Use of Morenian techniques for intergroup understanding.

Submissions for this form are closed.

The action and group methods developed and taught by J L Moreno were created to make working in difficult interpersonal and intergroup areas both possible and effective. The article we have here is from the USA where they talk about race relations, while in Australia we would talk about multi-culturalism and in NZ about bi-culturalism. This article is a good one to read to be stimulated about ways to assist folks different to oneself to come to seriously understand another group or culture.


The use of psychodrama action techniques in a race relations class

College Student Journal, Dec, 2007 by Peter L. Kranz, Sylvia Z. Ramirez, Nick L. Lund

This article describes psychodrama action techniques that were effectively implemented in a university-level race relations course. Essential elements of these techniques included acting out and critical self-examination of the individual's personal beliefs. In a semi-structured class format in which uncensored spontaneity was stressed, students were strongly encouraged to speak in the first person, take responsibility for their own words, tell their own stories and experiences, and speak without constraints of political correctness. Class meetings focused on stripping away layers of emotional defenses so that students would carefully examine well-guarded issues of racial prejudice. Other psychodrama action techniques included: role reversal during in-class and outside-class exercises, altering seating arrangements to enhance student interactions and critical listening, and using dyads as well as other configurations to enhance student communication and personal connections.

Psychodrama action methods have been used successfully in university classroom instruction in a variety of subject areas (e.g., Drew, 1990; Thompson, 1990). Action techniques are derived from Jacob L. Moreno's psychodrama theory and practice (Blatner, 2000; Starr, 1977). Crucial dimensions of the process include acting out the individual's personal truths that relate to his/her unique story in the "here and now." A goal is to facilitate positive change within the individual and/or group by gaining new insights into their problems and discovering helpful solutions.

The application of action techniques has the potential of enhancing learning in race relations courses. Ocampo et al. (2003) proposed that it is time to move beyond discussions of the need for diversity awareness to courses that provide bases for changes in attitudes. Traditional courses in race relations that are limited to lectures, readings, question asking, and examinations can result in students being passive observers and complacent consumers. Classroom learning needs to be an active and interactive process among all classroom participants.

This article describes psychodrama action techniques that were effectively implemented in a university-level race relations course (Kranz &Lund, 2004). The class was offered in multiple sections to approximately 90 undergraduate students during a six-year period at a state university in the southeastern United States. Each section was comprised of 10-12 students, with approximately even numbers of Black and White students. The course instructor (first author) was a licensed psychologist who had extensive training in psychodrama and race relations.

In the course, there was a reduced emphasis on class lectures, note taking, and the use of examinations and papers as grade determinants. Experiential aspects of the class were emphasized through full class participation, encouragement of self-growth, and uncensored open sharing of racial attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. Spontaneity with honest self-expression from students telling their own truths was encouraged without unnecessary worry about how others would view their comments. All views were to be heard, respected, and explored as to possible origin and criteria of belief.

While Kranz and Lund (2004) described their teaching methods in general terms, the current article focuses specifically on effective action techniques implemented in the course that have their underpinnings in psychodrama. The following action techniques used in the course will be described and discussed: speaking in the first person; taking responsibility for one's words; using spontaneous uncensored expression in an semi-structured format; telling one's own story; sharing beliefs and experiences; speaking without constraints of political correctness; stripping away layers of emotional defenses; using role reversal; altering seating arrangements to enhance student interactions and critical listening; and using dyads as well as other configurations to enhance student communication and personal connections. This article is based on the instructor's observations and qualitative student feedback collected informally during the course and through student logs and interviews (Kranz & Lund, 2004).

Action Techniques Used Within the Classroom

Rules for the class.

The instructor created certain basic guidelines for the class. First, students were allowed to express themselves in any way they wished as long as they were honest and took responsibility for their speech. This permitted each student the freedom of not having to feel guarded based on political correctness. Second, verbal threats and physical confrontation in any form were not permitted. When needed, the instructor assisted the students in communicating strong feelings more effectively. By holding to these specific class guidelines, students had to consider and develop new ways of self-expression and control so that the other racial group might truly hear and listen to their concerns. Most students recognized that this active voice was a more effective means of communication. A third important classroom rule was that all students were to be respected even if their particular views or perspectives differed from those of others. At first, these guidelines were problematic as the majority of students had strong, deep-seated views about the other group. However, in time, many of these negative views were tempered by class discussions and positive personal relationships developed through close contact with other students.

