Adam Blatner, M.D.

The following is a revision of a chapter I have in a 1994 anthology, Psychodrama Since Moreno, edited by Paul Holmes, Marcia Karp, and the late Mike Watson. Your comments are welcome, as this is a work in progress.  Revised and re-posted: February 26, 2006. Revised  July 6, 2009, to include further links: )
For more on sociometry, see on this website other papers such as (1)  Exploring Interpersonal Preference  ; (2) Exploring Your Own Connectedness through Sociometry ; (3) Sociometry: The Dynamics of Rapport.;  (4) Further Notes on Sociometry  ; (5) A Bibliography of Writings on Sociometry  ;
    And since role theory is also related to all this, browse on the table of contents of papers for various webpage articles about roles, role analysis, and so forth
  as well as the chapters in my 4th revised edition of  my 2000 book, Foundations of Psychodrama  


Tele is Moreno's term for what might variously be called "rapport" in its broadest sense, or the category of (generally) reciprocated interpersonal attractions and repulsions.  He derived the term from the ancient Greek word for distance. "Just as we use the words...telephone, television, etc., to express action at a distance, so to express the simplest unit of feeling transmitted from one individual towards another we use the term tele..." (Moreno 1934: 159; 1953: 314). Scattered among his writings Moreno had a number of descriptions and informal definitions of tele (pronounced "tay-lay"), but perhaps his most succinct one is that tele is "...the process which attracts individuals to one another or which repels them..." (Moreno 1937b: 213). Moreno developed the tele concept as an integral part of his more general development of sociometry, and another simple definition is that tele is that which is measured by sociometric tests (Moreno 1934: 328). Sociometry is a method that systematically explores the patterns of preferences in group dynamics.

Rapport has generally been overlooked by most psychologists because it can be an elusive quality and difficult to investigate due to its sensitive nature. People are wary about specifying their preferences for fear of hurting others and being hurt in return. Nevertheless, tele actually refers to an ubiquitous and rather obvious phenomenon. People prefer some people over others regarding certain shared or collaborative activities. A few examples:
  – some people seem to "hit it off" far more easily than the average
  – some people "fall in love at first sight"
  – some feel uneasy or experience "negative vibrations" with others, perhaps after only the briefest of encounters, although they cannot readily explain why
  – in a group, we have our preferences as to who is most trustworthy, attractive, wise–and they may not all be the same person
  – similarly, some people can sense that those others in the group who do or don't like or prefer them
  – people to whom we feel attracted tend, far more often than would be expected by mere chance, to feel attracted to us, also

Because of the aforementioned emotional vulnerability evoked by any direct exploration of such feelings, this obvious interpersonal and social dynamic tends not to be talked about openly. People tend to generalize–if they're not chosen for any reason, they feel they are not liked, perhaps even rejected; in turn, any feelings of non-preference of others are felt to be potentially hurtful to them, if the others would find out. To avoid this, many people repress their own capacity to notice who they prefer and who they don't. Unfortunately, this reaction is excessive, neurotic, and unrealistic, because tele is role-based, which means that we prefer this or that person for specific reasons–and if, for example, Mary doesn't prefer John as someone to go to church with, that doesn't mean she wouldn't choose him as a potential teammate in volleyball. Different criteria are involved. More about this later.

By giving the dynamic of rapport a name, it makes it into a psychological concept, and brings tele's subtle social dynamics into explicit consciousness. "Finding a name for something is a way of conjuring its existence, of making it possible for people to see a pattern where they didn't see anything before." (Rheingold 1988: 3).

The value of the concept of tele is that it can be used by therapists and psychodramatists in their work and their own everyday lives to (1) become more explicitly aware of interpersonal interactions, (2) notice tendencies to avoid these awarenesses, (3) discuss the origins of such avoidances in terms of family and cultural background, (4) discuss associated feelings of embarrassment, vulnerability, and concern for evoking such feelings in others, (5) explore the underlying reasons for the various telic reactions, and (6) help patients to apply the idea of tele in learning how to address all these issues in the group and their own situations.

Historical Origins

J. L. Moreno, M.D. (1889-1974) is best known for his invention of the method of psychodrama, but he was also a brilliant thinker who addressed himself to a variety of related psychological and social dynamics, such as role theory, a philosophy (and even theology) of creativity, and sociometry, all discussed elsewhere in this book. Actually, Moreno developed sociometry and began to think about tele for some years before he developed psychodrama. So, while it is possible to do formal sociometry without using psychodrama; and it is possible to do psychodrama without doing formal sociometry, still, the two approaches are synergistic.

I consider Moreno's willingness to look at this sensitive subject of interpersonal preferences to be as significant as Freud's heroic confrontation with the then cultural avoidance of the pervasive reality of sexuality. Today, many people are relatively more willing to talk about their sexuality than they are to talk openly about who in their social circle they prefer more or less. Sociometry is a method for bringing these dynamics into the open. Moreno believed in the same deep ethos as Freud: It is better to be explicitly conscious of thoughts and feelings, so they could then be addressed, checked out, revised, or dealt with more maturely. When thoughts and interactions operate on the subconscious level, they tend to be subject to habits of mind based on more immature or neurotic patterns. And it is better for groups to become more explicitly aware of their relationships if they are to rise to a level of more consciously interacting community.

