A Case Study Talking to Dad About Pronouns

Psychodrama offers group therapists multiple experiential tools that can be useful in helping clients attain their treatment goals, one of which is psychodramatic role training for future life scenarios. Many clients in group therapy struggle with fear, anxiety, or a sense of disempowerment related to facing future life situations. Psychodramatic role training is a dynamic and experiential process that allows individuals to immerse themselves in various roles and scenarios within a safe and controlled environment (Giacomucci, 2021). Role playing is generally more based on an experience while role training is focused on practicing a specific behavior in a specified situation (Treadwell, 2021). It offers participants the opportunity to explore and practice different roles they may encounter in their lives in the future (Cruz, Sales, Alves, & Moita, 2018). Through role-playing and role reversal, individuals can develop a deeper understanding of their own behaviors, emotions, and thought patterns, as well as gain insight into the perspectives and feelings of others (Abeditehrani, Dijk, Neyshabouri, & Arntz, 2021). This immersive process enables participants to experiment with new responses and strategies while desensitizing emotional responses, enhancing their ability to navigate real-life confidently and effectively.

Psychodramatic Role Training in Group Therapy

Psychodramatic role training serves as a transformative tool for clients preparing to face life’s diverse challenges. Within the group setting, participants can engage in role-play scenarios that mirror real-life situations. The skill of boundary setting can be demonstrated and explored in the safety of the group process. Delicate conversations with loved ones become opportunities for growth as participants embody the roles of both speaker and listener, fostering empathetic communication. Clients who have identified triggers related to past trauma or relapse can practice responding to these situations in new ways that may be more productive. Even the process of making amends can be practiced through role reversal, allowing individuals to cultivate reconciliation skills. Role training can help clients have difficult discussions about racism, gender pronouns, sexuality, or other aspects of identity with people in their life. Psychodramatic role training empowers clients to rehearse, learn, and grow together, ultimately enhancing their ability to navigate life’s complex scenarios with newfound confidence and resilience.

A Group Therapy Example: Discussions About Gender Pronouns with Dad

This example comes from my own clinical work and (unfortunately) is an all too familiar experience for trans and non-binary clients. Within the group therapy warm-up, Sam expresses their anger and frustration at their father’s inability to understand their recent gender transition, name change, and use of “they/them” pronouns. The group rallies around Sam with support and curiosity for their own learning. The facilitator offers Sam and the group the option of further exploring Sam’s experience through role play and role training. Sam is invited to choose someone to play the role of strength that could help them have a conversation with their father – they chose courage and patience. Group members take on these two auxiliary roles. Next, role reversals and dialogue are facilitated with these two strengths to ground the protagonist and help them bring new spontaneity and strength to their relationship with their father. While role reversed, speaking to themself, Sam (as courage) says “you can tell your dad how it feels to be misgendered,” “even if you don’t know how he will respond, you can be unapologetically you,” and “don’t forget that you have friends who have experienced the same thing and can support you”. Sam is role reversed back to self and the group member playing the role of courage repeats the messages for Sam. Inrole reversal with patience, Sam (as patience) says “I know it is painful, but remember your dad loves you and they/them pronouns are new to him” and “if you tell him how important pronouns are to you, he will try his best to get it right.”. Sam is reversed back to the role of themself, and the other role player repeats the messages as patience to Sam. These messages from courage and patience clearly give Sam more insight and confidence to practice talking to their dad. They are instructed to choose another group member to play the role of their father and to begin talking to their father.

Sam: Dad, I need to talk to you. I want you to know this is really important to me. I’ve told you that I don’t identify as a Simon and as a man. My name is Sam, and I don’t like being referred to with he or him pronouns as it feels like you don’t respect who I am. [begins to cry]

The director instructs Courage and Patience role players to speak.

Courage: Sam you can speak your truth and feel your feelings

Patience: Your dad might need more time to understand and practice using the right pronouns

Sam: It makes me angry that I have to constantly correct you and others about my name and pronouns. [continues to cry]

Director offers a doubling statement for same

Director: I am going to offer you a statement that you can try on if it fits and simply change if it doesn’t fit. Okay? ….. I just want to be respected for who I am.

