Dialogues and mirroring – Psychodrama and Imago

In an earlier post I tried to capture a thought I had about dialogues. I was pleased to know someone read it and emailed me to say they were a bit confused. No wonder, I just pour out something I think about late at night — when I should be fast asleep!

I will describe more clearly how I work with couples by unpacking what I think are important ideas in a snippet from the earlier post.

I like to distinguish the words of the initiator of the dialogue, the protagonist, from the response by the person who is listening, the receiver, who I encourage to think of themselves as an auxiliary.

The problem is that I’m using language from two psychotherapeutic modalities. I imagine this makes no sense to anyone really, as there are very few psychodramatists who are also Imago Relationship Therapists. Even to someone who has that background it is still a muddled sentence.

Let me start again. First I’ll use Imago terms and then I’ll describe the same work using psychodrama language.

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How do I respond, can I say anything?

When learning to dialogue people often ask how to respond to their partner after they have listened to their first “send”. What do I say, can I say anything? 

Response is central to relating. Is everything a response to the previous thing? Perhaps, but I like to distinguish the words of the initiator of the dialogue, the protagonist, from the response by the person who is listening, the receiver, who I encourage to think of themselves as an auxiliary. In responding as an auxiliary, we are not asking for anything. Of course the sender (or protagonist) might listen and mirror the response, but as a responder it is useful to keep the mind-set of an auxiliary, then the response is a form of mirroring in that the protagonist can see how they impact on the other person.

A response will reveal to the protagonist who how they are received. A response may also reveal something about the listener. Self disclosure as it is known in counselling jargon. As long as the auxiliary stance is maintained it can be useful, as long as its not all ‘Me, me, me.’ Good self disclosure on the part of the listener means the protagonist will know they are speaking with a person.  A response that is well done will have the protagonist nodding, relaxing, learning about themselves and ready to open up more about themselves. They will not feel alone and trust will build. A full response will enliven the dance, create a rich space between the two, filled with meaning.

To encourage this when they ask: What do I say, can I say anything? I offer something like this:

What was most exciting to you in what you just heard.
What touched you most deeply.
One thing I have learned about you.
What I found valuable in what I heard.

Enlarge on your response.

Small phrases in the form of lead lines or instructions are essential tools in counselling and therapy. It is astounding the difference wording can make. In this post I reflect on an instruction to the person who is responding in a dialogue.

Enlarge on your response.

I like this instruction. I typically use this in couple therapy when one partner says something like, ‘I like listening to what you said.’ I could use a lead line such as, ‘One thing I liked about it…’ or ‘When you talked about my parenting I felt…’, sometimes that is fine. However the instruction, ‘Enlarge on your response.’ is more open ended. They might say, ‘When you say you learn a lot from the way I parent our children my heart leaps with joy.’ Anything is possible with the idea of enlargement.

It is a challenging instruction, and if I think the person is not able to meet the challenge of the instruction I will guide them with a lead line that prompts them to give something more.

Psychodrama Training for Couple Therapists

The workshop I will be running for counsellors and therapists this year has gone up on the CITP website. It is run under the auspices of the Psychodrama training institute, and I’m pleased that this workshop I ran for the first time in Blenheim in November has a niche in the psychodrama setting.

I will also be doing a 3 hr workshop at the Brisbane ANZPA Psychodrama Conference this month.

Details of the July Christchurch workshop follow:

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Mirroring is a word used in both the Psychodrama and Imago modalities. In a classic psychodrama the protagonist returns to the audience and is companioned by the conductor of the drama, who instructs the auxiliary egos to re-enact the scene. This can be done for a variety of reasons. One is to reveal to the protagonist how their actions look from another perspective. Another reason might be at the end of a drama or role training session for the protagonist to see the new development in their being. The mirroring in the Imago sense shares these purposes though the form different.

I’m finding it helpful to think of two mirror positions.

1. Face to face

2. Spectator

Here is a quote from Moreno highlighting the spectator mode.

The technique of the mirror ‘portrays’ the body image and the unconscious of A at a distance from him so that he can see himself. The portrayal is done by an auxiliary ego, who has made a close study of A. … In the mirror technique the protagonist is a spectator, an onlooker, he looks at the psychological mirror and sees himself. Fig 4(Moreno, J.L., 1959, p. 53).

