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The name "Psychodramaturgie Linguistique" (Psychodramaturgy for Language Acquisition, PDL) refers to its two most specific sources: Psychodrama and Dramaturgy (see Sources of Psychodramaturgy on this website).
This name can lead to some confusion as one might assume we do theatre or psychodrama in our language courses; this is however not the case. Since the beginning of the development of Psychodramaturgy, we have endeavoured to distinguish between dramaturgy and theatre, and between pedagogy and psychodrama.

Psychodramaturgy uses dramaturgical elements but we do no Theater

In PDL, the term Dramaturgy corresponds to the meaning of "Dramaturgy" with regard to the structure or plot of a novel or a film. It is not a scenic representation, but refers to the events and plot of the novel or of the film that are based on dramaturgic forces giving the novel or the film a particular dynamic. These dramaturgical elements are important in Psychodramaturgy, especially in the creation of exercises and in the selection of texts.

Psychodramaturgy involves the participants in their entirety but we do no Therapy

Certain fields, e.g. Sports and Arts, use techniques and exercises derived from Psychology (visualisation techniques, relaxation techniques, development of self-confidence ...) in their training. This does not mean that they do psychotherapy in their training.
The same applies to the field of foreign language acquisition. Just as the training of a dancer is not reduced to the memorising of a sequence of dance steps, but involves the person in his entirety, the acquisition of a language also requires the development of attitudes, abilities and skills, e.g.. listening, concentration, spontaneity, creativity, etc. The exercises and techniques used in Psychodramaturgy contribute specifically to the acquisition and development of these skills, attitudes and abilities (see the Diagram "The double dimension of language acquisition" in Characteristics of Psychodramaturgy on this website).

In Psychodramaturgy, we adopt principles and techniques from Psychodrama (see Sources of Psychodramaturgy on this website), but we adapt them to the process of language acquisition. The description of the exercise "A Group Projection: The Chairs" (in Course Progression - Group Dramaturgy) illustrates clearly how an exercise originally from Psychodrama was adapted to the foreign language teaching and emphasises the differences between pedagogy and therapy.
Taking over these principles and techniques present an enrichment for foreign language teaching and learning and for the development of communication skills in general.

As far as our borrowing from Psychodrama is concerned, I would like to point out that this is not the first time that exercises developed by J.L. Moreno, the founder of the Psychodrama, have been employed in foreign language teaching. In the 1920s and 1930s, he developed a form of the role-play, which was adopted in foreign language teaching - sometimes in a simplistic manner.

The Dangers of a Therapeutic Approach

Already in 1977, immediately after the experiment with Willy Urbain at the University of Mainz, I decided to do a Psychodrama training course in order to be able to work out the distinction between therapy and pedagogy while developing Psychodramaturgy Linguistique. To this end, I started a five-year training course in Psychodrama in 1978.

I have discussed the dangers of a "therapeutic" approach in pedagogy several times (see, amongst others; Dufeu, Bernard: Les approches non conventionnelles (Nonconventional Approaches), Editions Hachette, 1996, pp. 175-178 and Wege zu einer Pädagogik des Seins (Ways to a Pedagogy of Being), Mainz, Center de Psychodramaturgy, 2003, pp. 393-396). I would like to present my arguments again here, as the first book has long been out of print, and not everyone can read the second book in German.

At that time I specified three different types of exercises of originating from Psychology, from which I personally distance myself clearly:

  • Exercises with direct personal involvement that transform the classroom into a place for affective experiments.
    For example, in 1978, Gertrude Moskowitz, in Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class (a book which received much acclaim from teachers of English as a foreign language), suggested to the participants to talk about their positive qualities, their strengths, aspects of their physical appearance (Moskowitz, G., 1978, p. 19, 31, 35). She also proposed exercises that directly affect the feelings of other participants ("What image do they have of the other ...", "I love you because ..." (Moskowitz, 1978, pp. 77-80).

    This direct personal involvement is also reflected in approaches where participants are encouraged to recount scenes from their lives which are then enacted and “played” by the other participants; possible mis-interpretations or distortions from the original story may lead to further problems. These approaches sometimes address topics that belong to a therapeutic setting and go beyond the educational framework.
  • Exercises with regressive aspects which lead the participants to an earlier stage of their life, very often back to early childhood. This can awaken embarrassing or confusing memories that also have their place in the therapeutic setting.
    For example, in a relaxation exercise called “Miraculous Mirror”, G.Moskowitz asks the participants to imagine that they are younger than seven years and are standing in front of a mirror (Moskowitz, 1978, pp. 191-193).
    It is impossible to know what feelings this form of regression can arouse. Viewing yourself in a mirror at this age can reactivate traumatic memories.
  • Sociometric exercises: A sociogram is an exercise that encourages participants to express sympathy, dislike, or distance to the other members of the group at any given time. The Sociogram is already not easy to handle in a therapeutic context, and it demands a lot of competence and empathy from the trainer. Using such exercises in a pedagogical context can lead to difficult situations and can offend participants.

