(Plenary Presentation to
the 66th Annual Conference of the American Society for Group
Psychotherapy & Psychodrama (ASGPP), April 11, 2008, San Antonio,
Adam Blatner, M.D., TEP
The theme of our conference is “Blazing trails into creative
consciousness,” and when I look over the program, I see lots of
different trails being blazed. To blaze a trail is to create a path in
the wilderness where there had been none before, and here the phrase is
used as a metaphor for creativity. Today I will propose a creative
twist in how we think about psychodrama and Moreno’s contributions in
general, and discuss some of the implications of this idea. I touched
on some of the themes in this talk in an article I had published in our
Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama and Sociometry last summer,
and since then have come up with some new angles.
Today I’m suggesting that we re-think our mission by expanding beyond
psychodrama as psychotherapy and psychodrama as method—so that we
consider the range of Moreno’s contributions—including role theory,
sociodrama, sociometry, spontaneity training, interactive drama, group
work, the philosophy of creativity, and so forth. Conceptually, I’m
suggesting that what ties all these together, what they’re about, is
that they are tools, and more specifically tools that qualitatively
expand the nature of communication.
Our work is about so much more than therapy. In 1934, as the opening
line of what Moreno considered to be his magnum opus, his most
significant book, Who Shall Survive?, Moreno wrote, “A true therapeutic
procedure cannot have less an objective than the whole of mankind.” By
therapy, Moreno I think meant something that would be helpful,
useful—it didn’t need to apply to a strictly clinical context or the
medical model. A “true therapeutic procedure” might also be phrased as
“a really useful complex of tools.” As for an objective as the whole of
mankind—that means that these tools should be applied in all human
institutions, in education, religion, business, politics, criminology,
and so forth. The articles in Moreno’s journals reflected this wider
One way to think about our work that does allow it such a broad range
of applications is to recognize it—re-cognize means re-think—as not
just therapy, as I said, but as a broader, more fundamental category—as
an expanded type of communication. As an analogy, consider that a
similar act of re-visioning happened in the history of the computer:
Around fifty years ago, The International Business Machines—also known
as IBM—was in the business of making fancy adding machines, calculators
of various types. When electronics came in and began to be developed,
it became apparent that this new technology would allow operations to
happen not in terms of seconds or even tenths of seconds, but in terms
of micro-seconds, so that thousands of operations could be done per
second. This made it possible to not just crunch numbers quickly, but
more—to use sequences of numbers for letters or words or even pictures.
The speed of electronic operations offered not just a quantitative
improvement in productivity in mathematical calculation, but a
potentially qualitative shift beyond just calculation to “information
processing”—that phrase was the breakthrough—, word processing, picture
processing, and the thousands of refinements that have grown out of it.
More, each escalation in speed and power of computing, from thousands
of operations per second to now billions per second—allow for new and
more complex types of functions.
I am suggesting that, first, the various techniques, elements and
concepts proposed by Moreno and developed by others since open up whole
dimensions, fresh viewpoints or frames of mind in thinking and
communications. When we add more dimensions to our more familiar types
of communications that allows for a corresponding expansion of
functions. With these added sociodrama-like dimensions, we can use
communications in new ways to explore and create, to develop and deepen
consciousness, to support relationships and group and inter-group
functions. We can foster empathy and generate more wholesome forms of
recreation and spirituality—the applications go on and on.
When gestures were combined
with words, that’s using the nonverbal and the verbal, that’s a
combination of dimensions. When story-telling and art was added, and
diagrams and drama—these also were further dimensions. The invention of
the technology writing captured the elusiveness of sound in
two-dimensional space, and the applications of writing in turn affected
what and how was written. Writing aided memory and reduced distortion
in a series of messages. (Remember the children’s game of telephone and
how quickly a message can get garbled?). Writing allowed for
accountants and law, more accurate legends and partook of the magic of
extending the affirmative power of prayer. When things were written,
these statements had even more power than when they were spoken—such
was the magical impact of this new medium.
There were many further refinements, breakthroughs, and dimensions in
the history of writing, such as the emergence of alphabets from more
symbol-based systems like hieroglyphics—and that particular
breakthrough took about fifteen hundred years to happen. The history is
rich, but the point is that communications have expanded so that
printing, postal systems, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and
now the internet, each new innovation adds certain dimensions to the
process of communication.
Let’s return to how people talk together in the present culture: They
joke, jabber in small talk, and in more serious talk folks tend to
present opinions, argue, negotiate. What people don’t do that much of,
but what drama facilitates, is encounter, explore, create, imagine
together, and at the same time attend to the feelings of those involved.
Consider that activities that promote creativity, group work,
facilitating spontaneity, integrating psychology and also social
criticism and analysis, and so forth, each requires an expansion of the
dimensionality of communications, and as I say, Moreno’s various
components offer these functions! Let’s consider some of these:
Creativity: First there’s Moreno’s prime theme of
creativity. Making this a core value invites a shift from just
exchanging opinions or arguing to a cooperative goal of discovering
together, and that tone almost introduces a world of possibility, a
fresh tone to the communication.
Spontaneity: One of Moreno’s best insights was that the
best way to create is to improvise, try out stuff, experiment. That
lends another tone or dimension to the problem, not just quiet
planning, but something in which participants allow their intuitions
and impulses to be expressed and then see what they want to do with
those maneuvers, which work, which flop, which might yet work with more
refinement. It’s more energetic, vital—and the more you do it, the more
creativity comes out.
Play: This dynamic offers two dimensions: First is that
play lightens up the process, reduces its sense that a mistake is
catastrophic. Second, play generates a context that is structured so
that experiments are possible, more fail-safe. One can be somewhat
serious in an experiment without having to get bogged down by taking
oneself too seriously. The goal is to foster in the process of
exploration a heightened receptivity of mind so that intuitions can
more readily enter consciousness, and this can’t happen in states of
fear or shame. Play counters those inhibitions.
Warming-Up: Here is a mixture of action, group
dynamics, play, and other techniques that serve to heighten spontaneity
gradually—which is what needs to happen. I think of this as a
dimension, in contrast to the common expectation people have that their
ideas be neatly packaged in advance.
Group Dynamics: Moreno was a pioneer of the interaction
among several people as a source of creativity. This was about more
than group therapy—although many of Moreno’s innovations were channeled
into the realm of therapy—but what we’re saying is broader, it talks
about the whole value of recognizing the creative potential of teams,
groups, in business, spiritual explorations, social action, and so
Note that while some of these elements may be found to some small
degree in various other communications media, the conscious bringing
together of these elements makes for a qualitatively different process.
Drama offers another dimension, or, actually, several
dimensions. First, making alternative stories, playing them out, offers
a kind of laboratory for experiments—not hard science chemistry
experiments, but rather experiments in the psycho-social domain.
Instead of test tubes and beakers and chemicals, drama offers a variety
of techniques that facilitate psycho-social experiments: asides, role
reversal, doubling, the mirror, and so forth. Each tool adds another
kind of shift of frame, and it is these shift of frames, the use of a
viewpoint not ordinarily employed in mundane communications, that help
suggest what I mean by adding new dimensions.
Surplus Reality: One of the major dimensions of drama
is the conscious utilization of what Moreno called “surplus
reality,”—imagination, the magic “if”—in the service of exploring
together. We all did this, used it naturally in the make-believe play
of our childhood. It’s even more effective when we channel this innate
potential in the service of mature explorations.
The term, “surplus reality” is useful because otherwise folks tend to
devalue or discount what is imagined, and even more what is felt or
intuited. Moreno recognized that these functions carried a great deal
of psychological truth, and it all needed to have a more respectable
status, so he gave it an impressive phrase. Surplus reality invites us
to take the power of “if” more seriously and harnesses psychological
truth, phenomenology, in the service of creativity.
