A Historical Chronology of
Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama
Adam Blatner, M.D.

(Revised, July 23, 2007)

(The core of this was Appendix A in the 3rd edition (1988) of my book, Foundations of Psychodrama. It was taken out because the book had gotten to long and cuts needed to be made. So here it is again with some additions about further developments--mainly related to psychodrama or the international association for group psychotherapy. (Some of these historical notes may be found in the 4th edition of Foundations of Psychodrama in 2000). I've added a number of items noted by John Casson, a psychodramatist and drama therapist in the United Kingdom.

Precursors  (from Casson)

1606: The earliest performance of Shakespeare's King Lear: On the wild heath Lear addresses an empty stool as his daughter Goneril in a 'psychodramatic' trial. Later in the play Edgar uses a guided fantasy and enactment to help his suicidal father (Gloucester). He states: "Why I do trifle thus with his despair is done to cure it."(Act 4, scene 6, 33.)

1668: Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen in Germany wrote in his Simplicissimus (book 2, chapter 13) that doctors used symbolic enactments in the treatment of delusions: e.g. one man "thought he had already died and wandered around as a ghost, refusing both medicine and food and drink until a clever doctor paid two men to pretend they were ghosts, but ones who loved to drink. They joined the other and persuaded him that modern ghosts were in the habit of eating and drinking, though which he was cured."

1761: Sauvage uses theatre in the treatment of psychiatric patients, France (Petzold, 1973)

1775-7: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Germany writes Lila: a play in which a woman suffering a psychotic grief reaction is healed by a Doctor Verazio, her relatives and friends who play out her delusions and hallucinations and so bring her back, through this dramatised fantasy, to reality. The play is first performed in 1777. He also writes the first version of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship in which he recommends spontaneous theatre for the benefit of the public, (Book 2, Chapter 9).

1788: "In the large Lunatic Hospital near Paris, the Patients were encouraged to Act Plays, this pleasing remedy has been found to be very conducive to their recovery.-- Black, 1788. (Hunter & Macalpine, 1964, 644)

1790s: Dr. Philippe Pinel, founder of enlightened psychiatry in France, stages a "psychodramatic" trial to cure a patient of his delusion that he was going to be executed. (Porter, 2002, 105).

1795: Goethe meets J.C. Reil (see 1803) who becomes Goethe's Doctor.

1797 - 1811: Coulmier, at Charenton asylum (in France), encourages patients including De Sade to make theatre.

1803: J. C. Reil publishes Rhapsodies on the application of psychic cure method of mental disorders, an entire program for the treatment of mental illness, recommends the establishment of a Therapeutic Theatre,

1813: Theatres built in psychiatric hospitals in Italy at Aversa, Naples and Palermo.

1843: William A. F. Browne, former student at Charenton (see 1811) encourages mental patients to perform plays (including Twelfth Night) at the Crichton Royal Institute, Dumfries, Scotland.

1863: Alexandre Dumas witnesses a therapeutic performance by patients at Aversa, Italy.

1878: "An excellent theatre with scenery" was constructed for the use of patients at Ticehurst Asylum, England. (Scull, 1979, 207)

1891: Pierre Janet, French pioneer of Psychological Analysis, uses hypnosis and drama to re-enact traumatic scenes, to achieve catharsis and modify the patient's fixed ideas.

1895: Breuer and Freud publish Studies in Hysteria, Vienna.

1908:  Nikolai Evreinov premieres his monodrama, The Presentation of Love, in Vienna, then, in Russia, around 1910, he publishes his ideas on monodrama.

1908: J. L. Moreno experiments with creative drama/play with children in the parks in Vienna. Around 1913 Moreno writes the play, "The Godhead as Comedian."

1908 - 17: Vladimir Iljine (influenced by Stanislavski) develops his Therapeutic Theatre in a psychiatric hospital, Kiev, Russia. He also works with Basilius Zenkowski on didactic (educational) drama. In 1909 Iljine publishes, Improvising Theatre Play in the Treatment of Mood Disorders in Kiev (Ukraine), Russia, and the next year publishes  Patients Play Theatre: a way of healing body and mind.