Speaking in the first person and taking responsibility for one's words.

Students were strongly encouraged to speak in the first person when addressing each other, which was an especially helpful psychodrama technique. An insistence on ownership of personal statements and feelings helped eliminate comments hidden behind third person usage. Although this process was initially difficult for most students, it became easier with time, and was extremely beneficial in moving students to a deeper and more personal and honest level of racial awareness and understanding. Within the class rules, students had the freedom to use their own vocabulary and level of affect without fear of censorship.

Telling one's own story.

As with psychodrama, it was important for participants to tell their own stories and experiences through their own eyes. Inner voices of intense emotions and feelings, e.g., anger and anxiety, emerged with clarity. The dialogue for many in the mixed racial groups was cathartic because it was the first time they unleashed strong feelings of pain and anguish that were based on years of prejudice and discrimination. Most participants reported that, for the first time, the other racial group truly listened to their feelings and stories, and they themselves actually confronted personal prejudices. The cathartic experience involved not only relating personal stories, but also critically analyzing other participants' challenges of assumptions and experiences. In this manner, students could not spew forth unfounded generalizations about either their or the other racial group without carefully thinking about their particular comments. Although discomfort was created when students were challenged as to what was being said, this process helped in clarifying their thoughts. Through the process of group dialogue, unsupported statements were questioned, resulting in more highly substantive interactions as the semester progressed.

Speaking without constraints of political correctness.

Students were encouraged to relate their particular truths without restrictions of political correctness or unnecessary worry about how the other racial group would perceive them. Class meetings were based on stripping away well-defended emotional layers that had protected the core of the students' realness, the "arena of truth." At the core, students could hear and feel their genuine essence in the "raw." Although the stripping process resulted in increased vulnerability for students, the sharing was essential in supporting the new awareness of an emerging self. Throughout the semester, the process of removing defenses enabled students to critically examine underlying well-guarded issues of racial prejudice.

Seating arrangements to actively enhance student interactions.

Another action technique in examining issues between the two racial groups was altering the class seating arrangements. Initially, the two groups voluntarily sat apart from each other. However, the classroom setting was constructed such that chairs were easily movable, allowing for a variety of seating arrangements. One arrangement that had an obvious effect on group dialogue was the use of the "circle" technique. By placing chairs in a circle, students had direct eye contact with each other so that self-expression was face-to-face. Another effective seating variation was the creation of two circles, a small interior circle and a larger one surrounding the interior one. Various configurations were placed within the smaller circle, e.g., Black males and White females. The inner group of students was then instructed to dialogue with each other about their own particular views, feelings, and issues about themselves in relation to the other racial group. The outer group (which was the "audience") was required to listen, but could not respond to the inner circle's dialogue. The audience reacted to the inner circle's participants and dialogue only after a specific amount of time. This particular arrangement of inner and outer circles was extremely valuable in that students stated that, for the first time, they took time to listen critically to others. Not allowing the outer circle to comment focused their attention on what was being said, especially regarding the impact of race on others and themselves. This type of insight might have been missed if students in the outer circle had taken time to think about how they would respond rather than only listening.

Role reversal.

Another successful technique was to have students sit on the floor, close their eyes, and warm themselves up to a role reversal exercise. With their eyes closed, they were to begin to imagine in the "here and now" that their skin was of a different color. In this process, everything in their lives would remain the same except for their skin color. In conducting this exercise, it was important not to rush the warm-up. After the students opened their eyes, rather than just imagining the change in skin color, they discussed the impact of this change on their lives. Students needed to think about what their lives would be like in the new role, and also to consider how this dramatic change would make them feel in the deepest personal sense. This exercise was clearly unsettling for most of the students. Those who found the exercise most disquieting recognized that their lives would be very different. Some reported that relationships with families and friends that had been positive were now strained or threatened due to this experience. During this role reversal, some of the students made asides that expressed anxiety, fear, and sadness about the altering of current relationships. Students also indicated that they had not realized the profound impact that skin color and prejudice had on their lives.

Use of dyads and other configurations.

