S3 E5: Dr. Tian Dayton on Mirroring Drunken Dynamics

Dr. Tian Dayton is a clinical psychologist focused on the trauma that is stored in our own bodies. Having grown up with an alcoholic father, she learned firsthand. that we tend to mirror and play out the drunken dynamics we observed in childhood. In part one of this two-part episode, Dr. Dayton explains how the practice of psychodrama can help people get to the core of their addictions and trauma.


Podcast Transcript

Dr. Tian Dayton
You’re a highly creative, smart generation. And I think you were born into integrations. It’s in your DNA. It’s in the technology, it’s in the way you think. I don’t want to give anybody the impression they have to do it any one way. It’s not the idea. Get it to fit for you.

David Condos
Welcome to Beyond Theory, a podcast powered by Meadows Behavioral Healthcare. That brings you in depth conversations from the frontlines of mental health and addiction recovery. I’m David Condos. When our minds go through trauma, our bodies store some of that experience physically. That’s why experiential therapies like psychodrama, incorporate physical action. So how does Dr. Tian Dayton use role playing to help people reach and release trauma that’s buried under the surface? Let’s get out of the abstract and see how this applies in the real world. It’s time to go beyond theory.

Dr. Tian Dayton
I’m Dr. Tian Dayton and I’m a senior fellow at The Meadows. I came to The Meadows really because of my expertise in psychodrama. And I bring that into the all of The Meadows programs. I’m a clinical psychologist, creative arts therapist, master’s in educational psychology, and a trainer in psychodrama sociometry in group psychotherapy.

David Condos
Now, Dr. Dayton, so good to have you with us here at the US Journal Training Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. Thanks for being with us.

Dr. Tian Dayton
Thank you. Always nice to be here.

David Condos
Yeah. So let’s start with introducing listeners to your story. Your background. I know, I know, you said you grew up around addiction, you had some of that experience in your childhood. What can you tell us about that?

Dr. Tian Dayton
What brought me into the field was my father’s addiction. It’s something that, you know, when my father in my day, we didn’t know much about addiction. So families fell apart routinely, and from not addressing it at any manageable stage. And we were so far down the road and dad’s drinking alcohol, that we couldn’t come back. And our family became it he changed. It changed us forever. It changed us forever. And that’s why really my passion, if you would call it that is to help adult children of alcoholics because I think we are we I think we’re a sick. I think we really suffered. And we what we suffered has, has come to have a name. It’s trauma, it’s relational trauma, although we didn’t know it at the time, but I have sort of spent my career trying to figure out how just living around addiction, we could mirror so thoroughly, that the drunken dynamics, I have come to the conclusion through understanding trauma, that we mirror and play out what remains the most unconscious, what hurt us the most, what traumatized us the most. We go unconscious with we know we throw it out, we dissociate, we go away, somehow, we defend against feeling what hurts too much. That’s what happens in trauma. In the mind body, we shut down because you just can’t handle it.

You’re just overwhelmed. So your thinking mind shuts down, your limbic world wakes up. So you’re pulling in all of the sensory data of the situation, you’re feeling a lot, you’re recording, smells, sights, sounds, all of that kind of stuff. But you’re not thinking about it. Consequently, you’re not making the sense out of the situation you’re in. And without making sense out of it. You have no way to record it and pull it back up and remember it. You’ve never translated that into words. Named it, right? I’m feeling this inside.

David Condos
So your body just kind of put it push it away didn’t like process it, or how would you describe it?

Dr. Tian Dayton
You really process through the mind you process through the prefrontal cortex through the thought. And without that you’re left with the sensory imprint, and the emotions but they’re not woven together into a coherent narrative. So they remain unconscious. And the way human beings work is we play out what’s unconscious in my own family. I marveled at how do we act like dad had his drunkest? I mean, even our father would sober up and not act the way we act when we start to kind of implode. But because that was unconscious because it was so painful to us as a system. Like so many alcoholic families, we were once a happy family. We had something we lost, and that but we didn’t lose it overnight, and we didn’t lose it in a dignified way. We didn’t lose it to death. No one came in with, you know, support black armbands and casseroles, we lost it a day at a time. And we lost it in mortifying embarrassing ways that we were in great denial about. So not only were we in pain, we were denying the pain we were in. And not only was our father becoming increasingly bizarre, we were denying what was happening right in front of our eyes. So that meant we got twisted. And then I fast forward, got married and my husband had a mirror image, his mother, was that sick and an alcoholic. So we, we were a perfect couple in that we really understood the other. We were also perfect couple in terms of triggering each other. And early on in our marriage. I I remember just looking at and we were having a fight and saying, you know, something’s wrong with us with this isn’t our fight. And this is before I understood transference and all that kind of stuff. But I knew we were yelling at the right people. And I found a copy of Rian Johnson’s book, I’ll Quit Tomorrow on a shelf and I read it twice without putting it down. And there was no such thing as ACA recovery at the time, but I thought I need 12 steps, because there’s something wrong with me. And it’s related to addiction. And so I just sort of did my own little program and started to figure it out.