The earliest ideas about what was to later become sociometry occurred to Moreno when he was a medical consultant at some Austrian refugee camps during the First World War, and he noticed that instead of letting people choose the people they would be living with, administrators often assigned people to their cabins randomly. Being interested in the whole dynamic of spontaneity, Moreno intuitively saw the truth of the idea that being free to choose the people you do things with is itself an important element of spontaneity in its interpersonal and social modes of expression. The corollary, then, was that we needed ways to assess the patterns of preference in groups in order to develop further methods of arranging for these choices to be respected in the way subgroupings are structured.

In the early 1930s, Moreno became a consultant for a school for troubled teenaged girls, and began to experiment with his ideas about helping girls work out their group dynamics more effectively. This resulted in his writing what he considered his magnum opus–his introduction to sociometry, titled Who Shall Survive? (1934). Role training was one of the techniques for working out problems, and from this, along with other influences, came psychodrama over the next five years.

In the 1940s and 1950s, sociometry became an instrument of behavioral science research. However, because the nature of tele required a more subjective assessment, it was somewhat elusive and therefore not so easily addressed. For this reason, tele as a term and concept in itself was rarely mentioned by most articles dealing with sociometry in the sociology journals, nor even in most of Moreno's own journals (Bukowski & Cillessen, 1998; Cadwallader, 2001).  Even when it is mentioned, tele is generally given only the most superficial and briefest of treatments.

Also, those using sociometric methods for sociological research rarely if ever actually applied the results of the testing in the service of those they tested. Sadly, this went against the spirit of Moreno's vision for how sociometry should be used (Mendelson 1977: 84). Moreno wanted the testing procedures to be followed by a discussion of the results and an exploration as to how people might be able to use them to improve their social interaction patterns.

Since the emergence of the encounter group in the 1960s, the idea of people disclosing their feelings about each other has become more familiar. A more systematic process might have resulted from the integration of sociometric methods with other encounter group procedures. The term, tele, and its associated concepts can be quite useful in helping people to explore their interpersonal and group interactions more constructively. As will be discussed further, the dynamics of tele have implications for group cohesion, the process of encounter, and the essential nature of therapy (Leveton, 2001, p.195).

Reflections on Terminology

Introducing a new term makes it harder for people to appreciate a concept: This is the problem of jargon. Do we really need to use the word "tele" or can we allude to this dynamic using other terms? Some social scientists have tried alternatives: Hart (1980) in an article on the postulates of sociometry substituted the term "affiliativeness." Nehnevajsa (1956) called tele a "flow of affectivity between individuals." Carlson-Sabelli (1992) referred to "bonds" and noted the opposing poles of "choice/attraction" and "rejection/repulsion." Some other words which allude to telic phenomena include "click," "fit," (as in "goodness of fit"), "connectedness," and "resonance."

In the earlier version of this chapter, I rejected the term "rapport" because it didn't really include the idea of interpersonal repulsion, and thus couldn't serve as an inclusive category. I've recently changed my mind, for a couple of reasons. First, many people in psychodrama are now using the term to refer to its positive expression, and sometimes its strongly positive expression (Z.Moreno, et al., 2000). So, if one wishes to talk about neutral, indifferent, or negative tele, those modifiers are added. Well, with those modifiers, "rapport" can also be expressed as a broader range of interactive dynamics, and further has the advantage of being familiar to those outside the field. Since, as Moreno suggested in his opening line to Who Shall Survive, "a "truly useful method should have as its objective no less than the whole of mankind," efforts to encourage the applications of this useful tool beyond the context of therapy should include the activity of reducing artificial language barriers. "Tele" is just to foreign to non-psychodramatists. I've found that rapport works in explaining the dynamics involved.

It should also be noted that many of the comments that Moreno and others have used about tele really refer to a dynamic that emerges in proportion to the positive strength of the rapport. So, Moreno and others might say that tele is associated with greater degrees of empathy–but they're talking about positive tele, of course. Group cohesion is also a correlate of the number of positive telic interactions in a group. In actual usage, when the term is used, it does have this sense of there being rapport. For example, a director might address someone in the group who has volunteered to take an auxiliary role in a psychodrama, "you seem to be feeling some tele with this protagonist."

The basic concept of tele is intuitively known even in popular culture. For example, in the late 1960s a song included the phrase, "She's sending me good vibrations," and a slang word current at the time was "vibes." A decade earlier, in the Broadway musical, Guys and Dolls, the hero sings to his girl friend about "chemistry," referring to the mystery of their mutual attraction. Finally, I think one of the more dramatic examples that refers to strongly positive tele may be found in the song, "Some Enchanted Evening" (in the 1949 Broadway musical, South Pacific):
 Some enchanted evening, you may meet a stranger, you may see a stranger, across a crowded room; and somehow you know, you know even then, that somewhere you'll see her again and again..

However, we should remember that the dynamic being addressed also includes negative tele, mixed tele, neutral tele, and other types.

In discussing with colleagues (with special thanks to Julia Howell) which term is best to use, then, I think that those who have become familiar with "tele" and have developed many positive associations to the term should continue to use it, especially with their colleagues in the field. But they should also shift to the word "rapport" when introducing the increased attention to these dynamics to those not already immersed in psychodrama. After all, the main function of the concept is to open a degree of careful exploration regarding a phenomenon that has been taken for granted, overlooked, and also dealt with through denial, repression, and conscious and subconscious anxiety.

Natural Origins of Tele

There are two components of tele: (1) is interpersonal preference; and (2) reciprocity. Actually, this confuses the field, because often in sociometric tests there is non-reciprocity–what is sometimes called "mixed tele"-- a term that can also confuse ambivalence.

But in its basic roots, tele emerges from a universal property of life, and is an extension of the innate tendencies of organisms to show selectivity. Indeed, Moreno (1934: 158) alluded to a primordial kind of preferential process even at the inorganic level, such as in the process of magnetism, which involves the tendencies of electrons and protons to attract each other and to repel their own kind. Might this be a precursor? In a psychicalistic system of philosophy such as Whitehead's, even atoms "experience" each other with a quality akin to "feeling" (Peters 1966). Although we can measure the relative strengths of these interactions, we don't really know why this interactive force operates as it does.

In biological systems, even the most primitive one-celled animal will exhibit selectivity over substances it ingests and what environments it moves toward or away from. Higher animals develop their capacities for discrimination in most life functions: eating, choosing a mate, play, etc. In more social species, this selectivity shows greater complexity in matters of territoriality, the herd instinct, and patterns of dominance and submission.

Humans exhibit these patterns also, and more, because of the complexity of the nervous system, our species overlays these instincts with elaborate systems of associations, symbols, images, and emotions. The imaginal aspects of instinctual processes constitute the essence of what Carl G. Jung called "archetypes," and in this sense tele may be considered a psychological function operating at a fundamental level (Samuels et al. 1986).

Preference is a fundamental psychological function (Northway 1967: 46-7), and this applies to all manner of activities: food, music, art, hair styles, clothes, religious practices, etc. Tele is an extension of this: "Just as man has an aversion-affection continuum of biological feeling within himself (liking or disliking certain foods, odors, etc.), he also has a flow of affection or disaffection between himself and others, be they single persons or groups" (Bischof 1964: 364).

Most writers about tele, though, tend to apply this term or dynamic to the more complex phenomenon that occurs between or among people. I may be a little attracted to you, for example, but if in our nonverbal communications (especially) and/or verbal interchanges I get the message (or at least impression) that you reciprocate my positive feelings, this reinforces them. (Someone once pointed out that the most attractive thing about a woman to a man is his perception that she finds him attractive!) Similarly, if our own often unconscious positive expressions are even very slightly snubbed, a cycle of negative reinforcement may unfold rapidly. The cybernetic, circular process of nonverbal cue-ing can proceed quite rapidly. Research in the area of nonverbal communications have shown that subtle attuning cues can be sent and received subconsciously several times a second!

Reciprocity, then, is a key component of tele, reflecting the human capacity to perceive or imagine how others feel about the relationship (Moreno 1956a: 15). The sense of a feeling being reciprocated tends to intensify that feeling, whether it be attraction, indifference, or repulsion. I believe it was Gregory Bateson who noted that it is impossible not to communicate. To not reciprocate interest is to indicate a measure of disinterest, and so neutral behavior can be a reinforcer of a neutral or negative telic interaction. Also, the cues may be mixed, or they may vary as the context or role situation varies.

Finally, regarding terminology, although the term "tele" has been applied in regard to objects or symbols (Bischof 1964: 366; Starr 1977: 6), I think it is an unnecessary dilution of the concept because there is no reciprocity with an object and because the term "preference" can be used just as well. Still, the two phenomena are related and both are important.

Cultivating a sensitivity to personal preferences in many impersonal domains serves to promote a sense of healthy individuality, helps to connect the person with a more authentic sense of self, and this, too, is an important element in psychotherapy and holistic education. Warm-ups that begin in this less-threatening domain can then more gradually lead into a warming-up to the more sensitive process of exploring interpersonal and reciprocated preferences–i.e., tele / rapport.

Psycho-Social Features of Tele

Tele is an expression of that part of mind that has more to do with wanting, desiring, and intention than with rational thought. (The technical term for this category is "conation," in contrast to "cognition," which involves thinking, remembering, perceiving, and coordinating.). But maturity involves bringing cognition to this feeling process, so that ideas and beliefs become attached to what may have been initially only impressions and intuitions.

In assessing telic interactions, expectations may need to be re-assessed as to their probable realistic basis (Moreno 1952: 155). As an individual matures, it is desirable to learn this skill of noticing and integrating intuitions with the realistic qualities of the other person. This is called "telic sensitivity" (Moreno 1959). Here is where role training and perceptual sociometric procedures can be helpful. People need to have some opportunities to explore their interpersonal networks in supportive settings, such as classes dealing with applied social psychology.

Another way to think about tele is that it is the basis of the more spontaneous and informal types of role relationships. These aren't so easily analyzed by sociologists, who have mainly addressed the way people relate in "formal" role relationships, that is, those which can be characterized in terms of their functional expectations, such as parent, employer, teammate, citizen, customer. Informal role relationships involve those which reflect the processes of peer selection. Groupings at recess; gatherings in the neighborhood; those relatives at large family gatherings who break away to chat privately; the formation of cliques; the way kids create informal clubs--these associations depend on how the group members feel about one another rather than any established social organization..

Thus, while a sociological analysis might outline who are in the formal relations of teachers and students in a school setting, only sociometric procedures could elucidate which teachers or students are more or less popular with others (regarding certain criteria).

Formal relations are determined more by cognitive functions, role definitions, expectations, performances. Informal relations tend to be determined more by conative functions. We may admire someone's skill (cognitive) without necessarily liking that person (conative), and on the other hand, we may find ourselves attracted to someone whom our better judgment warns us against.