    In a book for foreign language teachers of Augé, H., Borot, M.-F., Vielmas, M .: Jeux pour parler jeux pour créer, 1981, 27-28 (Communicative Learning Games for French Lessons, Ismaning: Hueber, 1984), the exercise "The Hot Air Balloon” was presented. In this exercise the participants choose an imaginary profession. The hot air balloon then approaches a mountain, and the group must then decide which person to sacrifice to gain altitude. This exercise involves dangers that the authors mention in a "general note": "There is a risk of rejection in the person who is the victim of the whole group. The trainer is supposed to defend them and draw attention to the moral implications of such a selection.” There can be legitimate doubts as to the reparatory or compensatory function assigned to the teacher. One also wonders why an exercise that can cause such tensions is offered at all.

    The sociograms proposed in Carré, J.-M., Debyser, F. Estrade, C: Iles, 1990, p. 44, contain the same dangers.

These exercises can hurt participants deeply or awaken old memories that should be treated in therapy. They can also pose a threat to the life of the group. It is not necessary to involve the participants so directly with their personal lives in order to stimulate their desire for expression.

The following objections also speak against the use of such exercises in a language course:

  • The educational contract. The participants come to learn the foreign language, not to expose themselves and their private lives directly, or to undergo a therapeutic self-experience.
  • The lack of a decision to participate
    Any approach that penetrates (and / or invades) the personal sphere of the participants requires the conscious decision to participate in this procedure. If, however, these are language courses in an institutional framework, this consent is in principle not given. Participants who do not want to expose themselves can experience pressure from the group or the trainer, or be affected by the subject.
  • The resonance effect. A seemingly banal scene from one's own life can resonate with other participants and arouse painful memories that can not be worked on in the given educational framework.
  • The safety of the therapeutic setting is not available in a language course (therapeutic setting and context, confidentiality clause, adequate techniques for dealing with personal problems, etc.).
  • The blockade effect. The direct expression of feelings or the representation of scenes from one's own life can lead to personal blockades that distract from or inhibit the pedagogic process.
    It may also prove inappropriate or counterproductive to want to work on linguistic expression in such situations.
  • Role Confusion. The teacher can be confronted with an ambiguity or conflict of roles. Instead of mainly offering linguistic support, they can stumble into a therapeutic role. At the same time, due to institutional function of the teacher, they may also be a representative of authority, or a supervisory body assessing and grading the progress of the learners.
  • The competence problem. The majority of the language teachers have no therapeutic training and can not competently respond to the effects and consequences of the experiences made by participants who replay or watch their lives re-enacted by others, nor to the effect on the other participants who witness such scenes.
  • The deontological question. It is possible to assume that some teachers (as well as some psychologists) sometimes use a therapeutic approach in their classes to satisfy their own needs for power, or maybe hope to deal with their own problems with others. Other institutions are more appropriate for such needs.

The Imaginary as a Creative Potential in Psychodramaturgy

The exercises in Psychodramaturgy have an educational purpose, not a therapeutic one. Instead of tackling topics directly from the lives of the participants, PDL offers them framework activities that appeal to the imaginary in them. The activities only provide the framework; the participants determine the content and thus the linguistic content themselves. The trainer and/or the other participants provide the missing language. This results in a consistency between the participants and their statements, which promotes the acquisition process.

The imaginary creates an “intermediary area " or “potential space” (D. Winnicott: Playing and Reality, 1975) and thus a shelter that expands and transforms the classroom. It gives the participants a greater freedom and diversity of expression. The imaginary stimulates and expands their expression palette. It sometimes translates their reality in a symbolic way, but also protects them as individuals and as group members. It arouses the mutual listening and the curiosity of the participants, because they do not know what the others will say. What the participants express appeals to them, because it is their own expression. In this way the retention of the new language is facilitated, because it is considered important for their own expressive potential. The imaginary opens the doors to creativity, and speaking is first and foremost a creative act.

© Dufeu, Bernard, 20th April 2017.

Translation: Robert Zammit