Psychodrama with the “Children’s Psychodrama-Puppets Kit” A Phenomenological-Dialectic View, by Leni Verhofstadt-Denève (Phd) & Moira Verhofstadt

After our experience with the psychodramatic action-sociogram in young adults, which is based on a semi-directive protocol, we endeavoured to adapt the protocol to young children. We found that a more concrete and playful method was needed to practise psychodrama with children. That is why the Children’s Psychodrama-Puppets Kit was constructed. The main idea inspiring this method is that it enables children to personally identify themselves and their significant others through the choice of the clothes, wigs and mouths for each puppet. The therapist also dresses a puppet for herself or himself. All dialogues between the child-protagonist and others (including the director) take place through the symbolic puppets, which is a less confronting and more playful experience. Children spontaneously take the role of the others when the therapist is questioning the significant-other puppet or symbolic animal. This method makes it possible to apply all basic psychodramatical techniques, such as role taking, role reversing, doubling, mirroring…, in a playful context. This is genuine psychodrama with young children.
After a short theoretical introduction explaining the underlying Phenomenological-Dialectical Personality Model and after illustrating the protocol elaborated for young adults, the practical application of the Psychodrama-Puppets Kit is concretised in playful action during six sessions with a six-year-old girl. This action involves five main stages: (1) Introduction of the kit;
(2) Concretisation of phenomenological reality; (3) Construction of the Ideal Image; (4) Learning process: concrete application; and (5) Feedback and adjustment.

1.Theoretical framework: The Phenomenological-Dialectic Personality Model
Earlier publications give a detailed description of the basic principles of the developmental-focused psychotherapeutic framework, and more in particular the central Phenomenological-Dialectic Personality Model or Phe-Di PModel (Verhofstadt-Denève, 1988; 2000 & 2001a). We shall confine ourselves to the main ideas here (See Fig. 1).

Figure 1a

In this model, phenomenological refers to the unique subjective content and meaning which every human being attaches to themselves and to the world surrounding them. Dialectic refers to the underlying process which causes these contents to be created and to develop.
Starting from man as a PERSON who combines at the same time subject (I) and object (ME), the I is capable of reflecting on and construing the ME, the subjective phenomenological image or story we create about ourselves and the others. In several regards, this division can be compared to William James’s diagram (1961), who divides the SELF into I “the self as experiencing, knowing subject” and me “the self as known object”. Similar approaches are found with Sarbin (1986): the self as “author” versus “observed actor”; Jean Paul Sartre (1949); George Herbert Mead (1964); Anne-Lise Løvlie (1982), and in the narrative approach by Hubert Hermans (2001).
Within the numerous possible I-ME constructions, six dimensions can be identified which each answer a key question: “Who am I?”: Self-Image; “Who would I want to be and become?”: Ideal-Self; “What are the others like?”: Alter-Image; “What should the others be like?”: Ideal-Alter; “What image do the others have of me?”: Meta-Self; “What image should the others have of me?”: Ideal-Meta-Self. These six questions constitute the basis of a therapeutically practicable and ‘living’ personality model consisting of six personality dimensions. For every human being, the starting point is a unique, subjective -phenomenological- interpretation of oneself and one’s surrounding reality at different levels of consciousness, action and time (Verhofstadt-Denève, 2000).
Each dimension can be reflected on from three different time perspectives. We have an image of ourselves as a child, of what we are now, and of what we might become in a future life stage.
Furthermore, an external aspect -what we say and how we act- and an internal aspect -what we think and feel- can be differentiated for the six dimensions. Internal and external contents may be totally different. For instance, an angry adolescent can tell his father: “You’re a fascist, you’re destroying me”, but at the same time think “How can I say such a thing to him… I know he’s only doing for the best.”, cf external Alter-Image versus internal Alter-Image/Self-Image. Therapeutic sessions should give room for expressing such hidden thoughts and feelings.
In our subjective phenomenological constructions of ourselves and the others, we can make “mistakes”. They are represented in Figure 1 via the labels “hypothetically incorrect and unknown zone; unrealistic aspirations and unknown aspects of the ideal situation” (see Verhofstadt-Denève, 2000). For instance, a pretty teenage girl may think she looks horrible because she has a turned-up nose, while most people think her nose is cute. It often happens when people are in love that one adores one’s own subjective construction of a given person -the Alter-Image- and not the real-life individual. The subsequent disillusionment may be hard to cope with! In clinical sessions, it is essential for the therapist to take the client’s subjective phenomenological views as the starting point, however bizarre and unrealistic they may seem. From there onwards, the client himself, supported by a safe therapeutic climate, can discover more adequate -or at least alternative-) constructions about himself and the world.
As stated above, the six personality dimensions, or I-constructions, refer to the personality content resulting from the I-Me reflection. Within the Phe-Di-PModel, the dialectic component refers to the underlying motivational process which makes it possible for contents to be created and to develop (Verhofstadt-Denève, 2007).
An important aspect of this dialectic approach is the positive interpretation of experienced oppositions and crises as a motivating force or at least as a sign of dynamism, psychic activity and personality development. This vision is supported by our own follow-up research and theoretical interpreta­tion via the principles of dialectic developmental psychology (Brown, Werner & Altman, 1998; Conville, 1998; Verhofstadt-Denève, 1985; 1999; 2000; Verhofstadt-Denève & Schittekatte 1999). The assumption is that the six personality dimensions, notably Self-Image/Ideal-Self, Alter-image/Ideal-Alter and Meta-Self/Ideal-Meta-Self should ideally be confronted with each other in a dialectic constructive oppositional relationship. Importantly, rigid constructions of oneself and the other(s) developed in the I-ME reflection can thus be made more flexible and partially integrated. The dialectic processes themselves will be illustrated below through concrete applications of action and drama techniques.
In association with the dialectic component and with a dynamic I-ME reflection, a positive self-appreciation or the feeling of unconditional acceptance of one’s own personality with all its qualities and shortcomings becomes a key condition for personality development. Research by Greenberg, Solomon, e.a. (1992) has shown conclusively that a positive appreciation by self and significant others can also be considered as a buffer against existential fear (Verhofstadt-Denève, 2000). If persons do not feel appreciated by themselves, negative Self-Image; and by others, negative Meta-Self; there is a risk of stagnation or even deterioration of the development process. The dialectic movement may then deteriorate into a “negative dialec­tic”.
The eventual goal of therapy is the development of the person towards maximum self-actualisation by discovering one’s own potentialities and strengths in a harmonious relationship to significant others and the surrounding world.
It is obvious that the I-ME reflection can be activated from within different theoretical frameworks and methods. We prefer action and drama techniques supported by a development-focused psychotherapeutic framework (Verhof­stadt-Denève, 2000; 2001a). In my own work, I rely on the classical psychodrama method elaborated by Moreno and slightly modified by Dean and Doreen Elefthery (Moreno, J.L. & Elefthery, 1982). These modifications are mainly aimed at a more secure application of the method.
This theory can function as a reference frame for clinical practice. The practicability of the theory will be illustrated through the application of a central psychodramatical method: the Action-Sociogram. The application of the Action-Sociogram with young children requires specific accents based on a psychodramatic play therapy-method. We will illustrate the method, starting from a semi-directive protocol for adults and an adapted version for young children, by means of illustrative vignettes.

