“Spanning Social Chasms” – inner and outer sociodramas
……our general failure to communicate authentically with one another, whether person to person or nation to nation, remains a major problem. Solving this problem could be described as a sociodramatic task.
Ken Sprague 1998:252
You say things well Ken! It is a problem, which can’t ever really be resolved, but as psychodramatists and sociodramatists we can and should broach it. The neutrality often associated with the role of psychotherapists becomes unethical when applied to social issues such as child abuse, oppression or political torture. The only adequate response to such issues is to take sides, take a stand, and stride with integrity into a territory, into which we are usually not invited. Fear is the usual root of our own and others’ inauthentic human communication so we have to summon courage to foster authenticity.
Increasingly in my work and in my life, my focus is not only on nurturing genuine encounters between individuals and small groups but on creating ways to effect constructive change in and between societies, cultures and countries. Of course, sociodrama is a powerful instrument in this work. Local, regional and international congresses provide a marvellous forum to bring together diverse cultures for the exploration of social issues and in 1997 I co-chaired the first Stockholm Group Conference on Social Issues with the theme “Exploring Social Disintegration”.
A colleague, Göran Ahlin, and I were recently to have held a 2-day workshop at the Pre-Congress of the International Association of Group Psychotherapy (IAGP) in Jerusalem. The theme of the Congress was “The Spirit of Groups 2000 – From Conflict to Generative Dialogue” our workshop was entitled “Spanning Social Chasms – A Group Analytic and Sociodramatic Exploration” which was to build on our earlier work in Stockholm and in London at the IAGP congress 1998. In the accompanying text we said “This workshop will continue the work developed there, which rested in the risks, fears, frustrations hopes and dreams surrounding the building of bridges after violent social interactions.”
Since that is where the last sociodrama we conjointly led took place, it makes sense to me to see what happened next. After the London Congress some Norwegian psychodramatists who had participated wrote an article for their psychodrama newspaper, Mercurius, among them Lillian Borge, a psychodramatist and group analyst. The group in London worked alternately with the method of group analysis and sociodrama and the final session was to avail itself of both methodologies in a previously undetermined way – maybe a mistake from our side since the group found itself in conflict over which method should be used. The sociodrama had begun from one of the group members noticing that another was wringing his hands. In her article “Thoughts about the London Congress – on the bridge which was never built.” (title and ensuing quotes translated) the author, says
“….The warm up lead to a sociodrama which, briefly told, was about war and that which causes young men to participate in war, pain, sorrow and the associated feelings of guilt.”
Among many other experiences from the sociodrama was a South African cleansing ritual, in which the young men returning from war are ritually washed by the women before they may return to their village. Lillian expressed appreciation of the sociodrama, which she says:
“certainly started something within each of us, whether we came from the peaceful Nordic countries or from those parts of the world who live in the midst of these questions.”
Concerning the fourth and final session in London Lillian says:
“It was certainly exciting to see if we would manage to reach our goal, beat the obstacles within the group connected to differences in culture and ideologies, on a global level and even purely methodologically. Dare to make the leap over the chasm, which some of the Swedish participants had formulated…..Despite the clear desire and attempts expressed by several in the group it became apparent that it was impossible to build a bridge, those attempting became “crusaders”. It’s not just one bridge but several bridges, which must built. As I personally experienced it, it’s not enough if those on one side in a conflict or antagonism want to build a bridge if there is too much division or disunity on the other side. Another prerequisite is to be interested in investigating the foundations, where the bridge abutment is to be placed on the other side, not just on one side. On the whole the ending filled me, and I know more than just me, with sorrow. Sorrow about not being able to reach, sorrow about having to accept how difficult building bridges is, whether it is a question of global politics or psychotherapeutic methods. One positive experience however was that an Israeli woman met the Norwegian participants in our attempt at bridge building, and the Oslo conference was symbolised. So we have to comfort ourselves with the fact that we Norwegian psychodramatists anyway with the good support of analytic colleagues from Sweden and the workshop leaders, tried hard. So the group ended with disintegration, but that was the theme you know!
Lillian Borge 1998
In Jerusalem I had the opportunity to hear Ruth Gavison speak about negotiating in the Israeli/Palestine conflicts. She emphasised one point repeatedly, you could call it a golden rule, namely that all the points of conflict must be clearly identified and spoken about by all concerned before any reference is made to rights or demands, even human rights.
