3rd World Congress for Psychotherapy

 The World Council for Psychotherapy

Vienna 14-18 July 2002



The Challenge of




Existential analytical psychodrama: the principles of globalisation experienced in a small group

Ceccarelli G., Lopez G.M., Crescimbene M.

Eunomos, Center for Existential Analytical Psychotherapy and Psychodrama


Dr. Giancarlo Ceccarelli has been developing and structuring his method of analytical existential psychodrama since the 1980s. Based on and departing from Jacob Levi Moreno’s classical psychodrama technique, this method proposes the existential anthropological dimension alongside the analytical approach. Whereas the analytical approach explores and investigates the unconscious, the existential anthropological one focuses on the development of individual existence and on creative and project-oriented capabilities. This existential dimension has its theoretical roots in Sophia-Analysis.

As happens in many psychotherapeutic groups, in an existential analytical psychodrama group the single participants and the whole group go through a process that leads to the affirmation and the maturation of the various individual identities, while, at the same time, an identity related to a sense of belonging to the group matures and expresses itself.

How is it possible to reconcile the Individual - Group dimensions, which are apparently in contrast?

To answer this question, we tried to explore some of the significant steps that both the individuals and the whole group go through along the road that leads from individuality to globalisation: individuality ―› group ―› globalisation.

The term globalisation is defined in this context as the synthesis of the two antitheses individual - group and single groups – global groups at a higher level.

We have identified three fundamental principles which are necessary to assure constructive globalisation that respects the individuality of each participant in the group and of each single group within the “global group”.

With the help of examples taken from a psychodrama group, we will look at how the passage from the individual dimension to the global dimension can come about.










I exist

I exist

The group exists

The group exists with me


How I exist

I have an identity

The group has an identity

The group has an identity with me


Why I exist

I have a purpose

The group has a purpose

The group has a purpose with me

In this paper, we will particularly concentrate on the principles of EXISTENCE and IDENTITY, that seem to be priorities when dealing with the topic of globalisation. We consider the PURPOSE  to be a subsequent passage in our existential and anthropological journey, which we will explore further on another occasion.


The principle of existence: I exist.

This is the first principle that the individuals and the psychodrama group must face all together. One’s personal, individual existence must be affirmed, while at the same time the group’s existence must be affirmed. In existential analytical psychodrama, the principle of existence is explored by paying particular attention to themes dealing with prenatal life, which is the source of existence. In the table that shows the principle of existence, we have hypothesized passages that mark the moments of conception, birth and the affirmation of existence in analogy to what happens during prenatal life.





Paternal principle and maternal principle

The foundation of existence. Existence, at any level, requires the moment of foundation.

A paternal principle and a maternal principle are necessary to create new life. In the psychodrama group, these two principles can be represented:

  • by the group conductors (seen as representatives of the paternal and maternal principles)

  • by the group conductors and by the group itself (one seen as the paternal principle and the other seen as the maternal principle)

  • by the paternal and maternal principles found in each of the participants.


Beginning of a new life.

Every new group that is formed faces the theme of its conception from the very beginning.

Within the group, then, each single participant must face the same theme, to find his/her place within the group.

The beginning scene of one psychodrama encounter was that of a small space ship (fertilized ovum) that navigates in space (uterus) searching for an encounter (implantation).

Title of the scene: A SMALL SPACESHIP IN SPACE.

The Characters in this scene are

Character A: what is encountered in the journey

Character B: the pilot of the spaceship

Character C: a different, fundamental intelligence

Character D: a woman doctor

Character E: a passenger

The scene is set in cosmic space.

1A Description: the characters are standing up, in a circle, facing inward. Those of the group not involved in the scene are sitting in a circle around the characters and observe the scene.

Comment: the image of the characters in a circle evokes round forms (circular) like the ovum and the uterus. More generally, the circle of the group around the scene represents the place where the ovum can implant and grow, the good uterus, where something new can be born.

Implantation and development of the fetus.

The ovum that carries life within itself must now find a place where it can implant itself, to grow and develop life.

A year after the group has begun, a new person enters. The group chooses to enact the theme proposed by the new member: water. According to our interpretation, the representation expresses acceptance of the new member-ovum by the group-uterus.

Title of the scene: WATER

The characters in this scene are

Character A: water

Character B: the mangrove tree

Character C: a rock

Character D: a fish

Character E: a marine current

The scene is set within the sea, near the coastline.

2A* Description: One of the characters, the rock, is at the center of the scene, sitting on the ground, curled up with his arms around his legs. The other characters (water, the mangrove, the fish, the marine current) are standing and move around him, with gestures that express the movement of water in an extraordinary way.

Comment: the rock in the center of the scene is well rooted within the water. There is movement, life and warmth. An ideal place to develop life.


2B* The movement of the mangrove, the fish, the marine current and the water is gentle like a dance, and offers warmth and nourishment to the rock. The rock says: “I am very happy here, I feel very cuddled”.


