Walking in Their Shoes

How Barone Defense Firm uses psychodrama to help clients cope with traumatic events

Published in 2016 Michigan Super Lawyers — September 2016

Had Patrick Barone looked up psychodrama, he probably never would have gone to Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College. 

“On the third evening and fourth morning, they did full-blown, three-hour psychodramas,” Barone recalls. “The first one involved a [fellow student] whose family member had recently died, and so they recreated, essentially, his death bed in the hospital. It was an amazingly emotional event, and the next day was an equally emotionally charged issue. Just before we left, they had the whole staff up on the stage to demonstrate how what we just learned can be incorporated in the courtroom. So this whole time I’m thinking, ‘What does this have to do with anything?’ But on the fourth day I’m like, ‘Wow; I get it.’”

Barone is the founding partner and CEO of Barone Defense Firm, a practice dedicated exclusively to DUI defendants and one that has been completely transformed by psychodrama. 

“The more that I went to these [sessions], the more I recognized and adopted the methods to my own practice,” he says. “I was so excited I sent my partner to the college, and now all the lawyers in my office—all seven—have psychodrama training. The staff members, too.”

Psychodrama is a group therapy model that starts with a storyteller (client) recreating a scene in a physical space. The storyteller then assigns roles—say, a police officer. “And that person doesn’t know how the officer behaved, so the client has to show them by reversing roles and becoming the police officer.” Clients can play their own role, but Barone notes that making them relive their own trauma can make things worse. 

“You pull them out and put them in the mirror position so they’re watching it happen. In effect, the client is playing all of the parts, because they’re showing everyone else,” he says. “You can read it in black and white or see it on a tape, but it’s not the same as having the client show you. The adage is: The body remembers what the mind forgets.”

Clients are invariably intrigued by this method, Barone says, “and that in and of itself is important. I’ve learned that you’re often dealing with trauma that people have experienced, and being charged with and accused of a crime is a traumatic experience. One of the things that’s healing is to have the trauma witnessed by somebody else.”

Sometimes these reenactments cause Barone to realize he has less of a case than originally anticipated. “But the client, by being a part of it, will hopefully see it, too,” he says. 

The concept is far easier to experience than explain, Barone admits. He uses it most during trial preparation, but it also teaches group dynamics for jury selection, first- and second-person perspectives for opening and closing statements, and can help illustrate scenes during a trial.

“I remember a drunk-driving case I handled some years ago where there was a tape of the booking room where the data master and breath test was administered. I could have, if I’d wanted to, shown the tape to the jury so they could see what happened. But I made the decision, instead, to recreate via psychodrama the booking room in the courtroom so the jury could be there with my client as it happened. I did that by questioning the police officer and, with his help, reenacted what happened. If you look at it on the screen, it’s two-dimensional. … It’s like watching a hockey or football game on TV versus going to the stadium.”

The path to becoming a certified practitioner is extensive, and Barone hopes to tackle the exam and practicum in 2017. His wife, a psychologist, is already certified. Together, they founded Michigan Psychodrama Center, where they hope to train others.

“Probably the most helpful thing of all, for me, is the concept of role reversal,” he says. “It really helps you to build empathy for another person—you’re essentially walking in their shoes, like Atticus says in To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s almost impossible for me not to reverse roles with others now.” 

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