2. The Action-Sociogram: a semi-directive protocol for youngsters and adults
The Action-Sociogram, or the ‘social atom in action’, is a key psychodramatic method which can be applied with adults and children for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.
Moreno defined the concept of ‘Social Atom’ as the smallest nucleus of all individuals with whom a person is related in a most significant manner constituting negative and/or positive emotional bonds (Moreno, J.L. 1934, 1939; Moreno, J.L. & Moreno, Z.T. 1969). In 1936 he developed the Moreno Social Atom Projective Test, which was later fine-tuned by Treadwell (Treadwell, Leach, & Stein, 1993) and Edwards (1996).
The therapeutic effects are clearly more powerful if the sociometric image or social atom is also effectively put into action (Dayton, 1994; Anderson-Klontz, Dayton & Anderson-Klontz, 1999). This is then called the psychodramatic ‘Action-Sociogram’, in which protagonists chart their significant others in space, through group members or object symbols, in a rational-affective distance to themselves and to each other.
In a second stage, a dialogue is launched in which the protagonist can discover alternative interpretations of himself in relation to significant others, including deceased persons, animals, objects. In clinical settings, similar methods were effectively applied in various therapeutic conditions. For an overview, see Treadwell, Leach, & Stein (1993). The application of the Action Sociogram is in particular indicated for treating serious relational problems.

Parallel to other psychodramatic methods – see Verhofstadt-Denève 1995 and 2001b, for Psychodramatic Dream Work and the application of the Magic Shop respectively – we construed a semi-structured protocol through definable stages in which the protagonist’s absolute freedom to answer is guaranteed at all times. In this section, we will confine ourselves to describing some practical episodes through three stages: (1) Real vs. Ideal Image, (2) Learning process: concrete application, (3) Feedback; illustrated by vignettes. For a more detailed description of the protocol and an in-depth theoretical interpretation, see Verhofstadt-Denève, 2003.

Paula (P), 23, is a university student. She has a 21-year-old brother working as a clerk in the family business (a textile business). Her parents were divorced when she was 19. As an adolescent she got along perfectly with her father: “We were just like a couple in love, he picked me up at school with his convertible…and then we went to the pictures together; mother doesn’t like the cinema, and she liked it that me and my father got on so well; she was always very busy…my friends envied me… my father is an attractive man… but suddenly his attitude changed; he no longer had time for me… he arrived home later and later and… one evening, mum told us they were getting a divorce… father had found ‘the love of his life’… a 20-year-old girl. I’ve hated him ever since… I still can’t understand…one evening I visited him and I hit him, kicked him, bit him, as hard as possible…while that woman was watching, crying… I just was beside myself with anger…That’s four years ago now… he still wishes to see me but I don’t want to see him any more. He caused mum and myself too much grief… I recently met Jack; he’s studying at the university as well… he’s a very sweet boy… but how long will it last?”