Role Training and Role Playing: Rehearsal, simulations,
trying things out in the service of developing skills—this is a well
known process in music and traditional drama. During rehearsals the
director can stop mid-performance and criticize a part, then, based on
these constructive comments, the players can take that part over. We
need to bring that device into ordinary communications. Whoa, wait,
what just happened here? Let’s pause and comment on it. The dimension
of self-reflection becomes woven into communications.
Action Techniques or Psychodramatic Methods:
Doubling, role reversal, the mirror, asides, soliloquy, multiple parts
of self—each technique introduces a different frame, as if it were
adding a different dimension or way of dealing with the communication
Role: This concept is the basis of a user-friendly
language for individual, interpersonal, and social psychology. Having a
language that’s familiar and easy to apply by a wider number of people
makes the game of communication and exploration more accessible, easier
to learn. Role is to the different kinds of psychology what the
alphabet was to writing!
Tele, or Rapport: From the field of investigation
Moreno called sociometry comes a way to become more sensitive to the
ways in which people connect, choose each other, feel more or less
cohesive, include each other. Such considerations need to be woven into
the mainstreams of psychology and ultimately into culture. That, too is
Elsewhere on this website there is a related paper that elaborates on
this point and presents a number of other aspects that I consider to be
dimensions of communication: Expanding Communications using Psychodrama.
Speaking of dimensions of communications, a website or blog can be
somewhat interactive! So if you email me with a suggestion that I
add this or change that, I’ll consider it and either discuss it with
you or just go along with your good idea and put it in—and say if you
wish that it was your idea! You can’t get this done in most ordinary
journal articles. So perhaps it is also another dimension.
The first implication has
already been suggested: Psychodrama in the larger sense of the term,
including all of Moreno’s different contributions, is bigger than
classical psychodrama as a psychotherapeutic method. The complex of
Moreno’s contributions are more varied and have more types of
applications, and these can continue to expand and be refined and
developed, and—to be emphasized—these approaches may be woven in with
One corollary of this is that we should collectively take more steps to
acknowledge this broadening of our vision and range of applications. Of
course this is not new, and many of you are already extending these
applications beyond therapy per se, but what other ways can we
reposition our identity? Should we re-name the journal now that it is
getting a fresh start with a new publisher? Should we re-name our
organization? Should we move towards building certification processes
for non-clinical uses of Moreno’s approaches?
The second implication is that the name “psychodrama” is in some ways
misleading. It is an example of a rhetorical device called
“synechdoche”—as in the sea story, Two Years before the Mast, the mast
referring to the ship and the journey. What if we spoke instead of
Moreno’s Contributions? Because we are dealing with a number of
different things: There’s psychodrama, to be sure, but there is also
sociodrama, axiodrama and beyond that, role training, role playing, and
beyond that, sociometry, sociometric-like exercises, warm-up
techniques, action techniques, role analysis, improvised drama, the
philosophy of creativity, the cultural critique of that which relies on
the cultural conserve, spontaneity training, and on and on.
The pont here is that each one of these elements can be used apart from
the others. Ah, heresy! But it’s true. Of course there is value in
combining them in certain circumstances, but the point is that we don’t
have to present ourselves to the world as selling the whole package.
That would be the equivalent of insisting that anyone who buys a
computer must learn all its mathematical calculating maneuvers.
This implication is then mixed with the first one—use the different
techniques, and use them with an expanded range of applications—in
business and personal development, social action and community
building, and mixed with other approaches, such as, for example, in
promoting creativity or group cohesion in business and organizations.
These efforts can be pursued without ever having to do classical
A third implication is that it might be all right—officially all
right—to use other terms than psychodrama to describe what we do or how
we present ourselves to the world. In fact, of course, many leaders in
our field already do that. The word psychodrama is problematic for many
types of clients—both the prefix “psycho-“ and the suffix “-drama”
evoking unwanted associations. Instead, depending on the group, our
people have been using terms such as “action training” “action
techniques,” “role playing,” “experiential education,” “sociodramatic
methods,” and so forth.
