Adam Blatner, M.D.

(April, 7, 2013)   (This is the plenary talk to the ASGPP annual conference in Arlington, Virginia, April 12, 2013)

The theme for this conference is the Global presence of psychodrama, and I want to add to the very real fact that psychodrama in the last twenty years has indeed expanded in South America, Mexico, Taiwan, Turkey, and many other countries---and especially in Europe with the Federation of European and Mediterranean Psychodrama Training Organizations (FEPTO). (It's worth looking around on their website!) So, though we'll note this again tomorrow night, the USA, though it may have been the cradle of psychodrama (if not its precursors in Vienna), has been superseded in the sheer numbers of psychodramatists by other countries. My theme this morning, though, will focus not on the global reach of psychodrama as psychotherapy, but rather the global nature of all of Moreno's methods being used beyond the clinical context, beyond the medical model. These theories and methods are applicable in business and education and social action and so forth, and folks both here and overseas are using these approaches also in non treatment contexts. For example, a sociodrama conference will be held this fall in Italy. And my talk---which will only take about 15 minutes---then we'll do some experiential activities that extend these concepts---my talk will speak to applications beyond therapy. It will note the existence of related fields who carry forth the essential ideas of improvisation, enactment, and collaborative creativity. I'll also note that Moreno's approaches should be re-framed not just as a method of therapy, but as a technology, a complex of tools, which again have great applications in many fields beyond therapy.

Not that this is all so new. Moreno wrote a foreword for my Acting-In in 1972, and there he said that psychodrama's associated forms of sociometry, sociodrama, spontaneity training, and other variations have value also for fields of community development, education, business, professional training, and many other areas.

    (The actual quote: “I have always tried to show that my approach was meant as much more than a psychotherapeutic method—my ideas have emphasized that creativity and spontaneity affect the very roots of vitality and spiritual development, and thus affect our involvements in every sphere of our lives. Furthermore, I have always wanted to have people attend to the processes of health as well as to the problems of illness. Thus, I am glad Dr. Blatner has noted the applications of psychodrama in the home, school, and world of business.”)

The International Association for Group Psychotherapy (IAGP) has added three words to its title: “... and Group Processes.” I don’t know if they mean it this way, but as businesses are emphasizing teamwork more, as community organizations are recognizing the power of feedback and grass-roots initiative, the whole theme of group process has taken on a life largely apart from analytic theories about this dynamic. It’s much more task-oriented and role-diversified. Well, I won’t go into that.

Over the last decade and more I’ve been attending not only our own conferences but also conferences put on by related fields— drama in education, theatre of the oppressed, therapeutic recreation, the arts therapies, spirituality, and so forth. You might want to know there’s a busy international field that’s opened up in the last decade called “Applied Improvisation.” These are mainly theatre artists who’ve gotten into improv and from thence into consulting to organizations regarding ways to increase morale and efficiency. Very few of them know of Moreno. Most start with Viola Spolin and her theatre games and Keith Johnstone and his book Improv in the 1970s. But they’re sort of applying role playing—or at least some components—in business. Again, few of them know of Ray Corsini’s book on this in 1951. Similarly, few in the field of drama in education have any idea that Moreno’s colleagues wrote about this arena of application around 1950.

Other related fields include therapeutic recreation, where I presented on my application of Morenian approaches in the service of recreation and perhaps elder care. Another presentation was to the art therapists, and the point is that expressive methods are good not just for patients but for healthy people, for consciousness expansion. A presentation at a spirituality conference carries forth this idea. Positive psychology has opened up our thinking about health and helping healthy people to be healthier. A number of you have already explored the possibilities of coaching. Professionals are using simulations to get continuing education in law and medicine.
So what I’m proposing is that we do what the actors did—branch laterally. Therapy is fine, but in my understanding of what Moreno was getting at in the word “sociatry,” his vision aimed at a far wider application of these methods.

I’m proposing that we re-formulate what we’re doing not just as therapy but as a method for consciousness-raising, for groups as well as individuals. Indeed, let me acknowledge that many of you already have branched out and now apply our field’s methods beyond the clinical context. I’ll be calling on you to help me a little later.