In many committees, the actual power of those who are more influential may be based on how well liked or respected they are rather than on their official status. The designated leader in many cases is not the functional leader. In therapy groups, the therapist may at times find that on certain issues or activities another group member exerts more influence than the therapist, perhaps even in a non-constructive fashion.

Tele as a Role-Dependent Dynamic

The human psyche is pluralistic, it involves many roles (Blatner 1991). Our tele for others depends on the role relationship in which we find ourselves. This point must be kept in mind. Since tele varies significantly as the nature of the role relationship shifts (Nehnevajsa 1956: 62), a person may feel more preference towards another regarding one aspect of their relationship, and that there is less tele in another area. For example, in a group an individual might select one other group member to work on a project but yet be sexually attracted to a different person and seek the company of a third to attend a sports event. The corollary of this is that any statement about tele needs to be paired with a qualifying statement about the criterion: It lacks precision to say that A "likes" B, though in certain situations that may be where the process begins. If consciousness is to be raised regarding the nature of that preference, the criterion for that choice must be sought.

Tele also changes according to shifts in needs or context. Lonely people may find that they're less demanding of physical perfection in their prospective dates (Or, in the words of a country-western song, "The girls all look prettier at closing time."). Another example would be a traveler in a foreign country who seeks out the companionship of a fellow countryman as the only one who speaks the same language, yet in other settings there would be little else these two had in common.

Not only are external role situations called into more discriminated consciousness: The various inner roles must also be identified. In this sense, a growing sensitivity to one's own "auto-tele" helps people get in touch with their different "complexes" or what Rowan (1990) called "subpersonalities."

Reasons for Preference

Reciprocity, as mentioned, is just one of many factors contributing to tele or the sense of rapport in a relationship. Other variables include the following:
* common goals, tasks, interests, forms of work or recreation
* attractiveness (e.g., physical, intellectual, social, playful,
 spiritual, emotional, artistic)
* role complementarity (e.g., leader/follower, passive/active,
* role symmetry, preferring someone who shares similar qualities
 (e.g., wanting another dominant person, preferring someone
 who is also easy-going)
* common background, interests, life style or values
* intriguing differences which seem "exotic" or refreshing.
* compatible levels of vitality and ability
  * temperamental similarities or differences
  * familiarity based on consistency or duration of association
* propinquity, physical proximity, those who are close by
* transference, similarities to others in one's past
  * prejudices, generalizations based on cultural conditioning
            (Blatner, 2000: 192-193)
Each of these themes in turn contains many sub-variables which also overlap, shift with mood and context as well as role.

The first variable mentioned, relating to common interest, leads to a further point of discrimination. Jennings (1947) describes two major subcategories of choices: sociotelic and psychetelic. Sociotelic choices are based on common interests, such as sharing a certain background or having a similar goal, and they tend to be associated with formal role relationships. Psychetelic choices are based on more personal, idiosyncratic qualities and tend to be associated with informal role relationships. Ann Hale (1981: 44) notes that "Reasons given for sociotelic criteria tend to be statements about skill, ease in relating, intelligence, quickness or clarity of the person's style and honesty. Reasons given for psychetelic criteria tend to be statements about degree of comfortability, trust, sensitivity, enjoyment of contact and style of communicating."

For example, if a person at a professional conference chooses to attend a workshop because she is interested in the topic, her relation to the presentor and many of the other people attending the session would be sociotelic in nature. If that person were to choose a workshop because she enjoyed the personal qualities of the workshop leader in previous encounters, her connection with that leader would be psychetelic.

Psychetelic choices are being made when people group together based on simple mutual attractions rather than any particular role relationship. These occur more readily in relatively unstructured situations, such as at recess on a school playground. The value of the distinction between psychetelic and sociotelic choices is that you can more consciously consider which criterion you want to use in a given situation.

Some sociotelic choices are based on utilitarian criteria. The choice of a surgeon for a particular operation might be based on a reputation for technical skill, even if the doctor's bedside manner leaves much to be desired. However, for general care, the choice of family physician might be based on the psychetelic criterion of interpersonal warmth.

On the other hand, there are times when one might decide to affiliate with another person even in situations where there would be negative psychetelic feelings. For instance, you might find yourself organizing a political committee with a person whose personality and values differ significantly from your own in order to promote a certain piece of legislation. Socially you would never associate with this person, but practically you need to work together, and indeed, you would seek him out because of his specific resources or abilities.

Tele and Transference

In fact, tele cannot be cleanly differentiated from transference. When Moreno wrote about it, he referred to the way psychoanalysts in his own time used the idea of transference, which invariably involved unrealistic distortions and projections. However, it should be noted that psychoanalysis has significantly evolved, and the concept of transference has correspondingly broadened, applying in contemporary writings to the ebb and flow of psychic projections and feelings between all people. In analysis, for example, the concept of "counter-transference" has similarly broadened so that the analyst is no longer viewed as the only one who sees reality clearly (Kahn, 2002, 196-199). Rather, the concept of "inter-subjectivity" has been introduced: The practical application is that instead of the analyst offering "interpretations" as an authority, two fallible humans dare to explore together their mutual perceptions. The emphasis shifts from the content of the "right interpretation" to the process of mutually questioning and going deeper.