The images the various group members propose to be represented often converge in the direction of the theme that then is eventually played out. Here, for example, they converged on the theme of birth. In general, the group usually delegates one of its components that is more “sensitised” to a specific theme to explore it through representation, in a vital individual-group interchange. In the scene that we will now illustrate, a component of the group who has particularly intense perinatal themes, is delegated, on an unconscious level, to represent a birth scene. The character that this member interprets in the scene says: “I know how this is done”.

Title of the scene: A GLASS ROOM

The characters of this scene are

Character A: a bear

Character B: a budding bush

Character C: a tree

Character D: a swing

Character E: a mountain

The scene is set within a glass room that has no roof, in the midst of a wood.

3A* Description: The characters are all within the glass room and they ask themselves how they can get out. The characters representing the swing and the mountain propose to throw themselves against the walls of the room so they can break them and get out. The character representing the bear says: “I know how it is done” and shows the other characters to get out of the glass room without breaking it.

Affirmation: I exist

3B* Once out of the glass room, the character representing the bear says: “Here we are, now I am out”. This is the affirmation of his existence: I have been born.

In every psychodrama group the sequence of the “I Exist” scheme is repeated, in a microcosm-macrocosm relationship. The images proposed for the representation by each member are the expression of the paternal principle and the maternal principle of each of the group’s components. After this follows conception, that is the image chosen from the various ones that have been proposed. The surrounding group and the scene being represented are, respectively, the uterus and the fetus. The scene emerges from this synergy. The group’s choral Self helps the individual to be him/herself, to play out the role in an active manner, to exist and to affirm his/her own existence.


The second principle is the principle of identity: How I exist.

One of the major risks that arises in the globalisation process is the loss of identity. In our experience with existential analytical psychodrama, the passage from individual identity to a more vast identity has not seemed to bring with it particularly terrible risks.

We can subdivide the processes which underlie the acquisition of the principle of Identity in the following steps.





Original Identity

This is the identity that we receive from our family, from our origins, from our social group.

We have an identity because we belong.

Following is a psychodrama scene that we feel describes this type of identity very well, as well as indicating later phases of transformation.

Title of the scene: A PENDULUM CLOCK

The characters in this scene are

Character A: the pendulum

Character B: the clock’s body

Character C: the hour hand

Character D: the minute hand

Character E: the key that winds up the clock

The scene is set in a big room of a castle.

4A* Description: All the characters are part of a pendulum clock, that is hanging on a hook, in a room, on the wall of an old castle.

Comment: All the characters (the pendulum, the body of the clock, the hour hand, the minute hand, the key) have an identity in so far as they are pieces of the pendulum clock, they do not have an individual identity. The clock is hung on an old wall, in an old castle, there is not much life and novelty in this identity. The original identity has a fundamental positive aspect and responds to an unavoidable primary need. The original identity can have a “evolutionary process” towards the development of a personal identity, or it can have a “involutionary process”, which gives rise to an original identity that is TOTALISING, where one exists only because one belongs (to the mother, to the family, the group, society, etc.).

Stereotypes, repetitions and identity

The need to know “Who am I?” is often in contrast to the theme of the “Original Identity”. The answer to the question “Who am I?” is searched for dialectically, through the use of stereotypes or changes.

Stereotypes are static, and can be graphically represented by a static circle, where the movement of identity always follows the same path. This movement represents, however, the motor behind the identity process.

Change: separation and individuation

Another possibility is that of change, preceded by the moment in which the old “Original identity” dies off.

The repetition that results from the achievement of uniqueness and diversity is, instead, a dynamic process and can be represented by a spiral, whose movement is still circular but reaches ever different levels. In psychodrama, this process comes about by acting out various characters that help each member, like single revolutions of the spiral, to face and overcome difficulties, so they can experience and learn new modalities of behaviour.

4B* The minute hand breaks off and falls, the clock’s body and the hour hand break away from the wall and begin moving around the room. All of the parts of the clock end up on the floor, detached from each other, in silence. The characters have decided to separate from their original identity and to simply become parts of the pendulum clock. Now they are just single pieces, without an identity or a life of their own. This is the moment of the death of the old identity that must be lived through. One of the characters in the scene says: “We have stopped time”. After this passage, the characters acquire a personal identity, unattached to anyone but themselves. When they meet again with their “new” identities, they give form to a new group relationship and to a new and unique group identity. The time of the original Identity has been stopped and the time of the Identity of individuation has begun.


Who am I ?

The theme regarding origins is represented in many psychodrama scenes. The characters describe themselves, they tell others what they are like and where they come from; they ask to know about the others, where they come from, why they are in that place. A type of communication is established among the characters that defines and identifies them. This passage is indispensable in acquiring the ability to be unique and different in one’s personal identity.