In the group she says that she misses the former relationship with her father badly… she wants him back, and then again not: “I hate him and” . This is the theme she wants to tackle. “It’s all so vague, so chaotic… and it hurts…”

Phase A: Reality (A1) versus Ideal Image (A2)
A1. Concretising phenomenological reality (cf. Infrastructure in Phe-Di-PModel)
The director (D.) asks P. to situate herself and her significant others symbolically, by means of chairs and a group member, in the group area; P. places her mother and her boyfriend closest to the I-chair (See Fig. 2). Her father and especially his girlfriend are placed at a great distance. Her brother is located in between the triad: I, Mother, Boyfriend; and the diad: Father, Girlfriend.

Figure 2a

While standing behind the I-chair, Paula presents herself in the I-form, saying: “I’m Paula. I’ve lost a father and this hurts me more than if he’d actually died.”: S e l f – p r e s e n t a t i o n, Self-Image/ t h e s i s1.
D. now asks her to stand behind her father’s symbol, a group member selected by P. for this role, to imagine herself being her father and then to speak as her father in the I-form…
P. as Father: “I’m Paula’s father; I felt in love and could not fight against it… I don’t understand why Paula hates me so much…I keep hoping that she’ll understand me one day…but I fear she no longer wishes to make an attempt at conciliation…”. Paula gets tears in her eyes: R o l e t a k i n g, Alter-Image; Meta-Self / a n t i t h e s i s.
D.: “Now, Paula, stand behind your I-chair and become yourself again… Did you hear what your father said?”
P: “Yes, he’s right, I’m confused… I want him back… and then again not…”: Self-Image / (partial)s y n t h e s i s [a]ii.
During a subsequent dialogue with her father, P. yells at him: “You’re a traitor and you’ve dumped us like pieces of dirt…”
D. to the group members: “You can help P. by doubling her or the antagonist in the I-form.”
A group member now stands behind P. and says: “It’s because I love him so much that I’m so rough to him…”: d o u b l i n g t e c h n i q u e.
P.: “Yes, that’s true… it’s all so very painful… that’s why I go on at him like this” [b].
D.: “Paula, just walk around your social atom. What do you see? Does it correspond to your reality or not?”: m i r r o r i n g t e c h n i q u e.
P: “I’ve never before seen this so clearly… but it’s strange that I haven’t put his girlfriend closer to my father… and my brother, out there on his own in between myself and my father… true, they get along fairly well… Maybe I should put him even a bit closer to father…”
D.: “No problem, Paula, this is your social atom, you’re in charge here.”
P. moves a number of symbols meticulously and in a well-considered manner. She’s obviously enjoying this [c].

A2. Concretising the ideal phenomenological image (see Suprastructure in Phe-Di-PModel)
When D. asks her what she would wish as a – feasible – possibility for the future, Paula moves her father a bit closer to her brother, her boyfriend and herself… she hesitates for her mother… and then she moves her mother closer to the brother-boyfriend-I group, but then at the left-hand side…
P.: “Whatever happens, we’ll never leave mother alone… and father’s girlfriend, well, we’ll just wait and see. Let’s leave her high and dry for the time being”: concretising Ideal Images.
The group’s reaction is positive and amused; the mood is clearly more cheerful and relaxed than at the start.
D.: “That’s fine, Paula, now just imagine what you could do in order to make this project come true. We’ll continue working on this in the next session”.

Phase B: Learning process: concrete application?
After a couple of weeks, Paula says that she’s considering a reconciliation plan and that she wants to try it out here. She was planning to ask her father, via her brother, to meet her on neutral ground, for example in a pub.
At the beginning of the session, the social atom is laid out again, and any developments that have occurred in the meantime are discussed briefly; next, P. chooses group members to play the role of her brother and of her father. P. repeatedly shows how her father and father brother behave, what they say, think and feel… using the s e l f – p r e s e n t a t i o n and r o l e r e v e r s a l actions, amongst other things. At the end of the scene, Paula says: “This feels good,… better than I’d expected… I’m going to try this out next week” [d].
D.: “That’s fine, Paula. Remember that we’re all behind you. Thumbs up, even when things get tough… it can go wrong as well… but if you wish, you can bring it back to the group and we’ll see what we can improve…”

Phase C: Feedback on concrete application and personal adjustment
A fortnight later, P. reports that it didn’t work out as she’s expected, but that she’s made some progress all the same. Father had been a bit moody and cool, he didn’t have much time; P.: “perhaps he’d had a fight with his girlfriend,…” P. laughs; but he did propose to meet her now and again.
After setting up the social atom and discussing it briefly, the scene is enacted, and they examine what the three people present may have felt. And P. concludes: “I feel stronger now, more confident to go on.” To close the session, the social atom is used again to see what could be improved in the future [e].