The socio-political situation in Israel at the time leading up to the congress in Jerusalem was such as to awaken ambivalence among many who usually choose to participate, if not downright rejection of the idea of being there. At the pre-congress, several workshops, including ours, were cancelled but I have to say the “unenacted” sociodrama, present already in London, played itself out within me throughout the congress. Happily Marcia Karp and a group analyst, Theresa Howard, using the same approach bore the theme forward in the large group, which met throughout the congress. After some time across the centre of the large group of about 150 people, a wall is gestalted. For some it is a relief for others a frustration. It is related to as inevitable, necessary, a hinder, representative of inner walls.
Remember we are in Jerusalem. Imagine the old town, the city’s heart, surrounded by high walls, with 8 mysteriously hard to find gates. Inviting steps clamber upwards to shrines and dead ends, not what we are looking for, so we retrace our steps and keep searching for the way into the labyrinth. Inside is a rabbit warren of small passages, seething with tingle tangle, riches, consumables, places for prayer and people reaching out, scurrying, meditating, some of whom spit at you if you don’t want what they are offering. Like a human heart, the city is divided into four chambers: in this case the Armenian quarter, the Christian quarter, the Moslem quarter and the Jewish quarter. (It so happens that within the organisation IAGP there are four sections, with a budding fifth!) The atmosphere in Jerusalem for those who live there is described as an “uneasy peace”. To the East there is a fifth chamber of the heart of Jerusalem, which contains the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock, which are encapsulated by walls within walls, one of which is the Wailing or Western Wall. Here you may write a prayer, to the One who will listen, on a tiny paper and push it into a little crack in the surface. I wonder how many tiny prayers pushed into tiny crevasses it may take before the wall would fall down, if it were allowed to.
The wall in the large group for many is experienced as a barrier, even if for many it is a protection. At first the wall is built of men and women but the men quickly leave. Later it becomes a protective surrounding wall with a man in the centre……. These changing images are very strong and do much to elucidate the processes in this group which contains people from 38 different countries, Armenians, Christians, Moslems, Jews, non-believers, psychodramatists, group analysts, family therapists, organisational consultants………the categories which divide us are too many to mention. What unites us is the struggle to communicate authentically in a larger setting on a human, socio-political level and the struggle to accept each other with all our differences where every voice and action is important. That doesn’t mean we will agree, even on human rights issues, but to keep the channels of communication open.
Ron Wiener excellently sums up the instrument of sociodrama as follows:
The sociodramatic method provides a training ground for collective action and education. It has three aims: “an improved understanding of a social situation, an increase in participants’ knowledge about their own and other people’s roles in relation to that situation, and an emotional release or catharsis as people express their feelings about the subject.
Ron Wiener 1995
Of course, as a sociodramatist, I was disheartened when our workshop in Jerusalem was cancelled. In London, the Israelis in the group were those most immediately representative of the situation portrayed. Several of them approached me in Jerusalem and said how much they had appreciated the workshop. Dick Blackwell, in the large group in London, had made the point that bridges that are built too quickly lead to terrorism. In Jerusalem it was not possible to continue our work in the way I had imagined but in other ways.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and bridges and walls are built and fall down or are torn down, only to be rebuilt in another way, maybe in another place. Like Sisyphus our work is unending but in our case immensely rich. We haven’t given up. We are organising the 2nd
Stockholm Group Conference on Social Issues under the auspices of IAGP with the title “cost-benefit @facelesspower.transformations
” (this is NOT an email address!) which will explore changing values. The dynamics between power-helplessness, belonging-alienation, flexibility-rigidity, network-hierarchy are some of many issues that may be investigated. The format will be presentations and seminars alternating with experiential groups. Sociodramatic and Group Analytic approaches will be used and I hope some of you will be interested in participating also as presenters. If you would like more information about the conference contact: Stockholm Convention Bureau, PO Box 6911, SE 102 39 Stockholm. SWEDEN. Phone: +46 8 546 515 00 Fax: +46 8 546 515 99 Email: email@example.com
Borge, L. “Tanker omkring Londonkonferansen – Om broen som aldri ble bygget. Rapport fra workshop med G.A. Ahlin og Kate Bradshaw Tauvon – study-groups on social disintegration.” Article in Mercurius, Norsk PsykodramaInstitutt, Nr. 4 – June 1998
Sprague, K. in Karp, M., Holmes, P. & Bradshaw Tauvon, K. (1998) The Handbook of Psychodrama, London & New York: Routledge
Wiener, R. (1995) Using Sociodrama, Department of Adult Education, University of Leeds.