A Complex of Tools

One way to re-think this challenge is to re-imagine what we do not as offering a school of thought or a method of psychotherapy, but a workshop full of tools. What if we could bring to chemists in the early 19th century the lab tools in the mid-20th century? What if we could bring to carpenters in the early 20th century the richness and variety of electric power tools developed in the last sixty years? I see Moreno's concepts and methods as tools that have many areas of applications. Remember that  concepts and words, theoretical constructs and metaphors are also tools! That they came to be applied mainly within the clinical context is a fluke of history, economics, culture, and it might merit a discussion in another context but not here. Moreno's methods do indeed have many applications in group psychotherapy, psychiatric treatment of those in the sick role, also known as the clinical context. And I honor those applications. They are what I came from as a psychiatrist. But I’ve come to realize that the methods we know about transcend treatment—which is how psychodrama is defined by the vast majority of dictionaries—or is one of the definitions. Rarely is it hinted that these methods have rich applications in education business, and other fields.

But lest we be too provincial, good ideas come forth from many sources. Some of the the tools Moreno invented have also been discovered by others—what I call our relatives—and we need to recognize this global trend, and be available to learn from them and in turn share what we know. That’s the thrust of what I’ll be saying and then later in the hour what we’ll be doing all together.
So I'll say it again: We need to learn from our related fields and in turn share what we know.

As for us: Even now many people use psychodrama beyond the clinical context, in education, business, social action, spiritual development, etc. I’ll be asking y’all to help us. Now I want to say a little about how what we are about is more than therapy, it is about a technology that has applications in many fields including and beyond therapy. They are tools because they involve ways to amplify the creative process. I’ll hint at why and explain at great length in the revised editions of my books that I hope to be ready next year. To explain this, here’s another bit of history: In the 1950s as computers were on the front edge of research and development at IBM. According to a story I heard, someone said that it would help progress to shift from thinking that business machines were still in the business of complex calculations. A better term, considering the speed of the operations, would be “information processing.” That re-framing the challenge makes a big difference, allowing for, say, pictures and not only numbers.


Computers work in thousands, millions of operations per second, which allows them to do stuff that ordinary minds can't begin to do. They can grope, explore. they don't have to be precise because in-course correction sub-routines are built in. This is crucial. Cybernetics is a fancy word for groping. If you grope fast enough and use the feedback to make corrections, you grope ever more accurately. When you double for a client, knowing you’re wrong, and the client corrects you, and you allow yourself to be corrected—it’s not resistance to an interpretation, it’s a correction—and you modify your next sentence accordingly, you’re using cybernetics. Again the client corrects you a little. Again you allow yourself to be corrected.  You may even set the technique up by saying, “I’m trying to get on your wavelength so you need to correct me even if I miss a little.” And gradually you reflect back and the client or protagonist feels you really understand.

So what computers did—and this is true of very highly complex systems—is that they cannot be absolutely precisely right, but they continue to make little in-course corrections, and they end up right enough. That is how the space ship to the moon was able to do it. It was off course most of the time, but less and less so, because it kept making in-course corrections. Cybernetics. My point is that the context of drama and re-play, not really performance so much as extended rehearsal, allows for people to become more effectively empathic and expressive! This is big!

Psychodrama applies the principles of cybernetics in interpersonal communications, and it changes the nature of so-called expertise, the nature of helping from the authority as one who knows the answer to one who knows how to find out what is needed. This is a huge shift! Also, it makes helping far more flexible, able to be changed according to individual needs of the person and occasion. Thus, Morenian methods, artfully applied, are more personalized and humane.

A Few Other Elements

Other things Moreno introduced include
  - collaborative creativity   from his work with the prostitutes in Vienna around 1912, mixing in emotional support as well as information pooling, heart and head

   - sociometry, the precursors of which were the radical idea of letting people choose those with whom they’d be housed. Letting people choose? Respecting people’s feelings, preferences? Now we vaguely even know the concept: That’s what has really made the difference in feminism, that people have preferences that many not always be grounded in reasons. But still we don’t respect preferences half enough. Sociometry—its basic idea—eliciting preferences—has a big future way beyond psychotherapy.

   - drama—Moreno knew there was something great here, but not the way it was done. Something about improvising, playing your own truth. He began with improvising other stories in his Theatre of Spontaneity. There’s s a little role distance here—it’s closer to drama therapy. Only in the 1930s did he move to people playing their own stories. But bringing drama into life as a modality was big. We’ll come back to that.

