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Published:May 18th, 2010 10:15 EST
Dr. Daniel Tomasulo on Psychodrama and Therapy

Dr. Daniel Tomasulo on Psychodrama and Therapy

By Ernest Dempsey


There are few books with every page and each passage as much enjoyable, informative, and uplifting as Daniel J. Tomasulo`s memoir Confessions of a Former Child (Graywolf Press, 2008). The book relives scenes from the author`s childhood and grownup years with a flair for healing and growing via conversation and acting out roles from real life. Dr. Tomasulo, a psychologist and psychodrama trainer, is pioneer of the Interactive Behavioral Therapy approach to healing from psychological disorders. I had the honor to interview this brilliant psychologist for our quarterly journal Recovering the Self (Volume 2, No 2). Here is an excerpt from the interview. The complete interview can be found in the journal which is available online at   


Ernest: Danny, your book sparks interest in learning about psychodrama. Would you like to tell a little about this therapeutic approach and why you chose it for specialization? 

Daniel: Psychodrama is an action oriented form of therapy developed by Jacob Levy Moreno in the early part of the 1900s in Vienna. As a younger contemporary of Freud, he introduced this dynamic form of therapy as an alternative. Indeed, there is a record of a meeting between Freud and Moreno, when Freud was trying to recruit physicians to become disciples of his psychoanalytic method. Moreno was said to have responded to Freud: You put people on the couch and analyze their dreams. I put people on the stage and teach them to dream again. " It is this hopeful, positively oriented methodology that has captured my interest. Most people don`t realize that psychodrama was the original form of group therapy, and that, in fact, it was Moreno who coined the term Group Therapy " in the early 1930s.  He actually formed the first self-help group (prior to the development of AA and 12-step groups) in Vienna helping prostitutes cope with the conditions in their lives. 

Psychodrama, in essence, is psychodynamic therapy with action (role playing) methods designed to enhance impact and understanding. It is an experiential form of therapy, meaning that rather than simply cognitive or insight-oriented therapeutic efforts, the main healing effect comes from a shift in how one experiences or sees their emotional world. I was originally not interested in being a clinician and  was trained as a researcher and sought a career in academia. Some of my original research interests were in Imagery, and Dr. Jerome Singer at Yale invited me to speak about my research and then take part in a demonstration of psychodrama. That was in the early 80s and I never looked back. I started training immediately after seeing the demonstration and changed my focus to counseling psychology. 

Ernest: What are some of the psychological disorders in which psychodrama is used today as an effective therapy and where does it prove not so effective? 

Daniel: Although psychodrama is used for a myriad of psychological maladies, it is primarily associated with the group therapy, meaning it can be used in any forum where group therapy is employed. However some of its more widely know uses have been in the treatment of trauma and addictions. While there are many fine researchers and authors in this field, Dr. Tian Dayton is one who has made a significant contribution to the field of addictions through her writings, and Dr. Kate Hudgins has done similarly with trauma. Both are highly sought-after psychodramatists.

The lack of effectiveness of psychodrama may have more to do with a participant`s readiness for the power and depth of the methodology, rather than the type of condition they manifest. It is often that a psychodramatist will have to build a support network with the patient that will allow the experiential nature of the therapy to be properly integrated. In this regard, it is likely to be a method employed in gradations that match an individual`s relative readiness. The assessment of a client`s readiness is part of one`s clinical training as a psychodramatist. 

Ernest: What is one special feature of psychodrama that, in your opinion, gives it an advantage over other kinds of therapies?

Daniel: What psychodrama does is activate more of the senses as a therapeutic avenue than most other therapies. In cognitive therapy, the emphasis is on changing thoughts to change how we feel; in Gestalt, the focus is on the purging of feelings in the now; in traditional psychoanalysis, it is insight into the unconscious process; and in a more eclectic psychodynamic therapy, the work is understanding of the forces that cause our way of being, often with a detailed look at the core issues as they emerged in the family of origin. But insight is simply not enough. Psychodrama incorporates all of these features of the other therapies as part of the methodology with the added feature of enactment. We can re-enact the emotional experience of a participant while understanding their thoughts, feelings, and motivations, and then conduct a corrective drama in which all of those original experiences can be recast into a new paradigm for an individual`s understanding. Change happens as a result of corrective enactments in this type of therapy.