The importance of this shift applies equally to the main implication of giving attention to the phenomenon of tele: That when they become problematic, the issues, criteria, reasons for the feelings be explored. There is no implication either with transference or tele that we can ever explain the whole of the dynamic–there may be scores of factors, some stronger, some weaker, and some may not be able to be called into consciousness.

The attempt to separate tele from transference, or to assume that they are different, is misleading. I imagine that a student of human relations who had no need to give allegiance either to psychoanalysis or to Morenian thought might find the effort to make a distinction no longer tenable. Moreno's point was that of emphasizing a few features of the rapport dynamic that weren't much noted in the early analytic literature: Tele was usually "two-way,"–i.e., reciprocated–, and it was often based on more realistic elements. However, as noted, most psychoanalysts nowadays concede that transference also partakes of this more complex dynamic–and family systems theory would concur, noting that the reciprocal interactions can build on each other, strengthening a rapport in the direction of either health or pathology (Williams, 1994).

As different kinds of transferences have been elucidated, such as the "idealizing" and "mirroring" transferences described in Heinz Kohut's "self psychology," and as the concepts of transference have broadened, the things Moreno said about transference around 50 years ago just no longer apply.

Moreover, although some of the factors that affect tele are based more on "reality" (whatever that is), still, many other factors do arise from that transferential tendency to overgeneralize on a present relationship based on experiences with similar sorts of people in the past. Moreno, then, sought to highlight the distinction between transference as a subjective experience, rooted in the individual, and based on fantasy, and tele, which involves both parties (and is in that sense more objective); and tele also is based more on the realistic elements in both parties and the relationship (Moreno 1959a: 6-10).

In fact, most relationships are a blend of both telic and transferential elements. "All relationships contain a mixture of reality and fantasy" (Kellerman 1992: 104). In traditional psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy, most patients develop some degree of transference, the analysis of which is central to the treatment process. Yet these reactions often are based on real qualities or behaviors on the therapist's part, and to this extent are telic in nature (Holmes 1992: 45-6). In everyday relations there are also residues of past expectations which mask the reality of the people involved.

I think of tele or rapport as a more general category, one which includes transference, in the sense that the interpersonal relationship includes the reactions of the individuals participating in that field. In this sense, Moreno was a forerunner of what today would be considered a "systems" perspective (Moreno 1934: 160). From a developmental orientation, tele emerges earlier in life than the earlier understandings of transference (but not its later concepts), beginning with the very process of bonding with the parent soon after birth. Transference (as it was thought of by the early Freudians) develops later as the infant becomes able to construct representations of the parent in its mind, and these then become what Moreno might call a "conserve" which interferes with the spontaneous encounter with what that parent is in the moment.

Positive tele can provoke a positive transference, as liking someone may lead to the development of unrealistic expectations or idealizations. Such interactions, common in romantic involvements, then need to be worked out in time. Negative tele in turn can be magnified into an attitude of hopelessness or hate, especially if the people can find no other roles on which a more congenial alliance can be based.

Counter-transference, as I noted, has also evolved. Earlier, it was thought of as the therapist's evoked feelings in reaction to the patient's transferential behavior. Then it expanded to be any feelings a therapist has to a patient. And while at first is was considered to be evidence of "unresolved" complexes in the therapist, counter-transferential feelings came to be valued as useful clues in intuitively sensing the state of the patient's emotions. Finally, as I mentioned, these terms broke down a bit as the concept of intersubjectivity, circular interpersonal dynamics, and other more complex attitudes towards relationship evolved. And also, the thinking expanded from being a description of what goes on between therapist and client to what goes on in interpersonal relationships in general.

Thus, if someone communicates his expectations to you, and you "buy into" those expectations even though they evoke in you some resentment or seduction, that might be considered a kind of counter-transference. This dynamic is related to another psychoanalytic concept called "projective identification," which might be more easily understood in the language of role dynamics as "role reciprocity." Those who fall into becoming helpers to dependent friends, those whose anger becomes triggered by the kinds of "games" described by Eric Berne (1964), those who react rather than reflect, are caught up in counter-transferences. If there is positive tele, that will increase the intensity more than if there is neutral or indifferent tele.

One component of the therapeutic process involves the re-conversion of transferential (and counter-transferential) distortions into more realistic, telic interactions. Yet a measure of positive tele is needed in order to create a healing treatment alliance. "Transference hinders the cure; tele acts in the cure" (Moreno 1955: 319).

Dealing With Negative Tele

Many problems arise because people repress or overreact to their negative telic responses. Helping people to see how this happens is a useful theme in therapy, along with exploring some more constructive ways of dealing with negative tele when it occurs.

There are a variety of response patterns involved: One of these consists of maginfying negative tele into a hostile attitude, and expressing this overtly as rebelliousness or belligerence, or in any of a number of passive-aggressive fashions. Another response is to be placating or even overly friendly, as if good intentions could magically counter this underlying "poorness of fit." Perhaps the most insidious and pervasive reaction is to unconsciously fall into the reciprocal role (as mentioned above in the paragraph on counter-transference), which reflects a lack of centering in one's "real self" (Masterson, 1988).

One of the most common issues in therapy is that of fostering patients' individuation. So many have grown up in dysfunctional families or social systems in which as children their natural preferences were discounted. They were expected to acquiese to the attitudes of their parents--which is part of normal socialization, but it can be overdone to a pathological degree in families which are egocentrically manipulative. In such cases, the children grow up with habits of over-riding their own feelings, and indeed, using reaction formation and counter-phobic defenses to attempt to be placating and co-dependently friendly even to those with whom they experience (unconscious) negative tele.

