Center for Creativity and Healing
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What services do you provide?

I provide individual, couple and family therapy, and professional consultation and supervision, at IMAGINE! in San Rafael, CA, as well as in my San Francisco office. I offer groups, trainings and workshops at IMAGINE! On-site training and consultation is also available.

How do you work? What is your theoretical orientation?

I have been trained in a variety of theories and methods including couples, family and individual counseling, object relations, cognitive therapy, drama therapy, psychodrama, movement therapy, sandplay and other expressive arts therapies. My work blends verbal therapy, psychodrama, drama therapy, sandplay and other expressive arts therapies. I draw from all of these areas in my work with individuals, couples and families. The therapeutic relationship is a co-creation, so my work varies with each client.

In my groups, I generally follow a psychodramatic structure, integrating drama, sandplay, movement, music, art, guided imagery and meditation, as appropriate.

What is psychodrama?

Psychodrama is an experiential method of exploring our private and public worlds in a multi-dimensional, creative way. It helps people safely express unexpressed feelings, develop insight and find and practice new, desired behaviors. Psychodrama encounters people where they are in the present and assists them in contacting and developing the best that is within themselves. As a natural outgrowth, people experience a deeper connection and appreciation of others. Psychodrama emphasizes creativity and spontaneity rather than illness and pathology.

Can you tell me a little more about psychodrama?

Jacob L. Moreno, psychiatrist, improvisational theater director and the creator of psychodrama, believed that the goal of any therapy should be to change the world. He wrote: "Any truly therapeutic procedure can have for its object no less than the whole of humankind." He developed the techniques of role play and role reversal so people could experience the world through each other's eyes, thus developing empathy and experiencing our common humanity. This philosophy is akin to that of the Dalai Lama who teaches that if we each practiced opening our hearts daily we would transform the world. Moreno was the first psychiatrist to focus on spiritual aspects of behavior.

Moreno considered all of psychodrama to be "spontaneity training." He defined spontaneity as an adequate response to a new situation or a new response to an old situation. He referred to times when we are most spontaneous as being in the moment, an experience of being fully present, in complete harmony with the universe while staying connected with social realities. The aim of psychodrama is to uncover and work through blocks to our spontaneity. Moreno believed that when we have access to our spontaneity/action coupled with creativity/ideas, we each can creatively contribute to society.

How can I learn more about and/or experience psychodrama?

I offer a psychodrama group that meets every other Thursday night as well as psychodrama training groups. I also offer psychodrama Open Sessions so that people can experience the work without making an extended commitment.

For more information about psychodrama, see the website for the American Society of Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Psychotherapy. In addition, Adam Blatner, MD, maintains a site with articles and an extensive bibliography.

What happens in a psychodrama group session?

A psychodrama group session has three phases, (1) the warm-up, (2) the action and (3) the sharing. During the warm-up phase, group members connect with each other and get in touch with something they would like to work on or explore. A protagonist, or the person who will work, is then selected. This begins the action phase.

The action phase also has a kind of warm-up. The director (the therapist) walks around the room with the protagonist further defining how the work will take form. The protagonist then asks members of the group to take roles in his/her story. The protagonist trains, or briefly takes the roles the group members will be assuming. The first scene is set and the action begins. There may be one or more scenes. When the protagonist has reached a conclusion to this piece of her/his work, the actors are de-roled and the sharing phase begins.

The protagonist has given a gift to the group by exploring her/his story. In the sharing phase, each person in the group now gives back to the protagonist by telling her/his how the drama related to their own lives. This also allows the group members to do their own work, as everyone is moved by the drama.

Would participating in a psychodrama group benefit me?

Group work can be challenging, just as any relationship is. Yet, the energy, creativity and support of a group fosters healing and growth. In many families, there is a spoken or unspoken rule that forbids members from discussing private information outside of the family. People are often left feeling alone in a problem. If you would like to have the opportunity to share what is happening in your life in a safe environment, and receive encouragement for growth and change, then come experience the power and support of a psychodrama group.

What happens in an individual psychodrama session?

Individual psychodrama follows the same structure as a group psychodrama. However, the client plays all the roles in the drama. The director (the therapist) may take a role but generally does not. Chairs, pillows, scarves and other objects may be used to represent roles.

In an individual psychodrama session, the client is always the protagonist. Therefore, there is more opportunity to directly explore his/her own material. There is also more room for other modalities to be spontaneously integrated into the session.