  - Meanwhile, concepts were whirling in Moreno’s mind: Spontaneity, creativity as a cosmic force, a theological imperative. Some folks thought he was crazy for daring to realize that the sources of vitality itself was divine—but since the 1960s lots of folks have gotten on board, and centuries prior to this mystics in other countries sort of knew this.  In the materialistic world of the mid-20th century, though, this stuff was unacceptable. But Moreno was like Jung in this noting that how one perceives and interprets spirit and how one relates to the deep unconscious does make a difference. It’s a form of humanism, if you think about it.

Well, I could go on and on—the point is that there are many tools we have now, role, the distribution of responsibility for the action—using auxiliaries and a director—and so forth that all are equivalent to the thousands of refinements to computer technology in the last fifty years.

So my point is that we re-think our identity as far more than just therapists. I honor those who apply this rich methodology in healing, but I want to speak up for the idea that it can be used in prevention, in fostering psychological literacy, in raising consciousness, in peace-making and social action. I think sociodrama and role playing in business may have a far greater impact on the future—on what Moreno meant by sociatry—than all the psychotherapy within the medical model put together.

[Psychotherapy emerged at a time when it was by default less inhumane than the physical treatments for mental illness, a time when neurosis was not differentiated from psychosis. There was a socio-cultural blanket here as it was supported by the general thrust of advances in medicine in general and psychiatry secondarily.]

So in summary, my key point is that what we’re about is that original vision of Moreno that this applies to therapy, but it was and is far greater in lots of ways. The whole theme of valuing creativity is still a bit new, though people give it lip service. In fact, there are innumerable institutions and norms that stifle creativity, so there’s still a great deal of work to do, just to get everything lined up.

Surgery was no great technology—in fact it was rather untrained barbers who did it—until a number of side-technologies emerged, from anatomy and the invention of the microscope to anesthsia, the recognition of germs, aseptic surgery, the manufacture of tools that could be effectively sterilized, and many other components Until these were in place, surgery was all-too-often horribly painful and furthermore often  followed by infection and death.

People working together has been similarly contaminated by misunderstanding and pride and psychodramatic methods offer good tools for countering some of these effects. As I segue into a group process of inviting you all to contemplate and explore non-clinical types of applications, sociatric applications, think about how you might branch out.

Exploring Your Extra-Therapeutic Interests

Okay, that’s the didactic. Now the experiential, the sociometric, the fact that more than talking at you—which you can read on my website—is getting you doing, empowering yourselves, making connections. Because we respect that you may have several areas of interest or potential interest, we’re going to ring this bell and have three occasions when you can change sub-groups and connect with yet another area of interest. For starters we have these banners and we will post eight places around the room:
   1. Applications in life coaching, or for personal people-skills, for general having more vitality and mental flexibility.
   2. Business and organization, to promote greater effectiveness in managers, supervisors, teams, etc.
   3. In Education: There are applications of modified forms such as sociodrama in schools and with appropriate modifications, at all levels.
          See my paper on sociodrama. Take note of activities that teach social and emotional learning, anti-bullying, etc.
       -  Teaching classes in psychology in college, or literature, or other topics, or other college applications—including colleges that have many undergraduates over 30.
       -  Applications in professional and contuing education, post college law , medicine, others.
    4.   Programs for conflict resolution, peacemaking, learning or applying tools for these activities.
    5.  Programs for social action, empowering the oppressed—not an easy task—
    6.  for Spiritual Development—bibliodrama , whatever the religion, telling the stories, getting at their hidden wisdom or maybe foolishness, making it your own
            (Bibliodrama is also useful for teaching literature and even social science.)
    7. For Play, the Art of Play, classes in re-claiming vitality, using the arts, etc.
               Open to further comments.

    Marcia Karp in England writes that FEPTO was founded in Stockholm more than 20 years ago. It was called ESCOPE at first, and there were about ten or so of us. Although we thought we were part of the IAGP, the actual psychodrama section of the IAGP came later. Our purpose was for trainers to come together and share their thoughts, difficulties and, through enactment, the futures of their training organization. We were able to establish a training standard for this part of the world. Then we re-named our organization FEPTO and signed a charter in Belgium By that time there were 40 of us. Now we have more than 100 trainers as members who come to our meetings every year---this next being 14-18 April, 2013 in Santander, Spain. (The chairman of the organizing committee is IAGP President Roberto de Inocencio.  (The conference is before the actual business meeting. The conference is for everyone and has more people coming from the local country. The meeting is just for members or prospective members representing organizations---or founding members.).

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