Adam Blatner, M.D., TEP

(Plenary Presentation to the 66th Annual Conference of the American Society for Group Psychotherapy & Psychodrama (ASGPP), April 11, 2008, San Antonio, Texas)

The theme of our conference is “Blazing trails into creative consciousness,” and when I look over the program, I see lots of different trails being blazed. To blaze a trail is to create a path in the wilderness where there had been none before, and here the phrase is used as a metaphor for creativity. Today I will propose a creative twist in how we think about psychodrama and Moreno’s contributions in general, and discuss some of the implications of this idea. I touched on some of the themes in this talk in an article I had published in our Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama and Sociometry last summer, and since then have come up with some new angles.

Today I’m suggesting that we re-think our mission by expanding beyond psychodrama as psychotherapy and psychodrama as method—so that we consider the range of Moreno’s contributions—including role theory, sociodrama, sociometry, spontaneity training, interactive drama, group work, the philosophy of creativity, and so forth. Conceptually, I’m suggesting that what ties all these together, what they’re about, is that they are tools, and more specifically tools that qualitatively expand the nature of communication.

Our work is about so much more than therapy. In 1934, as the opening line of what Moreno considered to be his magnum opus, his most significant book, Who Shall Survive?, Moreno wrote, “A true therapeutic procedure cannot have less an objective than the whole of mankind.” By therapy, Moreno I think meant something that would be helpful, useful—it didn’t need to apply to a strictly clinical context or the medical model. A “true therapeutic procedure” might also be phrased as “a really useful complex of tools.” As for an objective as the whole of mankind—that means that these tools should be applied in all human institutions, in education, religion, business, politics, criminology, and so forth. The articles in Moreno’s journals reflected this wider view.

One way to think about our work that does allow it such a broad range of applications is to recognize it—re-cognize means re-think—as not just therapy, as I said, but as a broader, more fundamental category—as an expanded type of communication. As an analogy, consider that a similar act of re-visioning happened in the history of the computer:

Around fifty years ago, The International Business Machines—also known as IBM—was in the business of making fancy adding machines, calculators of various types. When electronics came in and began to be developed, it became apparent that this new technology would allow operations to happen not in terms of seconds or even tenths of seconds, but in terms of micro-seconds, so that thousands of operations could be done per second. This made it possible to not just crunch numbers quickly, but more—to use sequences of numbers for letters or words or even pictures. The speed of electronic operations offered not just a quantitative improvement in productivity in mathematical calculation, but a potentially qualitative shift beyond just calculation to “information processing”—that phrase was the breakthrough—, word processing, picture processing, and the thousands of refinements that have grown out of it. More, each escalation in speed and power of computing, from thousands of operations per second to now billions per second—allow for new and more complex types of functions.

I am suggesting that, first, the various techniques, elements and concepts proposed by Moreno and developed by others since open up whole dimensions, fresh viewpoints or frames of mind in thinking and communications. When we add more dimensions to our more familiar types of communications that allows for a corresponding expansion of functions. With these added sociodrama-like dimensions, we can use communications in new ways to explore and create, to develop and deepen consciousness, to support relationships and group and inter-group functions. We can foster empathy and generate more wholesome forms of recreation and spirituality—the applications go on and on.

Expanded Communications

When gestures were combined with words, that’s using the nonverbal and the verbal, that’s a combination of dimensions. When story-telling and art was added, and diagrams and drama—these also were further dimensions. The invention of the technology writing captured the elusiveness of sound in two-dimensional space, and the applications of writing in turn affected what and how was written. Writing aided memory and reduced distortion in a series of messages. (Remember the children’s game of telephone and how quickly a message can get garbled?). Writing allowed for accountants and law, more accurate legends and partook of the magic of extending the affirmative power of prayer. When things were written, these statements had even more power than when they were spoken—such was the magical impact of this new medium.