Theoretical interpretation
[a]iii The main advantage of a role taking is that in such highly intense emotional moments in which one is particularly receptive to information, the protagonist is obliged to empathise with the antagonist, through becoming her own Alter‑Image and Meta-Self. Such an empathic effect is very powerful. The power of this role taking and of the role-reversal as well, probably derives from the dialectic nature of this action process, the physical experience of a double negation through a triadic cycle: thesis, antithesis, synthesis:
In the work with Paula, the activation of powerful dialectic oppositional experiences can be clearly discerned. For instance, in Phase A1 of the Action Sociogram, the progression from (1)Self-Image to (2)Alter-Image – and Meta-Self – and the return to (3)the Self-Image, constitutes a prime example of a triadic dialectic process
The first phase, or t h e s i s, starts with the protagonist’s words out of her Self-Image. She speaks to her father from her self position.
Through role-taking in the second phase, or a n t i t h e s i s, the Self-Image is relegated to the background as the focus shifts to the Alter-Image and Meta-Self. She really changes her position in space and moves effectively to take the place of her father. This is in Hegelian terms the movement of the first negation, or the ‘negation’ of the Self-Image. In fact this is not a real negation of the Self-Image but more a moving of the attentional focus from the self to the other. Through the role-taking, P. becomes her own Alter-Image of the father. During this process, however, the Self-Image historically remains vividly present. This stimulates intense cognitive-affective oppositional experiences between the Self-Image on the one hand and the Alter-Image and Meta-Self, on the other. This strong oppositional experience can be accompanied with a crisis or (in Moreno’s terms) ‘catharsis’ (Kellerman, 1984). This was indeed the case with Paula: she was deeply affected emotionally when she felt her father’s pain and love together with her own feelings toward him.
In the third phase, i.e. the moment of the second negation, or the negation of the Alter-Image/Meta-Self, the protagonist returns, also physically, to the start position and identifies herself again with her Self-Image, i.e. the s y n t h e s i s phase.
Importantly, the experience of conflict during the first negation contains the condition for potential change and the integration of the two opposite poles: the Self-Image versus Alter-Image. After this dialectic movement, both poles have to a certain extent changed or have at least become more sensitive to a more deeply felt I-ME reflection. This can set off re-interpretations and the reorientation of real-life social interactions. In psychodramatic practice, this process is not a rigid triadic movement. It generally is a repeated to-and-fro movement between opposite poles which can generate successive partial syntheses.

[b] Oppositions may also be experienced between subjective phenomenological interpretations of oneself and the world on the one hand, and possible alternative constructions on the other. Starting from the subjective constructions and supported by a secure therapeutic setting, P. can discover more adequate, or at least alternative interpretations, of herself and the world.
These to-and-fro movements between and within the various images will inevitably engender alternative interpretations. However, the suggestions or “doubles” by the therapist and the group members can be highly stimulating as well. Here again, the dialectic twofold negation is discernible, notably in the to-and-fro movement between one’s own interpretation and the suggested – not imposed – content of the doubling, which can provide new insights.

[c] The power of experiencing then resides mainly in its structuring effect and a feeling of control of the situation. P. can literally move the antagonists in space and experience among others through the mirroring technique how these changes are perceived. At the same time, this creates goals for real-life behaviour.

[d] Starting from the same interdimensional construction, the protagonist may experience oppositions between this interrelational situation as experienced at a given point in time and space: see phase A1 and the infrastructure in Figure 1 on the one hand; and the wished-for situation: see phase A2 and the ideal images in Figure 1 on the other. This opposition can be felt very intensively via the Action-Sociogram and be subject to a kind of dialectic synthesis in the intended and performed concrete behaviour: see phases B and C respectively.

[e] All this means that Self-dialogical processes may be supported and intensified if the person, as a multivoiced self, is given the opportunity to move effectively from one I-position to another (Hermans 2001) in order to meet and become the antagonist in a real-life time-space experience. The added value of this method also resides in a profound emotional-cognitive working through of the problem via intensive situational action experiences, followed by learning episodes. In other words: the contextual action-focused methods make it possible to work the problems through thoroughly. This gives the learning episodes a longer-lasting and more effective impact on future thinking and acting.

A question that can be raised is whether this Action Sociogram can also be applied to young children. We will discuss this below in a concrete case-study.

3. The Action-Sociogram: Adaptation for children with the “Children’s Psychodrama-Puppets Kit”

Sarah, a six-year-old girl, only child, parents divorced one year ago, mother has a new partner, who has four-year-old son, Eric. Sarah is very secretive and timid; she has nightmares and has been bedwetting for a month; she’s isolated at school, has no friends, is bullied, no longer wants to go to school. Her teacher is worried – “Her behaviour has changed drastically during the past few months; she cries a lot and doesn’t want to join in with the other children”. Sarah is afraid of her mother’s new partner, although according to the mother he’s very kind to her. Moreover, she’s very aggressive towards the 4-year-old Eric. She is highly jealous of her father’s new partner. Her mother is at her wits’ end and seeks help from a psychologist; “Sarah is really unhappy…I can feel it; and she used to be such a cheerful child…”

Since the assumption is that Sarah’s problems are caused by relational tensions she has not coped with and which are caused by her parents’ divorce, it was opted to apply the Action-Sociogram to Sarah. However, given Sarah’s very low age, a number of explicit adjustments had to be made in the classical psychodramatic method. These adjustments are: working individually instead of in group; probably a slightly longer warming-up phase and more time devoted to developing a safe working relationship with the therapist, this differs from child to child; shorter sessions, max. 45 minutes instead of 90 minutes; Phase A to be split up into two separate sessions, namely phase A1: Reality, and phase A2: Ideal-Image; working with concrete material instead of chairs; very simple questions; more attention to the child’s fantasy world; everything to be done in a playful, secure climate.
In team, the ‘Children’s Psychodrama-Puppets Kit’ was developed specifically for children from five to ten (Verhofstadt-Denève; Dillen; Helskens & Siongers, 2004). This is a therapy set consisting of a metal box containing 10 puppets, which the children can “construct” into significant people and animals from their environment by attaching clothes; wigs: blond, black, grey, dark brown and light brown; and mouths: laughing, discontented or neutral expression, onto the puppets by means of Velcro strips. Friendly animals: dog, cat, kid, etc.; and wild animals: snake, spider, dragon, etc., are also in this kit (see Figure 3).
We will now schematically review the stages Sarah was taken through during the first six 45-minute therapy sessions, with a short vignette for each stage.