David Condos
Yeah, so that ACA – adult children of alcoholics – that’s become, you know, much more of a thing in the mainstream now, but at the time, you were just figuring it out on your own. Like he’s

Dr. Tian Dayton
just figuring out on my own, treating myself in a sense. And I even actually, in the course of this went to an A meeting thinking maybe I knew about al anon, but for some reason I, a friend of mine had suggested Tiana, are you because I was complaining about this? And talking about how, how weird I thought our dynamics were? And she said, “Have you looked at your own drinking?” And I always such a goody goody. I thought maybe I haven’t. And maybe I should look at it. And this I had had a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve. And I think we’re conversation was in April or something like that I had nothing to drink in between. But I was so far out there think you worrying about was I an alcoholic? and that sort of thing that I thought, well, maybe I should. So I went to an a meeting and listened to all of these stories. And I remember them telling my story of a glass of champagne. And he was even somebody very kindly turned to me and said, “I think you you’re not in the right program. I think you should try an Al-Anon meeting.” And I did,

David Condos
which is for families?

Dr. Tian Dayton
Family members, it’s really was back then started for spouses. So it wasn’t a full click for an ACA, but it was enough of a click for me. So you know, honestly, initially, when I started Al-Anon, I was telling the truth about my family. And no one jumped up, no one shouted at me and no one left the room. And for the first year or two. That’s all I needed. I needed to open up and talk about what was really happening, or what had really happened…

David Condos
just for you to release it to go through that process of I guess connecting,

Dr. Tian Dayton
I guess so I guess because I’d never talked about it. I never named it ever talked about it. And what would happen in the meetings, of course, I’d hear other people’s stories, and I think, “oh, identify with the identify, gosh, I have, you know suddenly my story was all over the room. And I had things to say to but saying them in my family had gotten me in so much trouble. I mean, the MO in my family was, you know, do it, but don’t name it, do it. But don’t talk about it, you didn’t get in trouble for doing something wrong in my family, you got in trouble for talking about it, that somebody did it. And that got you in a lot of trouble. We kill the messenger. So I was from that mindset, and just being able to talk in Al-Anon and have nobody tell me. I was you know, a troublemaker or what I said was stupid or I was wrong was profoundly healing. And then ACA came along.

David Condos
Yeah, and so and so fast forward a little bit you started in your professional career you studied psychology, why did you decide to do that? What motivated you to turn and help others?

Dr. Tian Dayton
Because I needed so much help myself. I you know, once I found therapy and felt the help it gave me the relief it gave me I thought I need to be in this world all the time. And so then in my codependent brain I thought so I should be a therapist. Because then I can be in this world all the all the time. Luckily, I figured that out early on, I figured out that I wasn’t able to ask for help, I was just able to jump into the therapist role. But I understood that about myself so that because therapists can get stuck in that, and they try to meet their needs by helping others, and that’s not a good thing, we have to meet our needs straight up, and then we can help others. But initially, I just thought this is this is the world I belong in. Anyway, I get in there.

David Condos
Yeah, and then one of the things within this world of treatment and healing that you become so well known for his psychodrama, yeah. Could you just first introduce this to kind of what that is for some, some has never heard of it not familiar,

Dr. Tian Dayton
Psychodrama is role playing method of role playing you see anywhere in police stations in businesses, you know, roleplay, difficult customer, you know, in in courtrooms role playing your answers in court, all of that is a derivative of psychodrama in one form or another. And I ran into experiential therapy through Sharon Wake Scheider, who is an early mentor of mine. She trained me to do psychodrama, but we didn’t call it psychodrama. We were calling she had been trained by Virginia Satir, who had actually been trained by psychodramatists. But the name didn’t travel down with it.