Early Pioneers

1905: Joseph H. Pratt, an internist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, offered inspirational lectures to patients with tuberculosis. He gathered his patients into groups and explained to them the necessity of hygienic instructions and exhorted them to be submissive to his will. This "classroom method" was descriptively called "thought control," and other doctors employed the same method in a variety of physical disorders (Pratt, 1907). Later, in the 1920s and 1930s, Pratt gave informational talks to psychiatric patients at the Boston Dispensary in which he placed less emphasis on the disease and more on the emotions and their effect on psychoneuroses. The group became for him the focal point of therapy (Pratt, 1945).

1908-1911: Jacob L. Moreno began to experiment with creative drama with children in Vienna. 1912: Moreno organized the first self-help group, with the disadvantaged class of prostitutes in Vienna.

1917-1918: Moreno worked with Tyrolean refugees of World War I who were relocated to a camp on the outskirts of Vienna; here he developed his earliest ideas about sociometry.

1921: E. W. Lazell worked with World War I veterans at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC. His procedure was similar to Pratt's, but he worked with mentally ill patients and called his lectures to the patients on psychoanalytic dynamics "group analysis" (Lazell, 1921).

1921: Alfred Adler and Rudolph Dreikurs in Vienna held case conferences with teachers, families, and the child or teenager all together and did some of their counseling in these settings. Later, Dreikurs worked with groups of alcoholics in Vienna before coming to the United States.

1921-1924: J. L. Moreno organized his "Theatre of Spontaneity" in Vienna, the beginning of what was to become psychodrama. (Moreno set the date of April 1, 1921 as the "official" beginning of psychodrama.) In 1923 he published Das Stegreiftheatre (the Theatre of Spontaneity), in which he wrote about ideas regarding spontaneity research, role theory, and action studies. He also designed the first theater-in-the-round (Held, 1982). Moreno considered the period from 1911 to 1923 the first "axionormative" period, the time when the basic philosophical foundations were laid in the development of sociometric theory (Renouvier, 1958).

1922: Sigmund Freud speculated on group dynamics in his paper "Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego."

1923-1930: Trigant Burrow worKed intensively witn some experimental groups and (beginning in 1918) used psychoanalytic methods in the group setting. He used the group to reduce the authority of the analyst and developed some interesting social theories of behavior.

1927-1929: J. L. Moreno demonstrated role playing at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York (and elsewhere).

1929: Louis Wender began to do group work that was psychoanalytically oriented (Weeder, 1951).

1929-1930: L. Cody Marsh, a minister at Kings Park State Hospital in New York, brought a revivalist-style spirit to the task of helping his patients: "By the crowd they have been broken, by the crowd shall they be healed." He broadcast inspirational talks and instituted ideas of "milieu treatment." He considered each patient to be a student who received his "condition" as part of learning about "the great subject of civilization" and who needed to experience being "reeducated" (Marsh, 1931). During this period, Austin Riggs also lectured over loudspeakers to psychiatric patients in a Stockhridge, Massachusetts, hospital.

1929-1930: Moreno offered Impromptu Theater, combining psychodrama and group dynamics, at Carnegie Hall.

1931: Moreno consulted as a psychiatrist at Sing Sing prison in New York and began to write about the use of group psychotherapy.

1932: J. L. Moreno first coined the terms "group therapy" and "group psychotherapy" at a conference of the American Psychiatric Association in Philadelphia, after doing basic research on prison populations. (He was encouraged to do this work by William Alanson White.) Moreno's approach of truly interactional, group-centered methods was in contrast to earlier group methods that were often classes in mental health, taught by lecture and exhortation.

1933: Moreno consulted at the New York State Training School for Girls in Hudson, New York, in collaboration with Helen Hall Jennings; and over the next several years he introduced role playing and worked out his sociometric system. On April 4, he exhibited some of his early charts at the New York Medical Society convention; he considered this the official start of the "sociometric movement."

1934: Moreno published his big book on sociometry, Who Shall Survive A New Approach to the Problem of Human Interrelations. He also introduced psychodrama at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC, which was one of the most dynamic psychiatric centers in the country at the time. He received a good deal of support from many of the leaders in the profession.

1934: Samuel R. Slavson, an engineer volunteering with the Jewish Board of Guardians' Big Sister Program, began to do volunteer arts and crafts activities with groups of teenage girls in group homes. He went on to become allied to psychoanalysis and began to expand his activities, calling it "ego therapy" and applying it to groups of latency age and finally even preschool children. He considered his work "pare-analytic," and it involved generally permissive play therapy and lectures.

1934: Paul Schilder at Bellevue Hospital in New York organized psychoanalytically oriented groups for both inpatients and outpatients. In these, he would interpret both resistance and transference phenomena.

1936: Moreno opened Beacon Hill Sanitarium, a private psychiatric hospital about 60 miles north of New York City on the Hudson River, with an attached psychodrama theater and facilities for training professionals. (This is also the year he became a naturalized citizen.)

1937: Moreno began the publication of his first professional journal, Sociometry: A Journal of Interpersonal Relations. (He used the term "interpersonal relations" before it became the name of the approach used by Harry Stack Sullivan.) He applied sociometric testing procedures to Public School 181 in Brooklyn. Moreno considered this year the beginning of the "second sociometric phase."

1937: Lauretta Bender (Schilder's wife and a major pioneer in child psychiatry), also at Bellevue, organized play therapy groups with emotionally disturbed children (Bender, 1937).

1936-1937: Kurt Lewin, Muzafer Sharif, and other social psychologists began important studies in group dynamics, although it was not oriented to therapy.

1937: Abraham A. Low, in Chicago, used "will training" in his work with the mentally ill; later, in 1941, he organized Recovery, Inc., a self-help group program that used discussion and the reading of selected books of his as an aftercare program.

1937: Alcoholics Anonymous, started a few years earlier in Akron, Ohio, was beginning to be recognized.

1940: S. H. Foulkes and E. James Anthony organized the Group Analytic Society in Northfield, England.

The Period of Expansion

1941: A psychodrama theater was built and put into operation at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC.

1941-1945: During World War II, group therapy began to be used widely in military and veterans hospitals.

1942: J. L. Moreno organized the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama (ASGPP), the first professional association for group therapists. He also opened the Sociometric Institute and Theater of Psychodrama at 101 Park Avenue in New York City and began to offer open sessions, attracting many curious professionals from a variety of disciplines. This was the beginning of what he considered the "third phase of sociometric development," which was followed by the spread of group psychotherapy, sociometry, and psychodrama, nationally and internationally. (Moreno's open sessions continued on weekend nights until the early 1970s. In 1962, he moved this "storefront setting" to 236 West 78th Street.)

1943: S. R. Slavson founded the American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA), which was oriented toward psychoanalytic practice. He also began publishing The International Journal of Group Psychotherapy.

1945: Moreno began publication of his second journal, Sociatry, which later became the official professional organ of the ASGPP and after 2 years was renamed Group Psychotherapy. The next year (1946) he published Psychodrama (Volume 1) (Corsini & Putzey, 1956). Many other books and articles followed, as noted in the Bibliography to Blatner's Books.

1946-1949: A. Snedeker, as Surgeon-General, instituted a policy to make group psychotherapy the principal form of psychiatric treatment in Veterans Administration hospitals.

1946-1950: J. D. Sutherland, S. H. Foulkes, and H. Ezriel applied psychoanalysis in groups at the Tavistock Clinic in London. Wilfred Bion, a follower of Melanie Klein, began to research group culture. This group began publication of a journal, Human Relations A Journal of Small Group Research.

1946: Joshua Bierer, in England, had integrated Adlerian ideas and written about group work and social psychiatry since 1938. He created social clubs for recovering patients.

