Role reversal is one of the psychodrama techniques that demonstrate a protagonist's intrapersonal conflicts deeply and explicitly on the stage. This technique is perhaps the single most important and effective technique in psychodrama.:21 In the form of psychodrama, the protagonist is invited to move out of his own position or role into the significant other's position and enact that role.:275 Therefore, the auxiliary ego can observe and learn how to play the role. For example, in a parent-child's session, a protagonist who is the child reverses role with one of his or her parents. This technique not only helps the protagonist get more insight of a specific role but also helps the director, the auxiliary egos, and the audience learn more about that specific role.
Psychodrama has three important techniques: the technique of doubling, the technique of mirroring, and the technique of role reversal. Each technique represents different stages in Moreno's theory of the development of the infant: the stage of identity (the stage of doubling), the stage of the recognition of the self (the stage of mirroring), and the stage of the recognition of the other (the stage of role reversal).:273 Role reversal requires that one has learned to differentiate in the areas of time, place and person, and is capable of moving out of his own position into another's position to be able to enact that other role.
Role reversal involves the changing of positions between the protagonist and his significant other, such as family members, friends, or people in school or in workplace. The protagonist is invited to show the posture, the way of speaking, the behavior, the emotion, the attitude, and any other information of his significant other. This technique helps the protagonist explore any information of the role. Several books have described how to conduct role reversal.
Psychodramatist and author Lewis Yablonsky proposes four reasons for the function of role reversal. He takes a mother-daughter relationship as an example. First of all, role reversal helps the protagonist to feel and understand the other role and how it reacts with its environment. For example, the daughter gets more awareness about how her mother feels about and reacts to the role of the daughter.:116
The second reason is that role reversal helps the protagonist observe himself as if in a mirror. Through playing her mother's role, the daughter sees the role of daughter from her mother's perspective. Yablonsky provides the daughter description, for example: "From the vantage point of my mother, I saw for the first time that she feels badly about her age and her looks and is putting me down because she has begun to compete with me.":116
The next reason is that role reversal prevents the protagonist from being trapped in his own defenses. Yablonsky provides another example about the fight within spouses. Through role reversal, the spouses change their positions with the other and then produce new insight of the whole interaction. This technique helps the protagonist to gain more understanding of a significant other rather than being stuck in his own perspective.:116–7
The last reason is that role reversal helps an auxiliary ego understand how a specific role that he is going to play will be perceived by the protagonist. For example, when the daughter plays the role of her mother, she provides some information and cues for the auxiliary ego to know how the role of mother should be played. This technique enables the protagonist and auxiliary to demonstrate the problematic situation that is perceived by the protagonist.:117
Besides the above reasons, role reversal is useful for a protagonist to gain control over a hierarchy situation with which the protagonist disagrees. Paul Holmes mentions that this technique also enables other group members to learn the protagonist's view of important people. Role reversal helps the protagonist see his interpersonal relationships more objectively and transcend the habitual limitations of egocentricity. In sum, role reversal helps the protagonist, the auxiliary, the director, and the audience to get more understanding of the dynamic interactions of the protagonist's life.
- Moreno, J.L. (1993) Who Shall Survive? Student edition, American Society of Group Psychotherapy, and Psychodrama, MeLean, VA. pp.55
- Greenberg, Ira A. (1974) Psychodrama: theory and Therapy, New York: Behavioral Publications.
- Gershoni, Jacob (2003) Psychodrama in the 21st Century: Clinical and Educational Applications, New York: Springer. pp.112
- Moreno, J.L. (1952) Psychodramatic Production Techniques. Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama & Sociometry. (4):273-303.
- Karp, Marcia, Holmes, Paul, and Tauvon, Kate Bradshaw (1998) The Handbook of Psychodrama, New York: Routledge. pp.41
- Blatner, Adam (1973) Acting-In: Oractical Applications of Psychodramatic Methods, New York: Springer.
- Leveton, Eva (1975) Psychodrama for the Timid Clinician, California: University of California, San Francisco.
- Yablonsky, Lewis (1976) Psychodrama: Resolving Emotional Problems Through Role-Playing. Basic Books, INC., New York.
- Holmes, Paul and Karp, Marcia (1990) Psychodrama: Inspiration and Technique, London and New York: Tavistock/Routledge.
- Blatner, Adam and Blatner, Alec (1988) The Foundations of psychodrama. History, Theory and Practice, New York: Springer Publishing.
- Zerka Moreno's demonstration of role reversal, psychotherapy.net, Nov. 14, 2013