David Condos
So, what was it called at the time?

Dr. Tian Dayton
Experiential therapy. Oh, yeah. Yeah. Or Virginia Satir model. And then, I discovered it was psychodrama, because I got a flyer in the mail. I live in New York City. I had a flyer, and my husband pointed it out. And he said, this is psycho and drama. This is everything you do. When they put the name together, why don’t you check it out? And I literally put it back in the pile of mail. And two months later, when it floated back up to the surface again, he said it again, he said, this is tomorrow at the Roosevelt Hotel, why don’t you check it out. And my children were small, they both had playdates and I checked it out. And that’s how I found psychodrama. And I went to the conference. And I was astounded at the method, properly done. It was a remarkably efficient, but not just efficient in healing, efficient in bringing spontaneity and creativity to the surface. It was a in the hands of someone who really understood the method, you could go anywhere. We focus a lot on healing past trauma using psychodrama. And in fact, for grief and trauma, I don’t think you can do much better than psychodrama. But you can also move into the future and do you know plan for scenes use it as a rehearsal of things you’re you’re afraid to do you can take psychodrama in any direction you like. And sociometry is part of Marina’s triadic system, a psychodrama sociometry group psychotherapy, Marina was father of group psychotherapy, he started it. And sociometry is the sort of systems you know, it’s really the, the psychodynamics of psycho of group therapy.

David Condos
Yeah. And so then, like you said, you wandered into this room and you saw it being done well psychodrama. So what does that what does that look like? Like you? I understand, like the role playing at the police station in the courtroom in this context, what is doing?

Dr. Tian Dayton
Like for me, what does it look that day? If I had had a I had had cancer. I was 35 years old. I just had a radical hysterectomy. And I wouldn’t, I wasn’t talking about it a lot. I had two children life was busy. Suddenly, I was in this room. And there. The title of the workshop was psychodramas and I thought, I don’t even know if I knew why I was going to it. But I think I did. So I went to it in the warm up was was first of all so funny that I thought this method is for me this guy. I mean, Bob Sirocco was doing that warmup. It was hilarious and brilliant, and perfectly handled, so that he had people playing their stiff necks and their sore stomachs and they’re all around the room, things were just popping in such a funny way. And people were saying the funniest thing. So it seemed to bring out of everybody a sense of spontaneity and creativity. And then he rather having warmed us up. He said, “Now, does anybody have something that really happened that” and I of course, it made difficult ACA thought, Oh, well, mine’s not a very big deal. You know, I just had a radical hysterectomy. I managed to turn that into no big deal. And then I heard other people bring their stories forward, and I thought, “Well, maybe mine’s a little bit of a thing.” So I brought mine forward. All these people chose me to be the protagonist and that alone, that’s how you do choosing process. People say I would work on this, I would work on this and then you play Your hand on the shoulder of the person who’s worked draws you. And several people place their hand on my shoulder. And I felt so seen just opening my mouth about it. And then I had people playing, you know, the part of my body that got cut out, he had somebody playing my father, he had me and the person playing my father was a woman who was wearing a pearl necklace and earrings. And look nothing like my father. But it went on to entered what we call the psychodramatic trance state, I thought I was sure I was talking to my father. And you also reverse roles and talk as your father back to yourself. So when you see role reversal, that is the scenic one on of psychodrama. It’s profoundly important and experience, therapy should never be done without role reversal. You don’t want to strengthen my role, you want to give me the opportunity to strengthen my role in creating empathy by reversing roles, and then experiencing yourself from the other the role of the other.

David Condos
So understanding the perspective…

Dr. Tian Dayton
There’s the attachment piece. Without that, it’s not an attachment therapy. So when I was my father talking back to myself, my father, by now had died, I could say the things I knew he would say, I could be the things I knew he would be wanted to be my father didn’t want to fail me. My father loved me. So I could heal the parts of that attachment, just by bringing it to life through role play in such a simple way. And then to experience it from all angles, not just human angles. But you know, who could play the telephone that rang and terrified you who could with that news that came to you all kinds of possibilities through good psychodrama of embodiment. And then your conscious mind can start to make sense of what happened. Yeah, yeah.