● Session 1
I n t r o d u c t i o n
Sarah makes a highly complex drawing of her family – including her step parents; she appears to enjoy the exercise but gives hardly any comments; the mood during the session is warm and familiar. At the end of the session, she is told that there is going to be a surprise for her next week.

● Session 2
I n t r o d u c t i o n of t h e K i t:
D.: “Sarah, do you see this magic box over there? What does it contain, do you think?”
Sarah: “Toys…sweets…a ball…dressing-up clothes…”
She is then asked to open the box and to explore its contents… She’s visibly happy with what she discovers and particularly fancies the dog. She rubs a cuddly toy, a dog as well, against her cheek, “It’s so sweet and soft.”
D.: “What’s his name?”
Sarah: “Blacky, he’s my friend…he sleeps with me.”
During the remainder of the session, she explores the rest of the box and imagines games with people who are attacked by wild animals: snakes, beetles, spiders, dangerous fish; and protected by friendly animals: dinosaur, kid, horse, monkey, dog, etc.

● Session 3
After discussing the previous session, Sarah really wants to start playing with the puppets and clothes; many children want to do so even in session 2 .
D.: “Very well, Sarah, look, I’m going to dress a puppet up for myself. Would you make one for you as well?”
After the construction of herself, all dialogues are conducted exclusively through the Sarah and Director puppets. This is much less threatening than the face-to-face dialogue.

Phase A1: R e a l i t y
– Identification of significant others, from core family
D.: “You and I are going to play with the magic box; with your family… would you like that?” Sarah nods affirmatively. “Can you tell me who they are?”
Sarah: “Mum, Dad, Pop…Mammy, Eric and… Blacky…my sweet little dog.” With Pop as mother’s partner and Mammy as dad’s partner.
D.: “Fine! You can start dressing all of them.” She chooses the clothes, wigs, mouths for the different figures. Strikingly, she gives herself and Mum a pout: “Mum cries a lot, and so do I”: Self-Image/Alter-Image.
D.: “Why?”
Sarah: “Because Dad is no longer living with us.”
– Wonderland
D.: “Let’s now make a distant journey … to Wonderland! Your Wonderland… a place you like, a magic place where the puppets can speak.”
D. together with Sarah, spreads a small carpet on the flour to represent Wonderland.
D.: “You can enter Wonderland now… Where’s the entrance?… What do you see?… Where would you like to sit?”
Sarah shouts with joy…, the entrance is marked by a centipede… she sees mountains, flowers, a little lamb, a horse… a big castle with a prince and a princess. She positions herself, using her puppet, on the highest wall of the castle. She represents the castle by shifting the box towards the edge of Wonderland.
D.: asks, via the director puppet, to Sarah puppet: “Who are you? What are you doing here? What have you been doing today?”
Sarah: “I’m Sarah, I like playing with my little lamb … it’s so nice here …”: current Self-Image.
– Social Atom, Action-Sociogram and The Guard
D.: “Now who is allowed to enter your Wonderland first and who can sit closest to you?”
Sarah: “Mum first!”
D.: “OK Sarah, but not everyone’s allowed to enter just like that. There’s a guard at the gate. Anyone who wants to enter has to ask his permission first.”
Sarah places a dinosaur as the Guard at the gate and says: “I am Dino!”
D. says, via puppet, to Dino: “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
Sarah answers spontaneously as Dino: “I am the big, strong Guard… I decide who can and cannot enter here …” She then lifts the Mum puppet and asks Dino: “May I enter Wonderland?
Sarah as Dino: Yes, Mum, because you’re pretty, gentle, and kind to Sarah”: R o l e t a k i n g the guard and mother: Sarah’s Alter-Images of both.
She then places the Mum puppet as closely as possible to her own puppet on the high castle wall. “We can see everything perfectly from here together…”: Self-Image: me together with Mum.

The introduction of the Guard is very important. He can indirectly express the child’s refusal and prevent any feelings of guilt or fear of punishment with the child if an undesirable person is refused access to Wonderland: the child’s world. The Guard can say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at all times and the child needn’t fear any reprisal.