1946-1947: Nathan Ackerman began to write about his early use of conjoint group methods in dealing with families.

1946-1947: The National Training Laboratories at Bethel, Maine, began their community development conferences, which later evolved into the T-group and then the encounter group. Several of the leaders had been students of Kurt Lewin and J. L. Moreno. The key figures were Ronald Lippitt, Kenneth Benne, Leland Bradford, and Jack Gibb (Gottschalk & Pattison, 1969; Lippitt, Bradford, & Benne, 1947).

1948-1949: Alexander Wolf said individual psychoanalysis could be done in a group setting, and in his writings he noted that the group context recreates patients' family dynamics in many ways.

1949: Robert Bartlett Haas applied group theories and psychodrama to educational contexts, both in the classroom and on playgrounds.

1949-1955: Maxwell Jones developed the concept of the '`therapeutic community" at the Social Rehabilitation Unit (later renamed Henderson Hospital) of the Belmont Hospital in Sutton, England. Around that time, Paul Sivadon in France pioneered the idea of open (unlocked) wards.

1950-1960: Expansion of group psychotherapy, especially by such leaders as Martin Grotjahn, Hyman Spotnitz, Jerome Frank, Florence Powdermaker, Clifford Sager, Helen Papanek, Max Rosenbaum, Helen Durkin, and many others. Children were treated in groups by Haim Ginott, Gisela Konopka, Fritz Redl, and others.

1955-1959: Sensitivity training, an extension of T-group ideas, was being explored at the UCLA School of Business Administration in California and in other locations as part of the expansion of the National Training Laboratories.

The Period of Innovation

1958-1966: Frederick (Fritz) Perls, Laura Perls, Paul Goodman, Ralph Hefferline, and others developed Gestalt therapy in New York; it became popular after Fritz Perls moved to the Esalen Institute in California around 1966.

1963-1966: Marathon (time-extended) group therapy (mainly for personal growth); Frederick Stoller, George Bach, Elizabeth Mintz.

1963-1966: Eric Berne developed his method of Transactional Analysis.

1963-1966: Michael Murphy and Richard Price organized Esalen Institute just south of Big Sur, California. It was the prototype of the "growth center," and hundreds sprouted up around the country (and some overseas) over the next decade. These centers became the focus of the human potential movement, which was a marriage of humanistic psychology and T-group methods.

1967: Will Schutz, at Esalen, combined many modes of therapy with the process of the basic encounter group psychodrama, bioenergetic analysis, sensory awakening, guided fantasy, and a variety of action techniques, many of which were ultimately based on Moreno's methods.

1967: Synanon "games" opened to the public as a form of encounter group in Santa Monica, a seaside suburb on the west side of Los Angeles. Synanon was started in 1958 as a drug abuse treatment center by Charles Diedrich. These games were just short of being violently confrontational, and some of this approach generalized to contaminate parts of the encounter group movement.

1968: Hindu gurus, swamis, and Eastern spiritual teachers and disciplines were becoming fashionable, in part stimulated by the support of the Beatles for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his system of transcendental meditation. The use of psychedelic agents added to metaphysical interest, and group therapies began integrating transpersonal issues.

In the 1960s, a number of other forms of psychotherapy became relatively popular, and some of these approaches were applied in group contexts: family therapy (involving several families at a time); art, movement, and other expressive therapies; Arthur Janov's primal therapy; William Glasser's reality therapy; and the like.

Around this period of aroused community action in all areas, self-help groups began to be formed. There was an expansion of the Alcoholics Anonymous' Twelve-Step approach so that it was then used for those who abused other drugs, "sexual addiction," overeaters, gamblers, debtors, and even some psychiatric illnesses (i.e., "Emotions Anonymous). Other types of self-help groups formed, also. Minorities of various types, including some Gay and Lesbian groups, formed to cope with prejudice and advocate for civil rights. Parents of various discriminated-against youngsters, those with mental illness, learning disabilities, gays and lesbians, also formed into self-help and political advocacy groups. Later, people who were bisexual and others who considered themselves trans-gendered or transsexual joined with the gay and lesbian groups, so that one now sees the acronym GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered) to refer to various groups.

