Guide To Training: Psychodrama and Trial Lawyers

Psychodrama and related methods have along history in the education of trial lawyers and an article, “The Use of Psychodrama and Role Playing in Improving the Interpersonal Skills of Lawyers” appeared in the 1959 issue of the psychodrama journal, Group Psychotherapy. More recently psychodrama has been advocated and reintroduced into continuing education projects for lawyers by John Ackerman, John Johnson and Gerry Spence who has made it a central concept in his annual Trial Lawyers College on Thunderhead Ranch in Wyoming. As Ackerman, director of the National Criminal Defense College, expressed it “We chose psychodrama because psychodrama teachers the lawyer to create solutions to the problems they encounter. This is preferable to teaching lawyers solutions which may or may not fit the situations in which they find themselves.”

Spence especially appreciates the self-awareness which psychodrama so powerfully fosters and which he is adamant is necessary to the consistently successful trial lawyer. Among other things, it is the trial lawyers awareness and acknowledgment of their own feelings in he moment, especially anxiety, which allows them to engage meaningfully with jury members, witnesses and judges.

In addition he has found a number of parallels between the psychodrama method and his unique approach to trial law. Perhaps the most potent single psychodramatic technique which lawyers can utilize is the role reversal, putting themselves in the place of the other individuals in the courtroom in order to get a sense of what may be going on that cannot be seen from the outside. This information alone can give the trained trial lawyer a considerable advantage.

Some lawyers who have taken additional training in psychodrama have use re-enactment as a means of learning more about their clients and about the events which are at the center of their legal problems. Almost all of those who have used this method believe that it can be very widely used to excellent effect.