonist in orchestrating the scene, offers emotional support, enlists the audience's response, and helps the protagonist gain new insights from the experience. Immediately preceding the reenactment is a warmup period designed to prepare all the participants for the experience by motivating them and establishing a safe and trusting atmosphere. After the reenactment, members of the audience discuss their reactions to the reenactment, including ways that it touched on their own experiences. Encouragement and support is offered to the protagonist, as well as suggestions for responding to the problems dealt within the reenactment.
Role playing is sometimes employed in a combination of techniques in other types of therapy, such as Gestalt therapy. The client may role play with the therapist in an individual treatment session or with group members in group therapy.