Self-help groups for all manner of medical problems also have proliferated, such as for prostate cancer support groups; post-polio; breast cancer survivors; hospice and grief-support groups; caretakers of people with Alzheimer's Disease; and so forth. All these have expanded the concept of group work tremendously.

Further Developments

Following Moreno's death in 1974, a number of significant events occurred, as discussed more fully in my book, Foundations of Psychodrama (4th ed., 2000), including: The founding of the American Board of Examiners in Psychodrama, Sociometry & Group Psychotherapy;  The emergence and termination of a Federation of Trainers in Psychodrama in the USA from around 1978-1989 (check that date).  A number of innovations have developed, and a continuing of the process of revising, and publishing books by a wide range of authors in many countries. Meanwhile, Zerka Moreno, now around 90, has continued to teach and offer workshops.

The proliferation of psychodrama internationally has advanced significantly in the last few decades. There are thousands of practitioners in Latin America, and growing communities in Turkey, Taiwan, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. A Federation of European Training Programs (FEPTO), and the Psychodrama Institute for Europe (a coalition of programs in many countries) both have advanced the field on the Continent. There have continued conferences of both the International Association of Group Psychotherapy (IAGP) (every three years) and a variety of  international and regional psychodrama conferences--and these continue through the present. (See webpages on International News.)  (The IAGP has recently changed its name to add the phrase, "...and Group Processes"---even though it is keeping its simpler 4-letter acronym---, in order to note its recognition of a wider use of group work beyond the therapeutic context.

ln summary, I believe the next frontier for the use of group therapy will be its natural integration into all aspects of our society, as more people develop the skills to utilize the group context to facilitate management, education, recreation, and political action.

Other Fields

There are parallel historical developments in related fields: The use of drama in education, the emergence of drama therapy as a field in the United States and the United Kingdom (i.e., England, mainly), new developments in the general field of drama, such as Jonathan Fox's Playback Theatre, and so forth. These are beyond the present scope of this webpage.


Bender, L. (1937). Group activities on a children's ward as a method of psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychiatry, 93, 151 - 173.

Corsini, Raymond J., & Putzey, J. J. (1956). Bibliography on group psychotherapy. Group Psychotherapy, 9(3), 177-249.

Gottschalk, Louis, & Pattison, E. Mansell. (1969). Psychiatric perspectives on T-groups and the laboratory method: An overview. American Journal of Psychiatry, 126(6), 824.

Held, R. L. (1982). Endless innovations: Frederick Kreisler's theory and scenic design (pp. 33-36). Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press.

Lazell, E. W. (1921). The group treatment of dementia praecox. Psychoanalytic Review, 8, 168- 179.

Lippitt, Ronald, Bradford, Leland P., & Benne, Kenneth D. (1947). Sociodramatic clarification of leader and group roles, as a starting point for effective group functioning. Sociatry: A Journal of Group and Intergroup Therapy, 1(1), 82-91. (Note that these and other pioneers of the T-group method also published a number of their first papers on what was to later become the encounter group in Moreno's journals around 1947!)

Marsh, L. C. (1931). Group treatment of the psychoses by the psychological equivalent of the revival. Mental Hygiene in New York, 15, 328-349.

Pratt, J. H. (1907). The organization of tuberculosis classes. Medical Communications of the Massachusetts Medical Society, 20, 475-492.

Pratt, J. H. (1945). Group method in the treatment of psychosomatic disorders. Sociometry, 8, 323-331.

Renouvier, Pierre. (1958). The group psychotherapy movement and J. L. Moreno, its pioneer and founder. Group Psychotherapy, 11(1), 69-86.

Wender, Louis. (1951). Reflections on group psychotherapy. Quarterly Review of Psychiatry and Neurology, 6, 246-248.

For responses, email me at adam@blatner.com

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