There were many further refinements, breakthroughs, and dimensions in the history of writing, such as the emergence of alphabets from more symbol-based systems like hieroglyphics—and that particular breakthrough took about fifteen hundred years to happen. The history is rich, but the point is that communications have expanded so that printing, postal systems, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, and now the internet, each new innovation adds certain dimensions to the process of communication.

Let’s return to how people talk together in the present culture: They joke, jabber in small talk, and in more serious talk folks tend to present opinions, argue, negotiate. What people don’t do that much of, but what drama facilitates, is encounter, explore, create, imagine together, and at the same time attend to the feelings of those involved.

Consider that activities that promote creativity, group work, facilitating spontaneity, integrating psychology and also social criticism and analysis, and so forth, each requires an expansion of the dimensionality of communications, and as I say, Moreno’s various components offer these functions!  Let’s consider some of these:

Creativity: First there’s Moreno’s prime theme of creativity. Making this a core value invites a shift from just exchanging opinions or arguing to a cooperative goal of discovering together, and that tone almost introduces a world of possibility, a fresh tone to the communication.

Spontaneity: One of Moreno’s best insights was that the best way to create is to improvise, try out stuff, experiment. That lends another tone or dimension to the problem, not just quiet planning, but something in which participants allow their intuitions and impulses to be expressed and then see what they want to do with those maneuvers, which work, which flop, which might yet work with more refinement. It’s more energetic, vital—and the more you do it, the more creativity comes out.

Play: This dynamic offers two dimensions: First is that play lightens up the process, reduces its sense that a mistake is catastrophic. Second, play generates a context that is structured so that experiments are possible, more fail-safe. One can be somewhat serious in an experiment without having to get bogged down by taking oneself too seriously. The goal is to foster in the process of exploration a heightened receptivity of mind so that intuitions can more readily enter consciousness, and this can’t happen in states of fear or shame. Play counters those inhibitions.

Warming-Up: Here is a mixture of action, group dynamics, play, and other techniques that serve to heighten spontaneity gradually—which is what needs to happen. I think of this as a dimension, in contrast to the common expectation people have that their ideas be neatly packaged in advance.

Group Dynamics: Moreno was a pioneer of the interaction among several people as a source of creativity. This was about more than group therapy—although many of Moreno’s innovations were channeled into the realm of therapy—but what we’re saying is broader, it talks about the whole value of recognizing the creative potential of teams, groups, in business, spiritual explorations, social action, and so forth.

Note that while some of these elements may be found to some small degree in various other communications media, the conscious bringing together of these elements makes for a qualitatively different process.

Drama offers another dimension, or, actually, several dimensions. First, making alternative stories, playing them out, offers a kind of laboratory for experiments—not hard science chemistry experiments, but rather experiments in the psycho-social domain. Instead of test tubes and beakers and chemicals, drama offers a variety of techniques that facilitate psycho-social experiments: asides, role reversal, doubling, the mirror, and so forth. Each tool adds another kind of shift of frame, and it is these shift of frames, the use of a viewpoint not ordinarily employed in mundane communications, that help suggest what I mean by adding new dimensions.

Surplus Reality: One of the major dimensions of drama is the conscious utilization of what Moreno called “surplus reality,”—imagination, the magic “if”—in the service of exploring together. We all did this, used it naturally in the make-believe play of our childhood. It’s even more effective when we channel this innate potential in the service of mature explorations.

The term, “surplus reality” is useful because otherwise folks tend to devalue or discount what is imagined, and even more what is felt or intuited. Moreno recognized that these functions carried a great deal of psychological truth, and it all needed to have a more respectable status, so he gave it an impressive phrase. Surplus reality invites us to take the power of “if” more seriously and harnesses psychological truth, phenomenology, in the service of creativity.

