Do organizations need psychotherapy?


The Drama Triangle

You may have heard of the Drama Triangle (Stephen Karpman, 1968 ‘Fairy Tales and Script Drama Analysis’).  The Drama Triangle is a social model used in Transactional Analysis (a branch of psychology).  It describes a common ‘game’ that we all sometimes play alternately puts us in the position of the Villain, the Victim, or the Rescuer.  When engaged in this game, two people may move around the triangle, playing several, if not all, the roles during the course of a transaction.  They are unconsciously playing this game in which “…the Victim is not really as helpless as he feels, the Rescuer is not really helping, and the Persecutor does not really have a valid complaint”.

Why does this occur?  Each role gets some kind of psychological ‘payoff’, without having to acknowledge the overall dysfunction that the situation represents. The game will tend to perpetuate as long as the payoff exists.  The game is a dysfunction, and not a problem-solving model because it is often played so that a person can justify take or avoid certain actions that otherwise differ from social expectations.   For example,  the Rescuer will keep the Victim dependent on them by playing into their victimhood (so is not really a rescuing anyone at all).  The Triangle is fundamentally based in anxiety, and is a power-game designed to oppress the Victim.

We find this pattern a lot in the corporate work-place.  So-called ‘fire-fighting’ styles of management, are a form of this game, as are so-called ‘office heroes’.  It is more satisfying to be seen to ‘save the day’ during a self-created crisis, than to have avoided the crises in the first place.  It is easier to lay blame than to create solutions, and to feel besieged by circumstance rather than take proactive ownership of the problem.

The Empowerment Dynamic

As a coach and consultant, it is interesting to look at the anti-pattern to Karpman’s Drama Triangle.  This is The Empowerment Dynamic (David Womeldorff, 2005, “The Power of TED).  In this variation, the Victim becomes the Creator, the Villain becomes the Challenger, and the Rescuer becomes the Coach.  Unlike in the Drama Triangle, in The Empowerment Dynamic, the dynamic is outcome-orientated.  It is a suitable model for problem-solving, and one can easily see these roles being played out in problem-solving group techniques such as Brainstorming.  Instead of focussing on the problem, the Victim/Creator’s focus is on what the long-term needs and goals are.  The Challenger, through questioning, helps drive clarity to those goals, while the Coach, rather than dissembling as the fake role of Rescuer, works to help the Creator find solutions to their own problems.

Spotting Drama Triangles, and converting them to Empowerment Dynamics – now that will really make you an ‘office hero’!

@CC BY-SA 3.0 by David Emerald

@CC BY-SA 3.0 by David Emerald

Paul Osborn

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