D. to Mum puppet: “Mum, tell me what do you do all day long?”
Sarah, as Mum: “I go shopping, I take Sarah to school, I cook, I do the ironing, the washing”: R o l e t a k i n g: Alter-Image
D.: “And what do you think of Sarah?”
Sarah: “Sarah is often naughty… she no longer wants to go to school… she doesn’t want to eat… she’s unkind to Eric… she pulls his hair… it makes me sad that she should behave like this”: R o l e t a k i n g: Meta-Self.
D.: “Why is she like that, Mum?”
Sarah, as Mum: “I don’t know… she cries a lot.”
D. to Sarah puppet: “Sarah, did you hear what your Mum said?”
Sarah: “Yes… Eric is allowed to do anything he wants and I’m not…on the swing, reading books… he doesn’t have to go to school… I don’t like that… I don’t like going to school”: Self-Image; cf. third phase in d i a l e c t I c a c t i o n, from being oneself, or Self-Image, to Alter-Image and Meta-Self, back to Self-Image; explanation see [a].
D.: “Who’s allowed to enter your Wonderland?”
Blacky and Dad are then allowed in by the Guard. The dog is given a spot close to Sarah, Dad slightly farther. They are warmly welcomed by D., who asks questions to reveal their Alter-Image and Meta-Self. However, Pop, Eric and Mammy are not allowed in by the Guard. They have to remain outside Wonderland (See Fig. 3).

Figure 3a
D. to the Guard: “Why are those three persons over there not allowed in, Guard?”
Sarah, as Guard: “Sarah prefers being alone with Mum and Dad and Blacky, as it used to be”: Indirect -protected- expression of Self-Image.
D. picks up Eric’s puppet gently and says: “I’m so small, and I would so much want Sarah to be my friend”: D o u b l i n g t e c h n i q u e.
D. to Eric: “Is that right, Eric?”: D o u b l in g c h e c k; doublings are always informal proposals, their correctness should always be checked.
Sarah, as Eric: “Yes, I’d like that, but Sarah doesn’t want to be my friend.” : R o l e t a k i n g: Meta-Self; this confirms that the doubling formulated by D. has been perceived as correct by Sarah; first empathic reaction; explanation see [b]

– Overall reflection
D. “Sarah, step over here”; D. takes Sarah by the hand and ask her to reflect on her Wonderland while standing up; “Look at your Wonderland, who’s allowed in and who isn’t.”: M i r r o r i n g t e c h n i q u e.
“Would you like to change anything?” [c]…. “Would you like to say something to someone, because we’re going to leave now.”
Sarah: “Nothing should change.” And to her Dad she says: “Dad, when will you come back to Mum?… And Mum and Sarah, you can laugh now while you’re sitting so close to each other”, she changes the two mouths into the laughing mouths.
D.: “Sarah, if you wish we will play with the Magic Box again next time.”
Sarah: “Cool! And we’ll go to Wonderland again, shall we?”
The puppets are then ‘de-symbolised’. “They all become ordinary puppets again and are put into the box.”

● Session 4
Phase A2: I d e a l I m a g e
– Review of previous session
When entering the therapy room, Sarah spontaneously moves over to the box and sets up her family in Wonderland as she did the previous week. Pop, Eric and Mammy are still not allowed in by the Guard.
– Ideal
D. “Sarah, watch your Wonderland from here once again; this is your Wonderland… you’re the magician… if you wish you can change things… as you’d want them to be …”: M i r r o r in g t e c h n i q u e.
Sarah: “… I’d like to become friends with Eric.”, She picks up the Guard and says in his stead: “Hi Eric, if you want you can enter now and play with Sarah.” Sarah places Eric right in front of her. R o l e t a k i n g
D.via own puppet to Eric: “Well, Eric, what do you say; you’re allowed to enter Sarah’s Wonderland now.”
Sarah, as Eric: “I’m happy, but I’m also a bit scared, Sarah is so big and she always hurts me.”:
R o l e t a k i n g : Alter-Image/Meta-Self.
D. to Eric: “What would you want Sarah to do?”
Sarah, as Eric: “To play with me” [d].
This ends the session. To prepare the next session (the learning phase) Sarah is asked to imagine the things they could do together which Eric might like…

●Session 5
Phase B: L e a r n i n g p r o c e s s: concrete application?
Sarah remembers exactly what happened during the previous session: Eric was allowed in but was a bit afraid of her. She had no solution. After a dialogue with Eric, she suggests playing with soldiers with him in his wigwam. This is enacted by means of the puppets, and Sarah also brings her pet dog, Blacky, into the wigwam.
The sessions ends with the proposal to play like this “for real” with Eric one day or other.

●Session 6
Phase C: F e e d b a c k a n d a d j u s t m e n t
Sarah says that she didn’t play with Eric at all in the wigwam but that they went on a trip to an amusement park and that she had a ride with Eric on the merry-go-round and played on various other attractions. Pop was there as well. It was a nice day and Mum had laughed a lot. Sarah was sad that Dad wasn’t there, but she’d called him in the evening and he’d promised her to take her and Mammy to the amusement park as well [e]. She thought that was great, although she doesn’t like Mammy at all. “The Guard will certainly not let her enter my Wonderland…”

In this session and the following one, Self and significant others are presented and discussed in (problem) situations in a playful manner, using puppets and animals. Her mother notices a marked improvement socially, but bedwetting persists, although to a lesser extent. The relationship with her stepmother remains tense as well.