By analysing the processes which make up the acquisition of identity, we can hypothesize that similar processes must be structured on a macro-sociological level.

We have attempted to outline them.


1)     Original identity.

This is the identity for which I exist and to which I identify myself in relation to a sense of belonging (like in the first scene of the pendulum clock).

In social processes involving large groups, an initial stage of belonging can give way to evolutionary processes where the individuals can acquire a personal identity, or to involutionary processes, where the individual disappears in the “totalising” identity of the group.


2)     Separation from the original identity.

The next phase is characterized by a constant and unstoppable distancing from the original state of belonging. The crises within the great religions in the West and the appearance of “immigrant” religions can be an example of this. Another example of this process can be seen in how large nations, once they have broken up into smaller and more specifically characteristic ones, abandon the previous identity.


3)     Death of identity.

The next step of this process involves the moment in which death is encountered. This is certainly a symbolic death of the previous identity, but sometimes it is also real, as we have seen happen in many countries, where in attempting to overcome the mourning provoked by the loss of the previous identity, conflicts have occurred which attempt to affirm the supremacy of one identity over another. This is a type of identity that is achieved by going “against” others, rather than searching for it “for” oneself.


4)     Self individuation and the encounter with another.

After the mourning phase comes the time where it is important to collect one’s thoughts so as to be able to accept one’s new, specific, individual identity.

Once, the new identity has been consolidated, it is then possible to encounter the other without fearing that the other, which is the external representation of the totalising image found within each, can destroy the new identity coming to life.

The other no longer represents a danger, but takes on the role of someone “different”, who has explored other ways of living the human experience. The encounter with the other becomes an occasion for exploring enriching experiences that we would have never been able to discover by ourselves.

5)     The new individual identity and a new identity of belonging.


The last phase of the process is found in the construction of a new group identity (family, therapeutic, political, national group, human group) where being a member does not mean suffocating individual identity, nor does the individual identity need to deny belonging to a larger group to be able to exist.

This type of belonging to a larger group can not follow a model that proposes totalising, but rather must arise from a new model that is created through new types of relationships established between the individual and the group.

One example of this can be the “European project”, in its attempt to respect the individuality of the various nations and to build a type of belonging on a higher level, that includes all of the Nations that are taking part in the process.

If we apply these passages to society, we can affirm that if there is only a totalised type of original Identity, it is not possible for different cultures to encounter each other. For example, we cannot welcome the migratory masses if our identity remains stuck in a totalised original identity. In these cases, the dominant culture uses its political, economic and cultural power to subjugate other cultures.

We believe that these processes (individual, group and global) can come about in a healthy manner if two functions are chosen as a reference point:

a)     a function that we call the SELF

b)     a function that we call the EGO PERSON.



The Self: Individuality, group consciousness, globalisation


The Self

The Self is the wise part (Sophia) of each one of us and it contains our existential purpose and the energy to bring it forth.

According to Sophia-Analysis, the Self creates a relationship between the person and his/her purpose and life and the purpose of the universe (the Self’s transcendental dimension). The Self, in fact, expresses itself in an individual manner (individual Self), in a choral manner through the group (choral or group Self) and in an universal manner (transcendental Self).

What is, practically speaking, the Self’s function, and how is it expressed? We will describe how it is activated in psychodrama, so we can have a means of comprehending how it can express itself also on an extra-personal and global level.

In psychodrama, when a scene is being acted out and a critical phase takes place, the action is stopped by the conductor. This is the moment in which the group listens to the Self (formally represented by those who are not acting and who are observing the scene). By offering indications and suggestions, those who are observing offer awareness and support to the actors. The suggestions offered by the Self are not specific indications, rather they are existential ones regarding basic purpose and the means of possible transformation. They invite the players to contact more profound parts of their being and they indicate one or more paths that can be followed. They express the various possibilities offered in life.


Ego Person

After the Self has been listened to, the action starts up again, with new possibilities and perspectives available. The function, that is activated in the scene, after the Self has been heard, is called the Ego Person. We attribute the functions of freedom, decision-making, choices, transformation and creativity to the Ego Person. After having listened to the Self’s suggestions, those who are taking part in the scene’s action freely decide (Ego Person) whether or not to follow them.

The synergy between the functions of the Self and the Ego Person has an essential value and importance with regards to transformational and creative action.

In psychodrama, we can see that only if each player manages to fully become the part they play (expressing their desires, emotions, needs, projects…), can both each personal purpose and the group purpose come forth. This seems to be an essential indication in an attempt to outline those principles which can lead towards healthy globalisation: each individual and each populace must fully acquire, express and develop their own identity. This is an indispensable condition for the achievement of a global purpose. In this context, diversity is not synonymous to conflict, but rather to enrichment.

Perhaps, the great task and challenge of contemporary psychotherapy is to affirm the centrality of the Person, in his/her existence, identity and purpose, according to an individual, choral and global perspective.