Another group of reasons for ignoring tele is that the culture hasn't worked out ways of dealing with it more constructively. This is in part because such experiences are embarrassing, they go against the pervasive attitude that one should (and can) be friendly with everybody. It's helpful to recognize that this is a cultural convention which evolved to foster harmony through denial, but in light of the technology of group process, such issues can be addressed through the process of encounter and problem-solving.

A corollary to the above is that the lack of a sense of how to resolve the implied interpersonal conflict promotes resistance to awareness of negative tele. Therapists can counter these avoidances by helping their patients to learn some specific principles regarding negative tele.

First, instead of overtly or covertly acting out a hostile response or, on the other hand, being overly friendly, behave in a courteous, businesslike, restrained fashion. Know that any attempts to be self-disclosing or close are likely to be misinterpreted.

Second, recognize that since tele is an essentially intuitive response, it is not necessary to justify your emotional reactions. Thus, beware of tendencies to rationalize those feelings, to build a "case" of various reasons why it's appropriate to dislike the other person. This only consolidates the negative tele and makes it more difficult to resolve the tensions in the relationship. It often exacerbates them. In other words, negative tele need not be amplified into a transferential reaction. There may be nothing wrong with a person to whom you aren't attracted, and there may be nothing wrong with you if someone doesn't particularly like you. This point cannot be overstressed.

A third principle is that although you experience negative tele with another person in one role, it might be possible that another role(s) might be found which could serve as a basis for a more cordial relationship.

Negative tele may also offer an opportunity for personal growth in that one can explore the reasons for a negative reaction, reasons which may involve insights about a variety of transferential reactions as well as personal preferences. For example, in a group which has become somewhat established and cohesive, a sociometric experiment may be suggested, as described by Monteiro & Carvalho (1990): They had the group indicate to whom they would like to give a hug. "Incongruencies, negative and indifferent mutualities were worked through by having the students explain and clarify their choices in successive pairs."

Recognizing negative tele in psychodrama groups can offer some useful directions: First, a person who has negative tele with a number of other group members or with the director should not become a protagonist until the issues which have generated the negative tele have been resolved. A foundation of support might first be developed by seeing if other roles might be discovered which could serve as the basis of a more positive telic connection. Also, conflicts the person has with others in the group might be examined to see if the underlying issues can be resolved. Sometimes the courage a person exhibits in confronting these problems directly and with a spirit of self-examination can shift the group's attitude and promote a more positive identity in the group.

If only the director experiences negative tele with one of the group members, perhaps a co-therapist could take over the director's role and explore the conflict between the director and the client, seeking to clarify the nature of the underlying issues. (They may represent dynamics which are important in the overall group process.) Alternatively, if the co-director has positive tele with the group member in question, the co-director may simply process the role-playing of that person's issue aside from the relationship with the director.

However, not all relations can be satisfactorily worked out. Therapists who have sustained negative tele with certain patients should refer those patients out, and as a corollary, patients should not stay for months or longer trying to "work through" a transference with someone whom they've never really taken to. "It takes tele to choose the right therapist and the right partner; it takes transference to misjudge the therapist..." (Moreno 1959: 12). Sometimes, as in individual therapy, certain patients might do better changing to a group with whom they have a better rapport.

Negative tele may often be only part of a complex of feelings, and ambivalence, neutrality, and indifference are also telic reactions which are deserving of attention  (Moreno 1952: 162).
Especially worthy of note is the way telic reactions are role dependent, and even within a role, each component may evoke a different interactive valence (referring to a variable strength of attractive or repulsive force) (Carlson-Sabelli, 1991). Exploration of these component roles in terms of their feeling tones and the reasons for those feelings may lead to significant insights. Another strategy is to expand the participants' role repertoires so that new avenues for relating can be found.

Thus, in appreciating the various aspects of the dynamic of tele, people can be helped to face their unsatisfactory telic situations more directly. They may negotiate the critera involved, seek or construct alternative roles which could serve as the basis for a more satisfying connection, or more consciously "shop" for other relationships in which tele would occur more naturally.

Tele and Group Cohesion

"There is tele already operating between the members of the group from the first meeting" (Moreno 1956b: 95). This quote is an example of Moreno using the term in its more inclusive sense--the tele may not necessarily be very positive. A group in which the members have few mutually enjoyable telic connections tends to be unstable. Group cohesion grows in proportion to the growth of tele among the leader and participants. Moreno (1959b: 1380), using the term now in its more positive sense, wrote that "tele is the cement which holds groups together."

Yet group cohesion also is related to a number of other factors, such as the urgency of their common need, the clarity of the group task, the norms of the group leader, similarities or differences in cultural values and expectations of the group members, the methods used, etc. (Treadwell et al., 2001). A group may become closer because they're faced with an emotionally intense unifying force, such as might happen to a military unit in the course of a battle. Sharing the vulnerability of the human condition fosters identification on the level of the inner child, which circumvents the more superficial pretenses of the social facade. Although people often feel that they will be rejected if their more shameful secrets are known to others, in most therapeutic groups, it is the disclosure and sharing of just that level of shame-based imagery which tends to generate a greater sense of trust (Nathanson 1992: 252).