After a brief presentation of the theoretical framework, we described the psychodrama action-sociogram, supported by a semi-directive protocol, and illustrated its practical application with a client who had relational problems vis-à-vis her father. On this basis, we demonstrated how this action-sociogram can be applied to young children using the Children’s Psychodrama Puppets Kitiv. We tried to illustrate that a child-oriented methodology makes it possible to apply psychodrama and most central psychodramatic techniques to children. The article focuses on the description of the underlying processes, and especially of the experience of oppositions, underpinned by the dialectical process as the driving force of developmental processes, therapeutic ones in particular.
For more information, the reader is referred to the following literature which complements and further investigates the topics under discussion: for background theory: Verhofstadt-Denève (2000); for the protocol and the elaboration of the Social Atom for adults: Verhofstadt-Denève (2003); for the protocol as adapted to children: Verhofstadt-Denève, Dillen, Helskens, Siongers, (2004); for the description and illustration of dialectical developmental processes: Verhofstadt-Denève (2007); for the importance of the existential perspective in therapy: Verhofstadt-Denève (2000).

Anderson-Klontz, B.T., Dayton, T., & Anderson-Klontz, L.S. (1999) ‘The use of psychodramatic techniques within solution-focused brief therapy: A theoretical and technical integration’, International Journal of Action Methods, 52, 113-120.
Brown, B., Werner, C.M. & Altman, I. (1998) ‘A Dialectical-Transactional Perspective on Close Relationships’, In B.M. Montgomery & L.A. Baxter (Eds.), Dialectical Approaches to Studying Personal Relationships (pp. 137-183). Mahwah, New Jersey, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,Publishers.
Conville, R. (1998) ‘Telling Stories: Dialectics of Relational Transition’, In B.M. Montgomery & L.A. Baxter (Eds.), Dialectical Approaches to Studying Personal Relationships (pp. 17-40). Mahwah, New Jersey, London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,Publishers.
Dayton, T. (1994) The drama within. Psychodrama and experiential therapy. Deerfield Beach,
Florida: Health Communications.
Edwards, J. (1996) ‘Examining the clinical utility of the Moreno social atom projective test’ Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, 49, 51-75.
Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., Rosenblatt, A., Burling, J., Lyon, D., Simon, L. & Pinel, E. (1992) ‘Why do people need self-esteem? Converging evidence that self-esteem serves an anxiety-buffering func­tion’, Journal of Personality and Social Psycho­logie, 6, 913-922.
Hermans, H.J.M. (2001) ‘The dialogical self: Toward a theory of personal and cultural Positioning’, Culture and Psychology, 7, 243-281.
James, W. (1961) Psychology: The briefer Course. New York: Dover (first edition in 1890).
Løvlie, A.-L. (1982) The Self, yours, mine or ours ? A dia­lectic view. Oslo: Universi­tetsforlaget.
Mead, G.H. (1964) ‘On social psychology’, Selected Papers, Edited and with an Introduction by A.
Strauss. Chi­cago, London: The University of Chicago Press.
Moreno, J.L. (1934) Who shall survive? A new approach to the problem of human interrelations. Washington DC: Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing.
Moreno, J.L. (1936) ‘Organization of the social atom’, Sociometric Review, 4, 10-13.
Moreno, J.L. (1939) ‘Psychodramatic shock therapy: A sociometric approach to the problem of mental disorders’ (Psychodrama monograph No. 5). Beacon, NY: Beacon House.
Moreno, J.L. & Moreno, Z.T. (1969) Psychodrama. Action Therapy and Principles of Practice. Beacon, New York: Beacon House (Vol.3).
Moreno, J.L., & Elefthery, D.G. (1982) ‘An introduction to group psychodrama’, In G.M. Gazda (Ed.), Basic ap­proaches to group psychotherapy and group counse­ling. Springfield IL.: Charles C. Thomas.
Sarbin,T.R. (1986) ‘The narrative as a root metaphor for psychology’, In T.R. Sarbin (Ed.), Narrative Psychology: The storied nature of human conduct (pp.3-21). New York: Praeger.
Sartre, J.-P. (1949) L’être et le néant. Essai d’ontolo­gie phénoménologique. Paris: Gallimard.
Treadwell, T.W., Leach, E., & Stein, S. (1993) ‘The Social Networks Inventury: A diagnostic instrument measuring interpersonal relationships’, Small Group Research, 24, 155-178.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L. (1985) ‘Crises in Adolescence and Psycho‑social Development in Yo­ung Adult­hood. A seven‑year Follow‑up Study from a Dia­lectical View­point’, In C.J. Brainerd & V.F. Reyna (Eds.), Develop­mental Psy­cho­logy (pp. 509-522). Am­sterdam, New York: Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., North Holland.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L. (1988) ‘The Phenomenal‑Dialectical Personality Model. A frame of Reference for the Psychodramatist’, Journal of Group Psy­chotherapy Psychodrama & Sociometry, 41­, 3‑20.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L. (1995) ‘ How to work with Dreams in Psychodrama: Developmen­tal Therapy
from an Existential-Dialectical Viewpoint’, International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 45 (3), 405-435.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L. (1999) ‘Action- and Drama-Techniques with Adolescent ­Victims of Violence. A Developmental Therapeutic Model’, International Journal of Adolescent Medecine and Health. 11, 351-367.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L. (2000) Theory and Practice of Action and Drama Techniques. Developmental Psychotherapy from an Existential-Dialectical Viewpoint. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L. (2001a) ‘Affective processes in a Multivoiced Self in Action’, In H. Bosma & S. Kunnen (Eds.), Identity and Emotions: A Self-Organizational Perspective (pp. 141-150). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L. (2001b) ‘The “Magic Shop” Technique in Psychodrama: An Existential-Dialectical View’, The International Journal of Action Methods, 53, 3-15.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L. (2003) ‘The psychodramatical “social atom method”: Dialogical self in dialectical action’, Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 16, 183-212.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L. (2007). Existential-dialectical Psychodrama: The Theory behind Practice. In:
C. Baim, J. Burmeister & M. Maciel (Eds.), Psychodrama. Advances in Theory and Practice (pp.111-126). New York: Brunner/Routledge.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L. & Schittekatte, M. (1999) ‘Adolescenten, 15 jaar later…’, [Adolescents 15 years later…] Nederlands Tijdschrift voor de Psychologie en haar Grensgebieden. 54, pp. 13-30.
Verhofstadt-Denève, L.; Dillen, L.; Helskens, D.; Siongers, M. (2004) ‘The psychodramatical “social atom method” with children: A developing dialogical self in dialectic action’, In: H. Hermans, & G. Dimaggio (Eds), The Dialogical Self in Psychotherapy (pp. 152-170), Hove East Sussex/ New York: Brunner – Routledge.