An advantage to de-centering the word, psychodrama, may include the
theme of shifting away from the sense that the method by itself is what
works. It doesn’t. Like surgery or carpentry or theology, Moreno’s
methods can be used badly, unethically, foolishly. That’s one of the
reasons in the 1970s there was a move towards certification—there were
people who did just that—and some of them are coming to the surface
again. Instead, what should be emphasized is that there are a complex
of methods, tools, but they need to be used with good judgment, ethics,
wisdom. Training should emphasize this, too.
One of my more intriguing implications that has emerged in my
preparation of this presentation is that Moreno’s contributions go
beyond even being an expansion of types of communications. Julian
Jaynes wrote in the mid-1970s a book that suggested that writing
increased the shift in emerging human consciousness to a greater
dominance by the language-focused left side of the brain. Daniel Pink a
couple of years ago wrote another book, “A Whole New Mind,” that
proposed that our postmodern era needs a capacity for innovation that
draws on the re-cultivation of the right-brain’s potentials and a
better balance of the two hemispheres. I’m suggesting that we also
re-cognize that Moreno’s complex of methods are especially designed to
do just this. Moreno’s methods are bigger than therapy, bigger than
communications, and they address also how the mind is being
re-organized, how consciousness may evolve.
This is another term that
has begun to be thrown around more, in part because the ups and downs
in politics—and especially the downs—has excited the sense that we need
to get more socially involved. More than for many years the idea that
society can get as sick as any neurotic or even psychotic is being
recognized, and Moreno’s term—though emphasizing a bit of a medical
model in the -iatry part of the word—really envisions the applications
of all our tools in the service of helping to build a better world.
My own areas of excitement include the promotion of the teaching in
middle and high schools of practical psychology—using role as the basis
of the way it’s taught and talked about; using sociodrama in colleges;
using drama as a tool in education, from teaching and promoting
creative drama in elementary school to doing its equivalent for adults
as described in my book, The Art of Play. Indeed, the idea of promoting
the wider realm of Interactive and Improvisational Drama was developed
most recently in an anthology with that title I edited with Daniel
Wiener and published last year: Check it out at the book store!
Others are taking it in many wonderful directions: Some are training
lawyers; Playback Theatre is growing as a form of community building;
Folks such as Shu Gong, Merri Goldberg, Kate Hudgins, and others are
taking it to China, and others to other countries. The field is growing
more internationally and we should try to work with those folks.
For example, the IAGP has added three words to the end of its official
name. Though still keeping its 4-letter acronym, IAGP, it is now the
International Association of Group Psychotherapy and Group Processes.
This means that the regional and triennial meetings of the IAGP are now
going to include more work by people who are using group work in
education, in business, in social action, and for other purposes. By
the way, the next big meeting of the IAGP will be held in the Eternal
City of Rome, in Italy, in late August, 2009, so begin to prepare your
submissions for a workshop or presentation there!
I would also like to see more cross-disciplinary involvement. There’s
already a fair amount of this, but there could and should be much more.
We need more bridges built with drama therapy, and more learning from
as well as sharing what we’ve learned with parallel approaches such as
Systemic Constellations work, Pesso-Boyden’s Psychomotor Therapy,
Internal Family Systems Therapy, and so forth. And of course, please
please write up your experiments so as to inspire others and also
establish our work professionally.
I want to note that there’s room for a deepening in theory. In
psychoanalysis there are trends toward integration and a more
relational viewpoint which in turn opens up a re-appreciation of the
social psychology orientation of Moreno that antedated the elaborations
of Harry Stack Sullivan and in England the elaborations of the Object
Relations School. In our own field, the integrational trend can be seen
in the new anthology about theory put out this last summer by
Routledge—an anthology that also indicates the great fertility of our
Let’s attend and present at not only other types of therapy
conferences, and therapy for certain types of patients—PTSD, Eating
Disorders, Addictions, and so forth—but also for non-therapy
conferences. I’ve been presenting at conferences on creativity,
conferences on personal meaning, hospices, and so forth. This is all
expanding to become sociatry.
