Tihana Majstorović is a psychologist who is one of the first founders of the first BH Association for Integrative Psychotherapy Psychodrama. In my interview with Tihana, she explains what exactly psychodrama is and what are its benefits, and the potential implications for its practice in the post war society of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
By Medina Malagić – Sarajevo
Why has psychotherapy been such a taboo topic in BH society? Has anything been done over the past few years to change the perception of people in BH for this form of therapy, and has it paved the way for more open discourse and acceptance of psychotherapy? What have been the consequences on BH society as a result of this being a taboo topic?
It is difficult to summarize all of the reasons why there is such resistance in BH society towards psychotherapy, but it is probably connected to the fact that there is no systematic approach and support in the health care system. Our life standard and due to that – our health care – is directed towards basic needs and severe illness, and there is a lack of support for improvement of the quality of life and prevention. In our system health is still seen as a lack of illness, so psychotherapy is reserved only for psychiatry and mental illness. On the other hand, there is severe collective and individual trauma among all the citizens of BH society, enhanced with difficult life standards at the moment, so it is difficult to see the possibility to open up painful topics and deal with them actively. Psychotherapy is recommended in a secure environment, and life in BH in the past few decades, both during and after the war, is insecure in so many ways on a collective level.
Most of the attempts to work with mental health after the war are connected to NGOs, and individual attempts, but not on a system level.
Due to this situation, there is a high rate of depression, addictions and suicide among BH citizens, and also new generations are severely affected by their parents’ life conditions, so there is a high rate of violence among youngsters.
Can you explain what is exactly psychotherapy, and how does it differ from other, more traditional forms of therapy? Is there a consensus among psychologists and academics that it is a more effective form of therapy?
Psychotherapy is a long process of working on a person’s deep individual issues, connected with a secure environment, strong relationship full of trust with a psychotherapist and/or group members, and defined context. During psychotherapy the client and therapist work together on issues that disturb the full quality functioning of a client, exploring the roots of those issues, and repairing hurt and neglected parts of a personality, in an attempt to increase the level of functioning, spontaneity and creativity. It is long and sometimes painful process, but it is leading towards quality living and relationships with others. It can be seen as restructuration.
There are some scientific evidences that are supporting the usefulness of psychotherapy in various issues, although it is hard to measure someone’s life quality or happiness. However, psychotherapy is for decades recognized and well-respected in the world of mental health.
Do you feel that there is a specific need for psychodrama as a form of therapy in BH, due to the long term consequences of war trauma? In addition, before the emergence of psychodrama in BH, how was war trauma and healing addressed in BH?
Psychodrama is a scientifically proven a therapy of choice in trauma treatment, which makes it very useful in work with BH citizens that are exposed to severe trauma during the war, but also today, with all the post war issues that are so actively present. Psychodrama helps us to see traumatic events on the scene, to regain control which is a very important issue in trauma healing, since our control during a traumatic situation is taken away. After that, a client can react differently, provide support for him/herself, gain support form group members, etc. One of the trauma related issues is silence, a secret, disability to talk to someone of the horrible things we saw or felt, and the role of a group is huge in this, since the person has the opportunity to talk about trauma for the first time in a secure environment, and to do something for him/herself on the scene. However psychodrama is also useful for other psychological issues, such as relationship problems, addiction, anxiety etc.
Before psychodrama other forms of therapy were also used, and are used today, such as Gestalt, which is a great choice of individual therapy, KBT, family system therapy, etc.
Since the establishment of the organization for Integrative Psychotherapy Psychodrama BH, of which you are one of the founders, what projects have been implemented, and what has been the impact?
So far we established cooperation with other „older“organizations in an attempt to gain experience as an organization. We were working with children, at a Kids festival, with youngsters in cooperation with KULT Institute, with traumatized people during different projects in Sarajevo, Tuzla and Mostar. There are several psychodrama groups currently existing and working with different people trying to increase their life quality. There was also very successful cooperation with the Center for healthy aging, during which we were leading two psychodrama groups with elderly people.
The impact is strong and empowering for our clients and for us. Psychodrama is tempting, interesting and can be fun. It is creative and is fulfilling. That is why it is easier to accept it and to enjoy it. I tend to say that I do truly admire my every client, because all of us need some kind of help and work on ourselves, but only a few of us have courage to really ask for that and to look inside.
How does psychotherapy empower individuals, and what is central to the idea of having individuals act out in a creative and spontaneous way instead of speaking directly about their problems and trauma? In having to work with other people, does it strengthen bond, trust and empathy between individuals?
The power of a group is enormous, and needs to be felt in order to really realize that. In a group, strong relationships are developed; people have the opportunity to get feedback about themselves in a secure and supportive environment, and to practice new kinds of behavior. Every group member is also a therapist and a helper, and that helps to regain power and feeling of usefulness.
In addition to group power, in psychodrama there is also work on the scene; which is useful in many ways. First it helps us to connect with our emotions or memories in a stronger way than talking about them. It helps our body to express and to remember, since not only is our cognitive part dealing with events around us. It is possible to turn back time, to stop it, to intervene in a situation in which we were helpless, to meet our inner child, our potentials, significant people, our body parts, our pain, or whatever is important in that moment, and to interact in a way that we want. Being in a role of significant others helps us to see the situation from their perspective, which can sometimes bring relief. Being in a different role in other group members work can help us to explore how other people see us, how to act differently than what we usually do.
Psychodrama is responding to our innate act for hunger, and helps us to connect with our spontaneity and creativity in very powerful way.