David Condos
Well, thank thanks for that description. Yeah. And so you’ve, you’ve taught this at NYU, you’ve you’re currently the Director of the New York Psychodrama Training Institute, right? And so you’ve made this a big part of your life. What drew you to that? Why did you focus on this part of the recovery puzzle?

Dr. Tian Dayton
Because it helped me so much, because I thought it was the method for me, I had actually gone to an acting conservatory. So at Cal Cal Arts in California, California Institute of the Arts, and I was trained as an actress, and really, an experiencer, right? This was the late, this is the 70s. We did everything very experientially, you know, we did everything very experientially. So I, I knew this was my milieu, you but I really wasn’t interested in acting. It was too insecure life, I loved directing. And I would have worked with children had I not done this. But when I found psychodrama, what I really loved about about my acting training was how it helped people become more of who they were, it was such a way to to become more

David Condos
By putting on a role, by putting…

Dr. Tian Dayton
or doing anything that was dramatic. Children do this naturally. That’s where Marina got his ideas, watching the children play with children take on roles, I have grandchildren, they’re constantly being enrolled, and then they reverse. And they you know, if they have authority issues, they play them out. And they make their dolly there, you know, you don’t do that again. And then then they become their dolly, and they talk back to themselves. This this is how children so it’s an instinct that we it’s an instinct, it is an instinct. Yeah. And so what to demonstrate, right? Yeah.

David Condos
So why does this work, so well? Why does what is group psychotherapy psychodrama? What does that offer that individual therapy?

Dr. Tian Dayton
Well, there two questions here. I think maybe the one Why does it work with trauma resolution? So why does it heal so well? And why does group therapy work…I can’t say better, differently, different from one to one, for starters, with the body involvement allows what is in the limbic system to surface through action.

David Condos
So that’s how you were saying it was stored physically, yeah.

Dr. Tian Dayton
And that action, it comes out through action, if you are asked to play who could play your mother. And when you are in role, you suddenly say the things they come out of you the way they do in real life, right? It comes out and then you reflect on it after it has come out. It’s a more spontaneous way of figuring out what’s going on inside of yourself. So this limbic world that has remained silent, suddenly finds action in words. And the group therapy aspect is very stimulating. They say if the group becomes the family, the group stimulates and triggers relationships. And they are often or if you’re stunted in your early relationships. They will create that. Yeah. And then and then it allows you to, to have to listen. Also, it allows you to have to figure out how to be part of a group. Because if you’re part of a dysfunctional family, you’ll learn dysfunctional ways of being part of a group, you may be learn to hide, you may be learn to aggress, whatever you learn, it emerges in a group therapy situation. If the group therapy isn’t overly formulaic, you know, a group therapist has to be willing to live in the moment. And to really allow stuff to surface in the moment. If you’re too formulaic about it, you don’t allow your people to, to let that stuff,

David Condos
let it go, where it’s gonna go naturally.

Dr. Tian Dayton
Or where it’s gonna get triggered and go, or go unnaturally too. But you need that to heal, you need it to come to the surface so you can see it.

David Condos
And so you’re a senior fellow with The Meadows and you’re you’ve been involved with them for some time. Now, how, how does this integrate with addiction treatment, mental health treatment, and you can even talk specifically about The Meadows programs, specifically, how do you bring psychodrama and all of this into a larger recovery plan?

Dr. Tian Dayton
Well, for starters, it’s already there. It’s so what I do in the addiction field. And what I have done for the last three, five years is it was perfect, what is already there. Yet, people were using experiential therapy, just as I was coming into the field. And organically, everybody was falling in love with it. What’s missing is to do it really thoughtfully and carefully well. Oftentimes, because people get a bit of training, and then they go to town with it not fully knowing what they’re doing. So I am there to train people well, to teach them how to do this method responsibly and well. And beyond that, and that’s just straight psychodynamic training. On my own, I have created an approach a method and I call it socio metrics. In the model over a model is RTR – relational trauma repair. But within that, I’ve created all of these discrete processes. Based on this theory of psychodrama. One problem with experiential therapy is it sometimes isn’t based enough on the theory, it’s not informed enough, it doesn’t understand what it’s doing really. It has it’s too goal oriented to reductionistic. So my processes are more at over, open ended. And they are also integrated with research. So what I can give The Meadows is a way to work with grief, experientially, that allows the grief research to be can be made experiential, that that is a group process that allows the body to be involved, that promotes people to have to interact with each other over and over and over again. But it is easier to do than psychodrama. You can integrate psychodrama into it. But it is easier to learn and execute. And it is also more focused, the psychodrama is not focused. It’s a method that can be applied to absolutely anything. It’s open ended. So some people apply that better than others. But you can also go down a rabbit hole just following it where it’s not useful in trauma resolution or in addiction treatment. So I’ve created these exercises that help it focus.