When group cohesion develops to a certain point, group members shift in their feeling about their membership in the group from a sense of being part of a mass of individuals to a sense of community. If the group cohesion continues to increase in intensity, the sense of "we-ness" develops, and the general phenomenon is closer to what might be termed "communion" (Gurvitch 1949).

A practical application of this principle is that one of the components of warming-up in psychodrama is that of promoting group cohesion (Blatner 1996: 46). Using exercises which develop the positive tele among the group members while also building their empathic skills, the director structures the session so that people can disclose themselves gradually. For example, working in dyads, the group members interview each other in a given role. They change partners, and repeat the exercise with another role which requires a bit more involvement (Blatner & Blatner 1991). After a number of these dyadic experiences, each person in the group has shared with several others an activity in which some risk-taking and imaginativeness have been required, and as a result feels as if s/he has a number of special connections who will be supportive in dealing with others with whom they are not so well acquainted.

Another application of the tele principle is that in a psychodrama group members play a variety of roles, which in turn allows them to reveal a broader number of facets of their personalities. People can find more criteria for liking each other, and group cohesion tends to be associated with the number of roles which are shared by the members (Moreno 1934: 145).

Another technique for building a positive sense of tele among the group members is to get some consensus about a variety of group norms, such as confidentiality, a willingness to examine oneself, a committment to deal directly with conflict rather than to keep it to oneself or to engage in gossip, a desire to become more creative and to foster creativity in the others, or an openness to allowing someone a chance to correct a behavior which has evoked a negative response. Group norms which reflect superordinate or even spiritual values are especially powerful in promoting positive tele.

In turn, group settings in which the goal is spiritual development benefit from activities which specifically foster group cohesion. Indeed, helping people to encounter each other more authentically partakes of a spiritual quality which the Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, called an "I-Thou" relationship (Green  1959: 1821).

Telic Sensitivity, Empathy and Encounter

People are born with a capacity for tele, but it is diffuse and undifferentiated at first. The capacity for accurately assessing how other people might be reacting, whether they might be feeling a similar sense of positive or negative attraction, or even neutrality or indifference, is called "telic sensitivity." When two people have divergent feelings toward each other, such as attraction-repulsion, or attraction-neutrality, this is called "infra-tele," and reflects a lack of accurate telic sensitivity on the part of at least one of the individuals (Nehnevajsa 1956: 62).

 "The sense for tele develops with age. It's weak in children and grows with social awareness" (Z. Moreno 1987: 344). Children reveal some early forms of empathy in that they tend to react to others' joy or sorrow with corresponding feelings. Also, in nursery programs even young children show preferences among their classmates.

In adolescence, telic sensitivity tends to develop more in those who have the natural gifts of "interpersonal intelligence." It should be noted that there is a talent for social skillfulness just as there is a talent for music or athletics, and that while some children are innately more adept, so there are others who are less adept at acquiring these abilities (Gardner 1983: 239). And although there is a distribution of this capacity, Moreno believed that it would be possible to increase telic sensitivity at least to some extent in the majority of people through the use of role training exercises.

For example, Moreno suggested that people practice "perceptual sociometry," using the following instructions: Draw your social atom. Note how you feel towards the various people, and guess what they feel toward you. List the reasons for those feelings. Guess how they're related to each other. Then ask someone who knows you to comment on your assessment, or better, ask the various people in your social network for feedback (Moreno 1952: 155).

The area of romance offers one example in this regard. Young people often have crushes on others who do not reciprocate the feelings, an example of "infra-tele". In a culture which creates a narrow range of criterion affecting who is and is not desirable, people will tend to admire the culturally accepted cliches regarding attractiveness. What if we helped youngsters pay more attention to those others in one's social network who seem to reciprocate a sense of positive tele? Further, we should encourage young people to address a variety of categories, especially those which emphasize common interests rather than some commercial-media-driven image of sex appeal. The implementation of such sociometric principles can help young people mature in learning to assess the reactions of others more effectively.

In psychodrama, telic sensitivity can be cultivated by allowing protagonists and auxiliaries to choose each other. Sometimes someone from the group spontaneously gets up to double for a protagonist because of some identification with the predicament being enacted. If there isn't already a sense of a special bond between the two, this kind of activity tends to foster that telic connection. Alternatively, a protagonist may choose a group member to play a certain role, and afterwards, during the sharing phase, it turns out that the auxiliary in his or her actual life experience had a similar situation happen. This seemingly telepathic connection also arises out of the telic sensitivity of the protagonist who made that choice (usually unknowingly), and again fosters a greater sense of tele among the group members.

Empathy involves an individual's ability to sense into the feelings of another, and the activity of role taking as happens in the course of the psychodramatic techniques of doubling or role reversal tends to build the skill of more accurate levels of empathy. If the people involved in this process have positive tele with each other, the act of empathy tends to be more effective. While empathy is a one-way process, tele involves both parties interacting with each other (Haskell 1975: 32-33.) Because of this, in the act of doubling, auxiliaries should verify their intuitive responses with the protagonist and allow their behavior to emerge through mutual interaction (Z. Moreno 1954: 233).

On the other hand, if the tele between a protagonist and an assigned or chosen double isn't positive, it's more likely that the doubling itself will not feel "right" to the protagonist. If this situation occurs, it's best if the director excuses the auxiliary and helps the protagonist to choose another group member with whom there is a greater degree of rapport.

