Healing The Soldiers Protagonist-centred sociodrama
The ongoing study group in social disintegration has been meeting every morning of the IAGP conference (International Association of Group Psychotherapy, London August 1998). The people who come are mostly analysts who have noticed in their work the breakdown of community structures. They meet to share experiences and to grapple with what can be done about it. I hear there is to be a sociodrama that morning and decide to attend. The director is Kate Bradshaw (psychodramatist and group analyst, an unusual combination). There is a good feeling in the room. It is crowded with 30 – 40 people.
She starts by directing us to move into groups according to where we are from and then to say hello in our own language (cooee!). There is good humour and laughing. We see who is there and who is split between several countries. There are lots of Europeans, four from the UK, one each from Australia and South Africa.
Kate asks us to create five groups according to the kind of change activist we see ourselves as:
· Working within formal political processes (Labour/ Democrats etc)
· Working within politically organised groups outside government – Greenpeace, Council for Social Services etc
· Armchair revolutionaries
· Radical activists – street politics
Each group gets together and is asked to create a sculpture of the theme of their work as a change agent. We talk to each other briefly about how we work for social change and then create a sculpture. I am in the group of ‘Others’, mostly community and social workers trying to bring a human dimension into their workplaces. We sculpt a protective haven under a tree bearing the bitter fruit of everyday reality (funding cuts, increasing unemployment, rising drug use etc).
The other groups each present an image: door-knocking for votes (formal political processes group); sipping red wine and bitching about the state of affairs (armchair revolutionaries); canvassing the public in the street for community action (radical activists and organised groups outside government combined)
There is a choice point here for the director: whether to extend the action by working with these subgroups, for example, to get them to talk to each other, create a slogan for what being a change agent means to them or to move elsewhere. She decides to reform the large group. She asks participants what is emerging in them. There is some sharing. She notices a person wringing his hands and maximises this. A deep story of inner conflict about, as a young man, being a revolutionary prepared to use violence in the cause. The group warms to this man and he becomes the protagonist.
There are two parallel stories in the protagonist: the death of two children unintentionally killed by a practice bomb in a rubbish bin placed under the direction of an IRA mentor; and as an army sergeant thinking of the young 17 and 18 year old Arab soldiers under his command in war, where he was the only survivor in his unit.
The scene is concretised around the older man remembering. Auxiliaries take up roles as the protagonist speaks – a girl he used to watch across the street but was too afraid to talk to, a dying teenage soldier crying out for someone to take care of his mother, the two children killed in the bomb blast, a fellow soldier wanting to be sketched for a folio of drawings from the frontline, “Draw me. Put me in your book.”. The characters develop through role reversal. The first soldier is cruel and known to torture prisoners. The second wants to desert but dare not speak of it and cannot act alone. The two soldiers talk of what they wanted in their lives and what was impossible for them as young men. The anguish in the sergeant and in the room mounts. There are no words for what he feels.
The director invites the audience members to stand behind the sergeant and speak from themselves. Several people come forward and make statements such as:
· “No-one wanted those children killed. They were innocent”.
· “Someone did. Why should two children be spared when hundreds of our people suffer” Through this doubling the role of the cornered freedom fighter is concretised.
The director ends the drama and sharing begins. About the fourth person to speak is a therapist from South Africa who asks to replay the time when there are no words. The director agrees and the scene is reset. The woman enters the scene and speaks to the whole group, “When words fail us and we cannot speak of what we feel, it is time for the spirit to take over. We must sing what is in our hearts”. She goes to join those standing behind the sergeant and begins to sing one of the psalms. The group joins in the lament, tears are flowing. There is a group catharsis.
The director asks the young soldiers if they too have a song. “No I don’t know any songs” says one. “Yes we do” insists the other and a ragged, tuneless but defiant marching song emerges. It is a jarring contrast to the healing experience of the psalm. We see the gulf between the world of the young men and the community of adults in grief. The scene ends. The anguish is still there but the people are somehow less isolated in their grief. The sharing continues.
A person tells of her visit to Mozambique following the end of the war for independence and the way the young freedom fighters were repatriated. Before they emerged from the jungle the young men handed in their arms in exchange for a hoe and some seeds. Upon their return to the village, they were told to go and sit in the centre of the village and remove their army clothing. The clothes were taken away and burned. The people of the village came, especially the elders then washed them, all over. When this was finally done they were welcomed back, renewed to their communities.
“That is what I need” says the auxiliary who played the young Arab soldier,” and so do others” pointing at the sergeant, the other soldier and the cornered freedom fighter. These four men, sit in the middle of the group and are washed by the hands of those group members (all women) who spontaneously become part of their community of return. It seems to be over very quickly, the group is out of time.
At the next session of the ongoing group the men, myself included, who enacted the sergeant and the two soldiers do not attend. I meet a participant later who says these men were sorely missed and the whole session was a large group (analytic) process to work through what was aroused. It was a re-enactment of the pattern where after the war, the people left behind have to try and make sense of what happened without those who went to fight.