David Condos
Yeah, and that’s the RTR the sociometric, exactly. Focused version. Exactly. Yeah. And I know you mentioned you’re doing some research with the meadows as well, what can you tell us about that work?

Dr. Tian Dayton
Well, we’re really ready to make this an evidence based. We’ve been collecting evidence for a few years, but now we have a program called mending heart ones, for example, that is a good one to collect evidence on. Because it’s all so see metrics and psychodrama and we can be evidence is really just I already know this works. I’ve already I wouldn’t even bring this out into the field. Unless I’d already collected my own evidence. I spent 10 years 15 developing it. I just need to put it on paper now. And we were doing that at The Meadows.

David Condos
Yeah. And so for someone else who who’s working in this field or on the frontlines of mental health, addiction treatment, how can they start to incorporate some some of this in the work they’re doing? Well, what are some ways that this can even be of more help to more people?

Dr. Tian Dayton
Well, they can you know, I’ve done a book called The Living Stage, which is sort of a Bible of basic psychodrama and some socio metrics. We’re about 100. And I have also a model called RTR Therapist Guide, revised edition, and that’s on Amazon so they can buy those and do that reading on my website TianDayton.com. There are films of the socio matrix lots and lots of films. And there is set, there’s a network of psychodramatists. That’s International. So if you go on a website as GPP, American Society for Group Psychotherapy and psychodrama, you can find a psychodramatists trainer in your area in get some training. And once you have some training under your belt or some experience, you can start to use the socio metrics in your work.

David Condos
Right. Well, Dr. Dayton, thank you for your time. Well, we’ll dive in even deeper on your new book, soulful journey of recovery in the next episode, but before we break, what would you say is maybe the next step? What’s another breakthrough? Another challenge that you see looking into the future of, you know, integrating all this together? What, what’s the next step that you see the next few years?

Dr. Tian Dayton
For your generation to take over and for us to support you? My kids are in the younger generation who are now moving into the power positions in the world. We got it this far. And we did a really incredible job. I think we’ve worked hard to get these things to surface and be understood. You’re a highly creative, smart generation. And I want to acknowledge you I think you are you were born into integrations. We were we learned methods, and then we protect our methods were more siloed generation, you integrate naturally, it comes. It’s in your DNA, it’s in the technology, it’s in the way you think you are also already emotionally literate, because we raised you.

David Condos
So it’s just it’s been more of the language, more of the mainstream…

Dr. Tian Dayton
We did not talk about feelings when I was a child, that was an odd thing to do. We didn’t do it. We didn’t have a language for emotions. We were emotionally pretty illiterate. And we raised our children to be emotionally literate. You talk about feelings. If you go to any New York City, coffee house, everybody’s talking about their feelings. You know, that’s what everybody in your generation does. We talked about, you know, books we talk. I mean, we didn’t talk about our feelings we do now is our age and our generation, because we figured it out. And we invented it in a sense, and we talked, taught it to our kids. And so you already know that. Yeah, but you’re you’re good people to carry the ball from here. Does that make sense? I think integrations I think that’s where we’re going right? integrations, you’re not so siloed you’re not so close, you’re not so protective. You know, you know how to how to pull things together. And that’s what you believe in. And that’s what I believe and I designed socio metrics to fit into anybody’s system anywhere just to help you make things experiential. I don’t want to give anybody the impression they have to do it any one way. It’s not the idea. I get it to fit for you.

David Condos
All right, Dr. Dayton. Thank you. Dr. Tian Dayton is a clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma, psychodrama and adverse childhood experiences. She’s now a senior fellow with the meta was based in New York. Learn more about her work at TianDayton.com. Beyond Theory is produced and hosted by me, David Condos. You can discover more from this podcast, including videos of each conversation at beyondtheorypodcast.com. Finally, thank you for listening. And I hope you’ll join us again next time for another episode of Beyond Theory.

 

LISTEN ON