Role Reversal in Psychodrama

Originally published in “Psychodrama since Moreno”, London: Routledge. Edited by Paul Holmes, Marcia Karp and Michael Watson, 1994.

Role reversal in psychodrama Peter Felix Kellermann
Mary stands facing her mother with her hands out-stretched and weeping, urging her mother to look at her. But mother doesn't respond. Mary says: 'Look at me, mother!' But her mother is preoccupied with herself and looks away. The daughter is asked to take the role of her mother and, in that role, she says si1cntly: ‘ If I only knew how to convey my love to you, I would hold you.' And with tears rolling down her cheeks, Mary looks at the person in front of her who is herself and embraces her for a long while, and while holding on to the person who again becomes her mother, Mary is finally ab1e to let herself feel maternal affection. This is role reversal; a technique typical to psychodrama, and it is one, which is considered by many practitioners as the single most effective instrument in therapeutic role-playing. According to J.L. and Z.T. Moreno (Moreno et al. 1955), such a procedure is important not only for interpersonal socialization with others, but also for personal self-integration. It may thus facilitate the often painful separation of children from their parents and parents from their children, leaving both free to love the other for whom they really are. As such, role reversal resembles a re-enactment of the process of separation and individuation (Mahler 1975). In this paper, I will briefly sketch the history of the concept and technique of role reversal, clarify its meaning, indicate the abilities necessary for its proper use and differentiate between two forms of the technique - the reciprocal and representational role reversals - which have somewhat different goals and may be regarded as functioning within two different theoretical frames of reference. HISTORY As with most techniques borrowed from the theatre, role reversal has a long history; it has been used in...