Role Training and Role Playing: Rehearsal, simulations, trying things out in the service of developing skills—this is a well known process in music and traditional drama. During rehearsals the director can stop mid-performance and criticize a part, then, based on these constructive comments, the players can take that part over. We need to bring that device into ordinary communications. Whoa, wait, what just happened here? Let’s pause and comment on it. The dimension of self-reflection becomes woven into communications.

Action Techniques or Psychodramatic Methods: Doubling, role reversal, the mirror, asides, soliloquy, multiple parts of self—each technique introduces a different frame, as if it were adding a different dimension or way of dealing with the communication process.

Role: This concept is the basis of a user-friendly language for individual, interpersonal, and social psychology. Having a language that’s familiar and easy to apply by a wider number of people makes the game of communication and exploration more accessible, easier to learn. Role is to the different kinds of psychology what the alphabet was to writing!

Tele, or Rapport: From the field of investigation Moreno called sociometry comes a way to become more sensitive to the ways in which people connect, choose each other, feel more or less cohesive, include each other. Such considerations need to be woven into the mainstreams of psychology and ultimately into culture. That, too is a dimension.

Elsewhere on this website there is a related paper that elaborates on this point and presents a number of other aspects that I consider to be dimensions of communication: Expanding Communications using Psychodrama. Speaking of dimensions of communications, a website or blog can be somewhat interactive! So if  you email me with a suggestion that I add this or change that, I’ll consider it and either discuss it with you or just go along with your good idea and put it in—and say if you wish that it was your idea! You can’t get this done in most ordinary journal articles. So perhaps it is also another dimension.


The first implication has already been suggested: Psychodrama in the larger sense of the term, including all of Moreno’s different contributions, is bigger than classical psychodrama as a psychotherapeutic method. The complex of Moreno’s contributions are more varied and have more types of applications, and these can continue to expand and be refined and developed, and—to be emphasized—these approaches may be woven in with other approaches!

One corollary of this is that we should collectively take more steps to acknowledge this broadening of our vision and range of applications. Of course this is not new, and many of you are already extending these applications beyond therapy per se, but what other ways can we reposition our identity? Should we re-name the journal now that it is getting a fresh start with a new publisher? Should we re-name our organization? Should we move towards building certification processes for non-clinical uses of Moreno’s approaches?

The second implication is that the name “psychodrama” is in some ways misleading. It is an example of a rhetorical device called “synechdoche”—as in the sea story, Two Years before the Mast, the mast referring to the ship and the journey. What if we spoke instead of Moreno’s Contributions? Because we are dealing with a number of different things: There’s psychodrama, to be sure, but there is also sociodrama, axiodrama and beyond that, role training, role playing, and beyond that, sociometry, sociometric-like exercises, warm-up techniques, action techniques, role analysis, improvised drama, the philosophy of creativity, the cultural critique of that which relies on the cultural conserve, spontaneity training, and on and on.

The pont here is that each one of these elements can be used apart from the others. Ah, heresy! But it’s true. Of course there is value in combining them in certain circumstances, but the point is that we don’t have to present ourselves to the world as selling the whole package. That would be the equivalent of insisting that anyone who buys a computer must learn all its mathematical calculating maneuvers.

This implication is then mixed with the first one—use the different techniques, and use them with an expanded range of applications—in business and personal development, social action and community building, and mixed with other approaches, such as, for example, in promoting creativity or group cohesion in business and organizations. These efforts can be pursued without ever having to do classical psychodrama.

A third implication is that it might be all right—officially all right—to use other terms than psychodrama to describe what we do or how we present ourselves to the world. In fact, of course, many leaders in our field already do that. The word psychodrama is problematic for many types of clients—both the prefix “psycho-“ and the suffix “-drama” evoking unwanted associations. Instead, depending on the group, our people have been using terms such as “action training” “action techniques,” “role playing,” “experiential education,” “sociodramatic methods,” and so forth.

