The Use of Psychodrama Action Techniques in a Race Relations Class

By Kranz, Peter L.; Ramirez, Sylvia Z. et al. | College Student Journal, December 2007 | Go to article overview

The Use of Psychodrama Action Techniques in a Race Relations Class


Kranz, Peter L., Ramirez, Sylvia Z., Lund, Nick L., College Student Journal


This article describes psychodrama action techniques that were effectively implemented in a university-level race relations course. Essential elements of these techniques included acting out and critical self-examination of the individual's personal beliefs. In a semi-structured class format in which uncensored spontaneity was stressed, students were strongly encouraged to speak in the first person, take responsibility for their own words, tell their own stories and experiences, and speak without constraints of political correctness. Class meetings focused on stripping away layers of emotional defenses so that students would carefully examine well-guarded issues of racial prejudice. Other psychodrama action techniques included: role reversal during in-class and outside-class exercises, altering seating arrangements to enhance student interactions and critical listening, and using dyads as well as other configurations to enhance student communication and personal connections.

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Psychodrama action methods have been used successfully in university classroom instruction in a variety of subject areas (e.g., Drew, 1990; Thompson, 1990). Action techniques are derived from Jacob L. Moreno's psychodrama theory and practice (Blatner, 2000; Starr, 1977). Crucial dimensions of the process include acting out the individual's personal truths that relate to his/her unique story in the "here and now." A goal is to facilitate positive change within the individual and/or group by gaining new insights into their problems and discovering helpful solutions.

The application of action techniques has the potential of enhancing learning in race relations courses. Ocampo et al. (2003) proposed that it is time to move beyond discussions of the need for diversity awareness to courses that provide bases for changes in attitudes. Traditional courses in race relations that are limited to lectures, readings, question asking, and examinations can result in students being passive observers and complacent consumers. Classroom learning needs to be an active and interactive process among all classroom participants.

This article describes psychodrama action techniques that were effectively implemented in a university-level race relations course (Kranz &Lund, 2004). The class was offered in multiple sections to approximately 90 undergraduate students during a six-year period at a state university in the southeastern United States. Each section was comprised of 10-12 students, with approximately even numbers of Black and White students. The course instructor (first author) was a licensed psychologist who had extensive training in psychodrama and race relations.

In the course, there was a reduced emphasis on class lectures, note taking, and the use of examinations and papers as grade determinants. Experiential aspects of the class were emphasized through full class participation, encouragement of self-growth, and uncensored open sharing of racial attitudes, beliefs, and feelings. Spontaneity with honest self-expression from students telling their own truths was encouraged without unnecessary worry about how others would view their comments. All views were to be heard, respected, and explored as to possible origin and criteria of belief.

While Kranz and Lund (2004) described their teaching methods in general terms, the current article focuses specifically on effective action techniques implemented in the course that have their underpinnings in psychodrama. The following action techniques used in the course will be described and discussed: speaking in the first person; taking responsibility for one's words; using spontaneous uncensored expression in an semi-structured format; telling one's own story; sharing beliefs and experiences; speaking without constraints of political correctness; stripping away layers of emotional defenses; using role reversal; altering seating arrangements to enhance student interactions and critical listening; and using dyads as well as other configurations to enhance student communication and personal connections. …

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