Here is an example from Peter Kellerman:

“.. Bob presented a scene in which he quarreled with his wife. He stated his case and argued that she did not pay enough attention to him and neglected his needs. A woman in the role of his wife presented the other side of the story, throwing fuel on the already overheated marital conflict. And so it went on in what seemed to be an endless battle of words and accusations. The director used the mirror technique in an effort to break the deadock. He asked Bob to step out of the scene and watch it all from the outside (as if in a mirror), with another man playing the role of himself.

Watching the fight as a spectator, Bob listened carefully to both partners. ” Page 92

Peter Kellerman also gives an example of mirror that is face to face.

A group member to another: When I meet you, I feel enriched. Because you look at me from another perspective. Page 92

The purpose of mirroring

I can see two broad, slightly different purposes of mirroring.

1. Revelation

2. Validation

The first is so the person can see themselves either from a new perspective or how others see them. The second is to assist the person to have a sense of being seen and understood,and having value.

Both types have an existential quality, the person will get a sense they exist.

Mirroring becomes a very broad category we think of the whole field. As the term is used in all these ways within psychodrama and in other modalities I think it is useful to be able to distinguish the various processes that are called mirroring. Most examples of mirroring would fit into one of the following four combinations of form and purpose.

  Face to face Spectator

Zerka Moreno on Doubling and Tele

Still thinking about the interpsyche – and found this passage from Zerka Moreno in the Psychodrama Network News from the American Society of group Psychotherapy and psychodrama 2005 I now see the difference between empathy and doubling. Doubling in its conception includes the relationship, it is not the intuition of the therapist directly but the voice of the interpsyche – the relationship between two people.

But there is another, more important, aspect of McGaw’s presentation. When he speaks about how his doubling with a protagonist is so often correct, he interprets this as due to his intuitive ability. When pressed by Rogers to explain it more specifically while speaking of his own power in that respect, he refers to it as his “empathy.” Unfortunately, he overlooks the contribution to the process by the protagonist, as if it all comes out of the therapist’s psyche, that of a single mind. By unfortunate I mean that this is just the area of Moreno’s contribution, namely to have pointed out that it is the interaction between people – tele – resulting in the “inter-psyche,” the space between people, that is the foundation of his and our work. This observation, more than anything else McGaw speaks of, tells me he has not really grasped Moreno’s message. It is our emphasis on the moment, the here and now, the spontaneity of the protagonist, the interaction of minds, that distinguishes our own field from that of individual psychology, a lesson we must never overlook.

Zerka Moreno makes it so clear psychodrama is a relational not an individual method.

Recently while teaching doubling it was clear the person was trying to think what the other person was thinking. Close, but not quite it. I said… let yourself be him, become him, breathe like him, sit like him, look at the world through his eyes and then voice what comes up, you won’t be guessing, you don’t have a choice about what comes up.

The doubling was then noticeably different even though not always exactly right.


Later: Saturday, 6 October, 2012

I’m now (post the Dan Wile workshop) thinking the phrase above, “you don’t have a choice about what comes up” is right, but not enough.

Many things will come up and it is useful to choose to voice those things that are progressive for the protagonist, such things as empathy for another person, declaring an inner struggle, claiming the validity of experience.

Judgement of others, blaming and self righteous anger may also come up. They could be ignored, but if they feature strongly they could be moderated with such phrases as: I know this is might not be easy for you to hear. I wish I had a way of expressing this more constructively. I have been sitting on this for a long time and my intention is to bring it out to improve the relationship.

Later: Sunday, 29 November 2015

…this is just the area of Moreno’s contribution, namely to have pointed out that it is the interaction between people – tele – resulting in the “inter-psyche,” the space between people, that is the foundation of his and our work.

This makes it so clear that Moreno had the relational paradigm, he did not call it that and he often slips into thinking of individuals, yet he is so instrumental in this as an influence on Buber and then Harville Hendrix and Hedy Schleifer.

Psychodrama and Psychotherapy – Resources

This post is just for BOTH psychodrama and psychotherapy – see als Psychodrama – Resources and Psychotherapy – Resources. I’ll add more as I discover more.

A comparison of psychoanalytic and
psychodramatic theory from a
psychodramatist’s perspective

abstract A comparison of Freud’s and Moreno’s theories with regard to their implications
for psychodrama therapy. Basic differences in the theories are discussed with special regard to
therapist role, transference and tele, insight and catharsis, the time concept, the body, and
developmental psychology. Other topics treated are concepts of drive or energy, psychic structure
and role theory, psychic determinism contra the doctrine of spontaneity-creativity and differences
between an intrapsychic and an interpersonal approach. An outline of the relationship of
psychodrama and its philosophy and practice to other schools of psychotherapy is given.