An advantage to de-centering the word, psychodrama, may include the theme of shifting away from the sense that the method by itself is what works. It doesn’t. Like surgery or carpentry or theology, Moreno’s methods can be used badly, unethically, foolishly. That’s one of the reasons in the 1970s there was a move towards certification—there were people who did just that—and some of them are coming to the surface again. Instead, what should be emphasized is that there are a complex of methods, tools, but they need to be used with good judgment, ethics, wisdom. Training should emphasize this, too.

One of my more intriguing implications that has emerged in my preparation of this presentation is that Moreno’s contributions go beyond even being an expansion of types of communications. Julian Jaynes wrote in the mid-1970s a book that suggested that writing increased the shift in emerging human consciousness to a greater dominance by the language-focused left side of the brain. Daniel Pink a couple of years ago wrote another book, “A Whole New Mind,” that proposed that our postmodern era needs a capacity for innovation that draws on the re-cultivation of the right-brain’s potentials and a better balance of the two hemispheres. I’m suggesting that we also re-cognize that Moreno’s complex of methods are especially designed to do just this. Moreno’s methods are bigger than therapy, bigger than communications, and they address also how the mind is being re-organized, how consciousness may evolve.


This is another term that has begun to be thrown around more, in part because the ups and downs in politics—and especially the downs—has excited the sense that we need to get more socially involved. More than for many years the idea that society can get as sick as any neurotic or even psychotic is being recognized, and Moreno’s term—though emphasizing a bit of a medical model in the -iatry part of the word—really envisions the applications of all our tools in the service of helping to build a better world.
My own areas of excitement include the promotion of the teaching in middle and high schools of practical psychology—using role as the basis of the way it’s taught and talked about; using sociodrama in colleges; using drama as a tool in education, from teaching and promoting creative drama in elementary school to doing its equivalent for adults as described in my book, The Art of Play. Indeed, the idea of promoting the wider realm of Interactive and Improvisational Drama was developed most recently in an anthology with that title I edited with Daniel Wiener and published last year: Check it out at the book store!

Others are taking it in many wonderful directions: Some are training lawyers; Playback Theatre is growing as a form of community building; Folks such as Shu Gong, Merri Goldberg, Kate Hudgins, and others are taking it to China, and others to other countries. The field is growing more internationally and we should try to work with those folks.

For example, the IAGP has added three words to the end of its official name. Though still keeping its 4-letter acronym, IAGP, it is now the International Association of Group Psychotherapy and Group Processes. This means that the regional and triennial meetings of the IAGP are now going to include more work by people who are using group work in education, in business, in social action, and for other purposes. By the way, the next big meeting of the IAGP will be held in the Eternal City of Rome, in Italy, in late August, 2009, so begin to prepare your submissions for a workshop or presentation there!

I would also like to see more cross-disciplinary involvement. There’s already a fair amount of this, but there could and should be much more. We need more bridges built with drama therapy, and more learning from as well as sharing what we’ve learned with parallel approaches such as Systemic Constellations work, Pesso-Boyden’s Psychomotor Therapy, Internal Family Systems Therapy, and so forth. And of course, please please write up your experiments so as to inspire others and also establish our work professionally.

I want to note that there’s room for a deepening in theory. In psychoanalysis there are trends toward integration and a more relational viewpoint which in turn opens up a re-appreciation of the social psychology orientation of Moreno that antedated the elaborations of Harry Stack Sullivan and in England the elaborations of the Object Relations School. In our own field, the integrational trend can be seen in the new anthology about theory put out this last summer by Routledge—an anthology that also indicates the great fertility of our international colleagues.

Let’s attend and present at not only other types of therapy conferences, and therapy for certain types of patients—PTSD, Eating Disorders, Addictions, and so forth—but also for non-therapy conferences. I’ve been presenting at conferences on creativity, conferences on personal meaning, hospices, and so forth. This is all expanding to become sociatry.

(At this point I acknowledged that there are many other approaches, and invited people in the audience to note some of the ways they have been adapting, expanding, and applying Morenean approaches. ) (To the readers of this paper on the internet: If you email to me your own anecdotes, when I have enough I'll put them together, acknowledge you by name if you wish and note your anecdote.).

Summing Up

I think Moreno’s contributions involve a number of shifts that are as dramatic:
    – from seeking or implementing a “correct answer,” Moreno shifted to a more open-ended goal of creativity.
    – from seeking to plan ahead, Moreno shifted to the greater involvement and risk-taking of improvisation.
     – from limiting ourselves to our rational abilities, Moreno shifted into accessing and utilizing the powers of imagination, emotion, intuition, and physical action.
     – from the overly abstract languages of psychology, Moreno shifted into the more concrete and evocative language based on the role concept and the dramaturgical metaphor;
     – and added to discussion the more multi-dimensional vehicle of drama and drama-based techniques.

The aggregate of these shifts results not just in another school of therapy, but involves a wider endeavor: a richer type of interpersonal communication! This in turn has applications in activities beyond therapy, fields of endeavor such as education, politics, relationships with family and friends, personal growth—even recreation.
Also, because the endeavor of psychotherapy has many more economic constraints and pressures than before, and there is also much more competition among a plethora of different approaches that have emerged in the last thirty or forty years, it may be sociologically and economically wise for people in the ASGPP to recognized that what we have to offer has benefits in many arenas besides psychotherapy.
Dayenu—It would Have Been Sufficient
I’ll finish this talk by noting an interesting word: Dayenu. It’s a Hebrew word, meaning, “it would have been sufficient.” It’s the title and the chorus of a children’s song sung, traditionally, for the Passover. We are coming up on that Jewish holiday, beginning on April 20 and lasting for a week. The gist of the song is that the exodus represents a whole series of amazing miracles, God’s exertions on behalf of Israel. Dayenu celebrates the idea that if any one of those miracles had been given as a gift, an act of Divine grace, it alone would have been wonderful, worthy of profound gratitude. Not just the persuading of the Pharaoh to give the Israelites their freedom, but the parting of the Red Sea, and the giving of Manna from Heaven, and the water from the rock, and on and on—a whole series of great and miraculous gifts. Dayenu is a nice word for contemplating the many gifts given to us in our lives. My wife Allee and I use it as a kind of prayer of gratitude, implying, “You give us so many wonderful things, any one of them would have been sufficient. And now you give us this, too? Wowsie Woozie! Dayenu!”

Well, there are those whose many contributions are such that we could say Dayenu to any one of them. Sometimes I remember my parents this way. And Moreno, while not at all divine in my mind, nevertheless was great, as I’ve noted. Any one of his contributions deserves an attitude of recognizing that it alone could stand on its own, offer value in a variety of ways. Let’s review some of these: Starting historically—not with psychodrama, which came along near the end of the series, interestingly, but early on:
    spiritual insights        immanence of divinity    play and dynamics of play
    self-help groups        theatre in the round        improvisational drama
    impromptu theatre        wire recordings and other feedback
    group psychotherapy        role training            sociometry
    diagraming relationships    psychodrama            role theory
    sociodrama            role playing in business    interpersonal psychology
    spontaneity training        role play in education        sociatry... etc.
        ... and what have I missed? Another 2 minutes of brainstorming!     

We are more than psychodramatists, then. We are purveyors of Moreno’s contributions, helping to spread a bunch of really good tools—and pure concepts can be tools, too—in the world. The world needs these tools. I’ll finish with the second verse of the second verse of a song you know—and y’all come and sing with us tonight, because singing in groups is a great way to build tele.
    Sing, sing a song, let the world sing along,
    Sing the love there could be. Sing for you and for me.
    Sing, sing a song. Make it simple to last your whole life long.
    Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear,
    Just sing, sing a song.

Using Moreno’s tools, imagining them to be different kinds of notes, instruments, tools, sing the love there could be.