Karen Carnabucci, MSS, LCSW, LISW-S, TEP, is a licensed clinical social worker and board-certified trainer, educator and practitioner of psychodrama, sociometry and group psychotherapy. She has trained with Zerka T. Moreno, J.L. Moreno’s widow and collaborator in psychodrama, and Heinz Stark, a leading trainer in systemic constellation work. Her private practice in psychotherapy and teaching is based in Racine, Wisconsin, USA.

Karen and her colleague, the late Ronald Anderson, MDiv, LPC, TEP, are the authors of the new book, Integrating Psychodrama and Systemic Constellation Work: New Directions for Action Methods, Mind-Body Therapies and Energy Healing.

Here, Karen discusses the profound impact that using psychodrama and systemic constellation work together can have for clients struggling with emotional pain.

Why do psychodrama and systemic constellation work complement each other so well?

Psychodrama and systemic constellation work – sometimes called family constellation work – look very similar yet have some specific differences. Psychodrama explores the conscious story that we tell ourselves about what has happened in our lives or what we wish would have happened. Constellation work goes deeper, delving into the distorted unconscious energies in the family system and allows love to flow more fully through the system.

Because we may have various levels of consciousness about various parts of our lives and the lives of our family members, it’s helpful to be able to choose different methods for different situations.

Can you describe a particular case in which this integrative approach was especially effective and led to outcomes that would not have been possible using either approach alone?

We have so many examples in the book of how the meshing of these methods can offer so much to clients.

We briefly share the vignette of Louise in chapter 4: “Assessment: An Adventure into the Being of the Person”. Louise initially clung to her identification as a victim and had a very hard time admitting that her alcoholic mother’s family background may have been difficult. What we do not say in the book is that Louise slowly grew to have a more complex understanding of her mother’s emotional pain with the use of role reversal, which is a psychodramatic technique. As she was able to shift from her role of victim, she was able to become more compassionate about her mother’s troubles. She became more curious about her mother’s life and began to wonder what had happened in the larger family system. The new roles of “compassionate one” and “curious one” finally led her to participate in a constellation session where it was revealed that her mother suffered some kind of severe childhood trauma. She watched her mother’s representative tremble and weep and found respect for her mother’s suffering within her. As she acknowledged the mother’s suffering, she felt a genuine love for her mother and now thanks her for the gift of life.

How did you and Ron come to write this book?

Our decision to write a book was very spontaneous. Ron had just received the Innovator’s Award from the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama at its 2010 conference due to his pioneering work in integrating the two methods. As we passed Ron’s plaque around our table to admire, he and I realized that although a number of psychodramatists were beginning to combine the two methods, we were the only psychodramatists we knew who had actually written about the integration of these two methods in our training group handouts, articles and blogs. I suggested that we write a book that would introduce psychodrama to constellation facilitators and constellation work to psychodramatists. Ron agreed, and we began writing the book.

Experiential psychotherapy is truly the psychotherapy of the 21st century. Cutting-edge research tells us that our brain is constantly changing as we have new experiences. Certain experiences have changed the brain in ways that involve distress and pain. However, the experiential therapist can facilitate new experiences for the person that continue to change the brain – this time not for distress but for healing.

Experiential therapy recognizes our wholeness as human beings. This wholeness is not just a concept or a theory; it means actually working with – and working through – our experiences, which encompasses our thoughts, feelings, sensations, energies, and conscious and unconscious knowings. So, with experiential therapy we are working with the whole person, not just a part of the person.

This is the first book to discuss and compare these two experiential methods that are growing around the world.

How does the book reflect your general philosophy?

I believe that the experiential psychotherapy is a psychotherapy that is more complete, more holistic, than traditional talk therapy. It is the experience that makes the shift within the person – the knowledge and insight can be important but it is often not enough to instill permanent changes within the person.

What are some common obstacles that practitioners in this field have when trying to apply this particular intervention or approach?

Many constellation facilitators are misinformed about psychodrama, if they even know of it. They often think of psychodrama as simple role playing, although role playing is just one part of the method, which involves a complex theory of human development as well as the practice of sociometry, which observes how people connect with each other in groups. Psychodramatists may have difficulty in understanding that we can discover wisdom within ourselves simply by listening to the nuances of our moment-to-moment body experience – without the drama and the theater-type activities – that helps others.

As more practitioners in one field learn more about the theory, practice and applications of the other field, all of us will have more tools to work with people who are struggling with painful situations. And, of course, I endorse and encourage training in both modalities so that people are using these powerful methods in ethical ways.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

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