I am not an actor and have little or no experience with any of the arts. Can I benefit from your experiential work?

Definitely! Psychodrama and drama therapy are not about acting, but about uncovering our authentic selves. Drama and other creative arts are used therapeutically because, as people have known throughout time, they are powerful methods for self-expression and healing. People all over the world and from all walks of life have participated in psychodrama.

What kinds of issues are addressed in a psychodrama?

There is no limit to what can be explored in a psychodrama. Issues addressed may include: relationships with self and others, family of origin, empowerment, self-esteem, giving and receiving support, connection to spirituality, relief from anxiety and depression, dreams, creativity and play.

What is drama therapy?

According to the National Association for Drama Therapy, "drama therapy is the systematic and intentional use of drama/theatre processes and products to achieve the therapeutic goals of symptom relief, emotional and physical integration, and personal growth. Drama therapy is an active, experiential approach that facilitates the client's ability to tell his/her story, solve problems, set goals, express feelings appropriately, achieve catharsis, extend the depth and breadth of inner experience, improve interpersonal skills and relationships, and strengthen the ability to perform personal life roles while increasing flexibility between roles."

For more information about drama therapy, please see the website for the National Association of Drama Therapy or visit the site of Adam Blatner, MD, for articles and an extensive bibliography.

What is the difference between drama therapy and psychodrama?

There have been many professional articles and discussions debating this question. Briefly, psychodrama theory and methodology were developed by psychiatrist and improvisational theater director, Jacob L. Moreno. The first psychodrama was enacted in Vienna in 1925 and the American Society of Psychodrama, Sociometry and Group Psychotherapy was formed in 1942. The National Association of Drama Therapy was founded in 1979 by actors/clinicians coming together with an eclectic mix of theories and methodologies. Both psychodrama and drama therapy use dramatic enactment as a vehicle for growth. Some practitioners argue that there is no difference between drama therapy and psychodrama. Others consider psychodrama to be one approach to drama therapy.

How do you use drama therapy in your work?

Drama therapy and its requisite theater training inform my work. I may use theater games to warm-up groups or individuals to their own spontaneity. It is sometimes helpful to explore a distanced or fictional scene-not one from our own lives-to gain some perspective without being emotionally attached. I also use Playback Theater in my group work.

I have coached clients who are interested in developing a self-revelatory or autobiographical performance. An autobiographical piece, performed for an invited audience, can be a rite of passage for the performer as well as a healing experience for audience members.

You mentioned that you use sandplay therapy. What is sandplay therapy?

In sandplay, or sandtray, the client creates a scene, or a world, by choosing objects from a collection of human-made or natural miniatures. These objects are placed in a tray or container of sand. Sand and objects are used to spontaneously create images and pictures that become the vehicle for personal awareness and interpersonal communication.

You also offer Playback Theater at IMAGINE! What is Playback Theater?

Playback Theater is an original form of improvisational theater in which audience members tell stories from their lives, and then watch them enacted. Sometimes a story becomes myth, sometimes a realistic enactment; some stories are tragic, others are funny or illuminating. Playback Theater affirms the importance and dignity of personal experience, enables people to view their lives in new ways and draws people closer as they witness their common humanity. In addition, I am a founder and member of a professional Playback Theater company. We are a trained group of actors and musicians who meet regularly. Please contact me if you are an actor or musician and are interested in joining our company.

How do you incorporate safety in your individual and group work with drama therapy and psychodrama?

People often come to therapy feeling vulnerable. I believe in working slowly and safely, abiding by the creed Do No Harm.

An important goal of drama therapy and psychodrama is spontaneity training. Spontaneity is being fully present, in the moment. Feeling safe is essential for being spontaneous. When we feel safe, we can experience our power and vulnerability.

Drama therapy and psychodrama are extremely powerful methods. In dramatic enactment, we can quickly cut through defenses that operate in verbal communications. Our defenses have protected us in the past and we want to honor them by getting to know them, even accepting and appreciating them. At the same time we can learn new ways that might serve us better in our present life.

Are there other therapists who offer groups at IMAGINE!?

Many of the groups and workshops at IMAGINE! are co-led by myself and gifted therapists and artists with whom I have had the privilege of collaborating. I have also invited distinguished leaders to present in their field of expertise.

IMAGINE! is also available to rent for workshops, meetings, gatherings and performances.

How do I get more information about IMAGINE!?

Please feel free to contact me.

- Sylvia Israel



Marin's only dedicated Drama Therapy / Psychodrama Center