(At this point I acknowledged that there are many other approaches, and
invited people in the audience to note some of the ways they have been
adapting, expanding, and applying Morenean approaches. ) (To the
readers of this paper on the internet: If you email to me your own
anecdotes, when I have enough I'll put them together, acknowledge you
by name if you wish and note your anecdote.).
I think Moreno’s contributions involve a number of shifts that are as dramatic:
– from seeking or implementing a “correct answer,” Moreno shifted to a more open-ended goal of creativity.
– from seeking to plan ahead, Moreno shifted to the greater involvement and risk-taking of improvisation.
– from limiting ourselves to our rational
abilities, Moreno shifted into accessing and utilizing the powers of
imagination, emotion, intuition, and physical action.
– from the overly abstract languages of
psychology, Moreno shifted into the more concrete and evocative
language based on the role concept and the dramaturgical metaphor;
– and added to discussion the more multi-dimensional vehicle of drama and drama-based techniques.
The aggregate of these shifts results not just in another school of
therapy, but involves a wider endeavor: a richer type of interpersonal
communication! This in turn has applications in activities beyond
therapy, fields of endeavor such as education, politics, relationships
with family and friends, personal growth—even recreation.
Also, because the endeavor of psychotherapy has many more economic
constraints and pressures than before, and there is also much more
competition among a plethora of different approaches that have emerged
in the last thirty or forty years, it may be sociologically and
economically wise for people in the ASGPP to recognized that what we
have to offer has benefits in many arenas besides psychotherapy.
Dayenu—It would Have Been Sufficient
I’ll finish this talk by noting an interesting word: Dayenu.
It’s a Hebrew word, meaning, “it would have been sufficient.” It’s the
title and the chorus of a children’s song sung, traditionally, for the
Passover. We are coming up on that Jewish holiday, beginning on April
20 and lasting for a week. The gist of the song is that the exodus
represents a whole series of amazing miracles, God’s exertions on
behalf of Israel. Dayenu celebrates the idea that if any one of those
miracles had been given as a gift, an act of Divine grace, it alone
would have been wonderful, worthy of profound gratitude. Not just the
persuading of the Pharaoh to give the Israelites their freedom, but the
parting of the Red Sea, and the giving of Manna from Heaven, and the
water from the rock, and on and on—a whole series of great and
miraculous gifts. Dayenu is a nice word for contemplating the many
gifts given to us in our lives. My wife Allee and I use it as a kind of
prayer of gratitude, implying, “You give us so many wonderful things,
any one of them would have been sufficient. And now you give us this,
too? Wowsie Woozie! Dayenu!”
Well, there are those whose many contributions are such that we could
say Dayenu to any one of them. Sometimes I remember my parents this
way. And Moreno, while not at all divine in my mind, nevertheless was
great, as I’ve noted. Any one of his contributions deserves an attitude
of recognizing that it alone could stand on its own, offer value in a
variety of ways. Let’s review some of these: Starting historically—not
with psychodrama, which came along near the end of the series,
interestingly, but early on:
immanence of divinity play and dynamics of play
theatre in the round
impromptu theatre wire recordings and other feedback
role playing in business
role play in education
... and what have I missed? Another 2 minutes of brainstorming!
We are more than psychodramatists, then. We are purveyors of Moreno’s
contributions, helping to spread a bunch of really good tools—and pure
concepts can be tools, too—in the world. The world needs these tools.
I’ll finish with the second verse of the second verse of a song you
know—and y’all come and sing with us tonight, because singing in groups
is a great way to build tele.
Sing, sing a song, let the world sing along,
Sing the love there could be. Sing for you and for me.
Sing, sing a song. Make it simple to last your whole life long.
Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear,
Just sing, sing a song.
Using Moreno’s tools, imagining them to be different kinds of notes, instruments, tools, sing the love there could be.