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Psychodrama And The Power of Story

February 3, 2011

Story is the portal through which we enter other people’s lives, connect with them, and discover our similarities. Stories are the source of human connection and perhaps the most important component to effective communication. Effective communication is a means to achieve your goal: justice for your client.

The hunger for story is ingrained in every human being. From the time our ancestors sat around fires in caves until today, humans seek and thrive on story to connect with their fellow man, pass down history and to teach. Story is the currency of human contact. “Telling stories and being curious about the stories of others is a way of life as much as it is a technique of influence.”[1]

Our insatiable appetite for stories is fed daily via movies, cable TV, and the Internet. Stories permeate our everyday lives, from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep. They even inhabit and invade our dreams. Stories are everywhere because more than anything else in culture, stories move us.

But some draw and move us more than others. In the courtroom, we need to grab the jury’s attention, hold it, and move them to action on behalf of our clients. This is not an easy task.

One of the most difficult tasks you face as a lawyer is finding or discovering your client’s story, the one that you must tell at trial. What parts of the story are important? Where do you begin? Who are the characters or important players? What facts do you need to prove the client’s claims? And most importantly, what story will move a jury to deliver justice?

You cannot give jurors the actual experience of your client, but you can provide them with the next best thing. According to storytelling expert Annette Simmons, author of The Story Factor and Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, “Stories interpret raw facts and proofs to create reality.”[2] You can bring your client’s experience to jurors through story, one that is so vivid and detailed the jurors feel as if they are actually there to experience the event as it is happening. “Story is a re-imagined experience narrated with enough detail and feeling to cause your listener’s imaginations to experience it as real.”[3] While they cannot be witnesses to the actual event, through the use of psychodramatic tools, they can bear witness to the re-imagining of the experience.

One of the first things that must happen in order to fully explore a client’s story is for you to abandon your agenda that focuses only on the elements of the cause of action asserted in the case, and instead, to look at all of the facts, the points of view and perspectives of each witness (including the opposition’s) and explore the story as a whole. You need to look at the story first as a human being, not just as a lawyer, so you can relate to and tell it to a group of human beings, the jurors.

The case may be about an automobile accident but the story is about much more than the accident itself. If all you do is focus on the actual event giving rise to the cause of action—the accident—you will miss critical parts of the story. These parts of the story help a jury understand not only the accident itself, but how the accident had an impact on your client’s life, and ultimately, how not holding the defendant responsible could have an impact on each of the jurors’ lives.[4]

Traditionally, you begin by interviewing the client. Unfortunately, most lawyers limit themselves to looking for facts that fit into various boxes that prove the elements of a particular cause of action. This is, after all, what you were taught in law school.

But this type of analysis will not serve you well when it comes to finding and exploring the story that will result in a successful outcome of the case. It does not take into consideration emotions or the universal story or stories that may arise from the events. A story, to be effective, must evoke feelings in the listener or the observer.

In a trial, human beings, not automatons, are the decision makers; they are the people you want to convince that your client has been wronged and deserves redress. Despite what many law professors would have us think, people make decisions based on their gut, their instincts, and their feelings, rather than rationality and intellect. As human beings, our feelings play a huge role in our decision-making. After all, a verdict reflects the decision of human beings who use their intellect and rational analysis to support the decision they “feel” is right.

Limiting yourself to a cold analysis of facts, pigeon-holing those facts into causes of action is too limiting. It may result in your missing powerful and persuasive aspects of the story, specifically feelings and emotions that will lead a jury to justice on behalf of your client. “[F]acts aren’t as powerful as human emotions. Feelings alter facts, at least the impact of facts.”4 The most effective way to elicit an emotional response from people is through psychodramatic methods, that is, the “show me, don’t tell me” way.

You can learn more about Psychodrama and how lawyers are using it by reading the book – Trial In Action:The Persuasive Power of Psychodrama available from Trial Guides. For information on programs that train lawyers in the use of psychodrama and its application to trial practice, visit The 3 Sisters, LLP web site. To learn more about the power of Story in the courtroom, attend The Art of Telling Our Client’s Story – Aug. 11 – 14, 2011 in Portland, OR.


[1] Annette Simmons, The Story Factor: Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling (Basis Books, 2001), 189.

[2] Annette Simmons, Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, (AMACOM, 2007), 3.

[3] Id. 19.

[4] This is not about violating the Golden Rule but a recognition of the universal truths that are part of our lives. Many of us share similar life experiences, albeit with slight variations; this means our stories are largely the same.

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3 comments

  1. A great post. I found it, along with your previous post, very informative. I am going to check out the book.


  2. Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is an extremely well written article. I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful information. Thanks for the post. I’ll certainly comeback.


  3. I recently bought your book at an AAJ seminar. It is just fantastic! One of the best books I have read on trial practice in a long time.



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