Accurate empathy is a skill which requires a mixture of talent and practice. Some people are naturally more able to sense into others' feelings. Unfortunately, a certain portion of these gifted individuals lack the ethical component of positive tele and use their ability in a manipulative, perhaps even sociopathic fashion. The point is that while positive tele can foster empathy, and in turn, empathy can foster positive tele, still the two phenomena are not identical.

Some people seem almost incapable of being empathic, because they are handicapped by a great deal of egocentricity. This may be due to a lack of native intelligence, sheer immaturity, a pervasive disorder of relatedness (such as autism), or, more commonly, an overabundance of narcissistic traits. Indeed, it may be somewhat diagnostic to have patients in group therapy attempt to role reverse and see how effective they can be. To whatever extent they succeed they will likely create a greater appreciation from those whom they are attempting to understand.

Encounter is an even more complex extension of this process of matured telic sensitivity. It involves both parties attempting to empathize with each other. Encounter goes beyond empathy in that there is an associated opening of one's heart, an act of will, an exercise of imagination, and an expanding of one's perspective. It requires maturity and sensitivity. Teenagers in love have a goodly amount of positive tele, a modest amount of mutual empathy, yet tend to be limited in the degree to which they can truly role reverse with each other, which is the essence of true encounter.

Encounter, a term coined by Moreno around 1914, refers to a process in which both parties sincerely attempt to genuinely meet each other. The encounter group, a fashionable personal growth activity popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s, lost its thrust because it failed to follow this principle: Mere disclosure, often of angry affects, too frequently led to unresolved feelings; inexperienced group leaders didn't know how to have those involved in conflict resolve their differences through role reversal.

Even more than with empathy, encounter fosters tele, and tele in turn encourages people to risk encounter. Referring to its most positive expression, Moreno noted, "The scientific counterpart of encounter is tele" (1960: 17).

Promoting Individuation

One of the most important applications of the concept of tele is that it encourages people to pay more attention to their own preferences. This in turn increases self-awareness and helps people in their individuation. Karen Horney (1950: 17) wrote of the need to develop one's "real self" as mentioned earlier. One of the most effective ways of achieving this is to help people pay attention to their preferences, especially in regards to such areas as interests, temperamental styles, and imagery. Many people in therapy have little awareness of these dimensions of self-development.

Another practical application of the concept of tele, then, is to have the people in the groups you lead discuss their preferences, including the collectives with which they've chosen to become affiliated: e.g., political, religious, artistic, etc. Have them consider their desired connections, those individuals and groups to which they'd like to belong. Help them talk about not only who is in their social networks, but also whom they would want to be included. Talking about how they chose their dates, romantic partners, employment, hobbies, and so on, what the criteria were, leads to a gradual emergence of a more authentic sense of self.

Thus, the dynamic of individuation, of helping people find their "real self" and discover that it can be accepted and enjoyed by others, is facilitated in leading groups when the therapist addresses themes in therapy such as:
* Who is one "supposed" to admire, based on cultural or family conditioning, vs. who one actually feels some tele with. For example, is it okay for a boy to want to be a dancer?
* What did it require to be "popular" with the other kids when you were a teenager? Was it what you really enjoyed doing?
* If there could have been a club which contained "your kind of people," what would it be like?

Do sociometric exercises in which group members choose others based on certain criteria, and then allow them to role play or actually enact the activity involved. The activity of choosing should be emphasized, because many people feel awkward about this. They tend to turn to whomever is closest, or wait passively. Fears of not being chosen, the sense of shame when the one most preferred chooses someone else, the difficulty in not accepting a choice which is not preferred, these and other reactions offer a wealth of material for group discussion.

Further Applications of the Concept of Tele

One of Moreno's goals was to allow tele (rapport) to operate more in the organization of formal relationships as well as informal ones, so that people who enjoy each others' company or complement each others' skills can choose to work on classroom projects, as laboratory partners, or in teams at their jobs. Roommates in a dormitory, committee members, and other groupings should be assigned based on their own indicated preferences rather than some arbitrary criterion imposed by those in charge.

Knowledge of the significance of tele in human relations would also help in structuring community organizations. For example, you might advocate the development of a greater variety of activities and promote the idea of letting children and adults choose their work groups rather than assigning them. To foster individuation, encourage children to discover their own preferences in the home and school (Blatner 1988b: 127-148).

As a group leader, perhaps the major application of the idea of tele is just to use it as a concept, teaching it to the group members so they can talk about their different and sometimes mixed feelings of attraction or wariness with each other. These discussions frequently evoke associations, from childhood onwards, concerning experiences of envy, shame, and manipulativeness regarding being liked or disliked, being popular or unpopular, and daring to seek a more compatible group (Jennings 1950). The telic dynamics following a psychodrama may be sociometrically processed in order to enhance the groups' insights of its own dynamics as they were all involved in the previous enactment (Hale & Little, 2002). The role based nature of tele will help them to sort out these experiences, and discussion of the various criteria which affect their preferences also deepens shared insights about both individual and group dynamics.


Moreno discovered that tele (or rapport) is a powerful force at work in the interpersonal field. Bringing attention to this phenomenon helps people to explore the factors involved and to more consciously respond to these often near-subconscious cues. Appreciating the dynamics of rapport can help people choose their partners and groups more wisely and recognize their own authentic preferences. Activities that promote rapport among group members then lead to a heightened group cohesion, a greater capacity for empathy and encounter, and a more favorable context for working through interpersonal conflicts.


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