Most students reported that having the class use dyads in the beginning of the semester was very useful in enhancing more open exchanges between Black and Whites. Also, this particular configuration reduced fearfulness in verbal exchanges; thus, students were less guarded in both listening to others and responding openly to issues of prejudice. As the semester progressed, the number of students in the groups was gradually increased from dyads to groups of four and six. Students reported that the small group size enhanced their comfort level in sharing and resulted in more powerful personal connections with other students. Previously unexplored, strongly held prejudicial attitudes and feelings were now discussed. Prejudices were explored at deep levels, entanglements of distrust were undone, and racial misunderstandings were greatly reduced.

Unstructured format.

Many class activities were based on an unstructured, uncensored format in which spontaneity was encouraged. This spontaneity kept students in the present and prevented them from using rehearsed inner voices of self-protection. The process of using the spontaneous moment led to unexpected and worthwhile discoveries about themselves and the impact of prejudice on their lives. Students became supportive of each other as they listened and participated in each other's personal struggles with prejudice. Their intense struggles often led to closer class bonding later in the semester.

Action Teaching Techniques Outside the Classroom

Live-in home visit.

Another use of role reversal was a class requirement of a seven-day home visit by each student with a family of the other race during the last third of the course. This role reversal exercise, where White students spent a week living in a Black family's home, and vice versa, proved to be a powerful growth experience for both groups. The experience enabled them to reduce fears about the other racial group, rethink long-held prejudices, and achieve better understanding of racial similarities. In most cases, the home visit was a key element in getting students to question and challenge themselves. It was a particularly powerful action technique that resulted in positive changes in areas of feelings, understanding, attitudes, behaviors, and real breakthroughs in belief systems. Students reported this home visit as a particularly important factor in changing their racial understanding.

Visit to a Black college/university.

A key class requirement was either a one-day or weekend visit to a historically Black college or university. The initial impact of this role reversal experience on both groups was different. Many White students, who had never been in an educational or other major social setting in which they were a distinct racial minority, felt intimidated, uneasy, and fearful when they realized that most of the faces and voices around them were Black. White students expressed that they felt that they would be ignored, rejected, and/or physically confronted. By the end of the visit, many of the White students' fears and concerns abated due to positive interactions with Black students on the campus. For many of the visiting Black students, this was the first time in their lives that they were in a higher educational setting in which they were in the majority. Due to this circumstance, their newfound comfort level significantly helped lower their defenses, as they reported that they felt like they were "coming home."

Summary and Discussion

Psychodrama action techniques were used effectively to facilitate student interactions, communication, relationships, and personal exploration in a university-level course in race relations. Because of the often intensive and personally sensitive nature of the discussions and interactions in a course of this nature, it is strongly recommended that the instructor be thoroughly trained in clinical or counseling psychology and have extensive experience in race relations and psychodrama approaches. It is also recommended that a detailed, written description of course expectations about the depth of required student participation be provided to each student and discussed in the first class meeting. There should be a clear understanding that students can withdraw if they are not willing to participate fully in the course. Also, another clinically trained faculty member or member of the university counseling center should be available as an alternate person for students who may be having difficulty with the intense nature of the course material and interactions. This individual should be thoroughly familiar with the objectives and techniques used in the course, and the course syllabus should contain his/her name and contact information.

Improving race relations is critical in advancing cultural understanding in an increasingly diverse world. In a follow-up study, students reported that the psychodrama action techniques employed in this university-level course were very effective in bringing about lifelong, positive changes in their attitudes, beliefs, and actions regarding members of other races (Kranz & Lund, 2004). In conclusion, the students suggested that similar courses using techniques described in this article would be useful in fostering better racial understanding and interactions, especially if offered early in their educational school experience.


Blatner, A. (2000). Foundations of psychodrama: History, theory, and practice (4th ed.). New York: Springer Publishing.
Drew, N. (1990). Psychodrama in nursing education. Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, 43(2), 54-61.
Kranz, P. L. & Lund, N. L. (2004). Successful teaching techniques in a race relations class. The Journal of Psychology, 138(4), 371-383.
Ocampo, C., Prieto, L.R., Whittlesey, V., Connor, J., Janco-Gidley, J., Mannix, S., & Sare, K. (2003). Diversity research in teaching of psychology: Summary and recommendations. Teaching of Psychology, 3, 5-18.
Starr, A. (1977). Rehearsal for living: Psychodrama. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
Thompson, M. C. (1990). An action-oriented lesson for second-year college French students. Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry, 43(2), 82-84.
University of Texas Pan-American
Northern Arizona University
COPYRIGHT 2007 Project Innovation (Alabama)
COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning