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Therapy Tools: Role Playing

Acting appeals to most of us — something about taking on a different persona, exploring unfamiliar motives and gestures is alluring.

With roots in *psychodrama, role-playing in individual and family psychotherapy offers an exceptional tool for patients struggling with a variety of issues. When given the chance to “act” in an unfamiliar role, whether as self or other, new, even life-changing ideas can be uncovered.

If the therapist joins in and takes the role of people in the patient’s life or even the patient herself, this simple and even enjoyable therapy tool can generate significant insights.

You can learn so much from this tool that feels like a game: How you feel deep down inside, how others see you and how they feel, how to focus your thoughts and connect them more fully with your words, how to more successfully navigate complex (or even simple) interactions, and so on.

Simply put: Role-playing is a great way to gain insight into yourself and others. It can help you become more sensitive to the positions of others and help you understand how others see you as well as improve your confidence.

There’s nothing like it for removing blinders!

Role-playing can be a groundbreaking tool in relationship/marriage and family therapy where partners and family members often need to learn to develop more effective communication skills as well as sensitivity to other viewpoints. It is also very valuable in addiction therapy where denial is part of the picture.

Generally, role-playing works well with motivated, intelligent patients but isn’t usually recommended for patients with thought disorders such as schizophrenia-especially if there are symptoms of psychosis.

Though it might be considered a bit passé by psychotherapy sophisticates, I believe like all good things, the use of role-playing as a therapy tool never really goes out of style.

*A marvelous though complex therapy method sometimes used in advanced group therapy.

(Photo: Steinmaske, präkeramisches Neolithikum, 7000 v. Chr., Stein. Paris, Musée Bible et Terre Sainte; Gryffindor)

Therapy Tools: Role Playing

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2011). Therapy Tools: Role Playing. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Feb 2011
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