Sam: [nods in affirmation] I really just want to be respected and valued for who I am. It has been really hard and I get made fun of and harassed at school and in public. I need your support on this so that being home around you doesn’t make me anxious.

Director instructs Sam to reverse roles with Dad and for the role player to repeat the messages as Sam to Dad. Then the director asks Sam (in the role as Dad) to respond

Dad (played by Sam): I’m trying, I really am. I don’t understand why you have to change your name and pronouns. I named you when you were born and have known you as my son for your entire life. Using plural pronouns for you feels weird too.

Director: Dad – can you tell Sam how you feel about them.

Dad (played by Sam): at first I felt like this would be a phase and just something with which you were experimenting. I felt resistant to you changing your name.

Director: what else do you feel?

Dad (played by Sam): I feel… I feel a loss. Like I always wanted a son, and you are my only son. I love you no matter what; I have some grieving about this change too.

The director facilitates a role reversal back and instructs the role player in the role of dad to repeat the messages previously articulated. Then prompts Sam to respond as themself.

Sam: I was so angry at your resistance and calling this a phase. I can see how this might be hard for you, but I need your support. I’m realizing that this is a big change for you, and it’s a big change for me too. I will try to be patient with you when you make an honest mistake but I’m going to keep correcting you when you mess up.

Director: Sam – is there anything else you need to tell your dad?

Sam: just that I love you and thank you for trying, even if you don’t understand it.

Next the director invites Sam to replay the discussion with their father but to enact other possibilities and variations of the discussion to develop an increased sense of confidence in responding in real life. Group members join in by offering doubling statements and offering Sam diverse ways of responding to the different nuanced scenarios that emerge in the role play.

After the psychodramatic role plays, each role player was instructed to de-role and the group process moved into sharing, where each group member shared how they related to the roles, themes, and emotions in the scene. Some of the group members expressed their solidarity with Sam and similar feelings related to their own experiences with loved ones and identity. Other group members shared about identifying with Sam’s father and expressed how helpful it was to better understand Sam’s feelings and how important it is to actively use accurate pronouns. Even though the psychodrama was focused on Sam’s issue, the entire group benefited and was able to work through some of their own emotions, develop new insight, and learn skills for difficult discussions.


Psychodrama transcends mere role-playing; it embodies a holistic therapeutic and pedagogical approach – engaging cognitive, emotional, social, spiritual, and somatic domains. It cultivates emotional resilience, refines communication skills, and aligns cognitive processes with emotional responses and behavioral actions. Incorporating psychodramatic role training into group therapy practices offers group therapists another tool to make sessions engaging while supporting clients. Whether preparing clients for job-related challenges, responding to triggers, or delicate conversations, psychodrama equips therapists with a powerful tool to facilitate scenario-based training. As group therapists, we are trusted with the privilege of empowering clients to navigate their lives and major decisions. I encourage you to embrace the potential of psychodrama and role play to enrich your therapeutic and educational interventions to help your clients and students become the best they can be.


Abeditehrani, H., Dijk, C., Neyshabouri, M. D., & Arntz, A. (2021). Beneficial Effects of Role Reversal in Comparison to role-playing on negative cognitions about Other’s Judgments for Social Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry70, 101599.

Cruz, A., Sales, C., Alves, P., & Moita, G. (2018). The core techniques of Morenian psychodrama: A systematic review of literature. Frontiers in psychology, 1263.

Giacomucci, S. (2021). Social work, sociometry, and psychodrama: Experiential approaches for group therapists, community leaders, and social workers. Springer Nature.

Giacomucci, S. (2023). Trauma-Informed Principles in Group Therapy, Psychodrama, and Organizations: Action Methods for Leadership. Routledge.

Treadwell, T. W. (2021). Integrating CBT with experiential theory and practice: A group therapy workbook.New York, NY Routledge.


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