Leni Verhofstadt-Denève (Dec. 25, 1940°) is a psychodrama trainer in Belgium (PhD).
•Since 1974 Prof. in theoretical and clinical developmental psychology at Ghent University. Head of the Department of Developmental, Personality and Social Psychology.
Trained in clinical psychodrama a.o. by Dean and Doreen Elefthery; CP and TEP (Netherlands-Belgian board). Organised for more than 25 years, theoretical and practical psychodrama courses at Ghent University. Author of several international books and articles on psychodrama from an existential-dialectical framework and theoretical and clinical developmental psychology. Retired in October 2006.
•Currently: a.o. Coordinator of a postgraduate course in Experiential-Dialectical Psychodrama for clinical psychologists at the University of Antwerp (Part of a specialized training in Child and Adolescent Experiential-Developmental Psychotherapy)
Founder and director of the School for Experiential-Dialectical Psychodrama (training institute: member of FEPTO).
Active as trainer in CP and TEP Learning Circles (the Netherlands-Belgian board)
In cooperation with a research-team: Elaboration and construction of the “Children’s Psychodrama- puppets Kit” for Psychodrama with children from 3 years on (Info:
•Member of several international evaluation committees: a.o. Psychology of Science and Technology Portugal; Nordic Research Councils for the Humanities and Social Science: (evaluation and selection of the Nordic Centre of Excellence in the five Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden); Academy of Finland: evaluation and selection of the national centre of excellence.
•Leading functions and activities in International conferences: a.o Chair: International congress of conflict and development in adolescence; Second International Conference on Dialogical Self (SICDS); 18th meeting of the International Society of Behavioural Development (more than 1300 participants). Invited keynote speaker: International Conference on Health and Culture in Adolescence (Jerusalem); 3th World congress on Psychotherapy (Vienna); Third International Conference on Dialogical Self (Warsaw) etc..; many international invitations for psychodramaworkshops and lectures.
•Member of many editorial boards and evaluation of manuscripts, a.o. International Journal of Behavioral Development; International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health; European Psychotherapy. Scientific Journal for Psychotherapeutic Research and Practice.
•Functions and awards: a.o. National President of the Belgian Psychological Society (1987-1991); Francqui Chair, University of Brussels (1988-‘89); Award of the Flemish community for a scientific work [Psychology of Adolescence] (1994); Committee member of the Belgian National Foundation of Scientific Research (1983-2004); Member of the National Committee of Psychology at the Belgian Royal Academy of Science and the Arts (1993- ,Vice president 2003- ); Member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Science and the Ats (1997- ).

Author’s address: Bergwegel 74, B-9820 Merelbeke, Belgium

Moira Verhofstadt is Certified Practitioner Psychodrama (CP/ The Netherlands-Belgium Board) and founder of the Centre of Psychodrama & Psychotherapy, Pittem, Belgium. She practises Psychodrama therapy with sexual delinquents and with detainees and gives psychodramatraining sessions also in collaboration with the School for Experiential-Dialectical Psychodrama. Holder of The European Certificate of Psychotherapy (EAP).

Author’s address: Plattebeursstraat 5, B-8740 Pittem, Belgium.

FEPTO Conference

17th FEPTO Conference:
From External Violence to Internal Shadow: When Psychodrama Helps To
Confront Reality

5th to 7th of May, 2023
Liege, Belgium

» Invitation

» Provisionally program

» Call for workshop facilitators

» Online registration


Annual Meeting

29th FEPTO AM:
Spontaneity and Creativity in the Transforming World
30 years of FEPTO and beyond

7th to 11th of May, 2023
Liege, Belgium

» Invitation

» Provisionally program

» Online registration



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