Adam Blatner, M.D.

October 21, 2012 (Check out on "Papers" above other papers on sociometry, tele, our social being-ness, and others.

This is another webpage supplement to a workshop that will offer experiential exercises designed to sensitize participants to the feelings and issues generated in relationships and groups that have to do with choosing others, being chosen, and exercising preferences.

The invitational brochure says, “Creating group cohesion and mutual support is essential to effective group facilitation and knowing something about the psychology of rapport is a valuable aspect of a leader's competence. This mainly experiential workshop will help you learn several group techniques from sociometry that can instantly bring clarity to a variety  of questions you or the group may have, and you will become more alert to the issues and dynamics already happening in your groups. These exercises can easily develop into further group work. We look forward to a fun and useful workshop!"

Social Depth Psychology (abbreviated as SDP) looks at how very deep the feelings are that are associated with choosing and being chosen, feeling unchosen by those whom you chose, wanting to not hurt other people’s feelings, and the like. This is the general field that was opened up by Jacob L. Moreno’s method in sociometry, developed in the 1930s, actually before he invented psychodrama!

SDP represents an arena that operates between individual depth psychology and social psychology. I don’t think that either theories and methods in individual psychology and psychotherapy, nor social psychology, adequately deals with these phenomena. For the most part, group therapies touch on it but also often mis-diagnose these interactions, interpreting them in terms of transferences rather than real interactions.

SDP has to do with how people feel about real interactions—not transferences— that occur among people. These interactions are based on rapport. (Moreno called these types of interactions “tele.” We can be attracted to people, indifferent, or feel repelled by them. What’s all that about? That realm is what I call SDP. There are many papers on sociometry and tele on my website, and many references, also. I suggest that you begin to read them.

(Sociometry is an imprecise term, referring to both the method and the field examined. At first it wasn’t clear what was being examined. The method picks up preferences and other patterns, but there’s much in this realm that’s missed. An analogy might be the way the microscope did much to open up the field of microbiology, but that field turned out to be far broader and more complex than what could be elucidated (literally) by the microscope itself. Viruses, for instance, had to be assessed indirectly, in terms of evidence of antibodies that were evoked by an infection. SDP is similarly much broader than what can be demonstrated by sociometry. It’s thus a new, open field and one begins wherever one can.)

About the Session

 This session will offer you some experiential exercises that I hope will sensitize you to an important dimension of psychology that I call “social depth psychology,” which is based on Moreno’s ideas based on his sociometric methods. I think knowing something about this is important for those who want to develop their skills in drama therapy or related fields.

Basically, most schools of individual-oriented psychology and psychotherapy don’t pay enough attention to the many variations and nuances of social psychology—especially those dynamics that deal with the phenomena of rapport, why we feel more attracted to this one, or slightly repelled by that person. Hint: It’s not always projection or transference. Those are crude concepts that deserve refinement.

Sociology, on the other hand is too gross, also, and doesn’t address how sensitive we are to slight shifts in status or whether we’re being given enough respect, and many other phenomena. This stuff rattles around deep, so it’s a depth psychology.

Object relations theory in psychoanalysis is close, but doesn’t deal with variations in context. I want to connect with A in some roles but not in others. Likewise, B is preferable in certain roles over A, although the opposite is true when it comes to certain other roles. In other words, as with so many other fields, there is a complexity that needs to be addressed and we have some tools that can begin to do that.

So it’s in-between social psychology and certain aspects of depth psychology—social depth psychology—how we feel deep down about how we sense we’re liked, rejected, esteemed, connected, and how we want to connect in turn, and all that.

Developmentally it’s big: There’s a major disconnect between the narcissistic and normal desire to be loved by everyone—perfectly okay for a 5 year old—and another part of the psyche is yet able to notice that the kid prefers this relative or playmate over that one. This disconnect continues and enlarges when we’re 8 - 15—we are hurt deeply by cues that we’re not always liked or preferred not only by those we’d prefer, but often by anyone. Yet our own discriminations become even finer—it turns out that an increasing percentage of the total population is not particularly preferred—not that they’ve done anything wrong—they’re just  not in our field of interest or value. So SDP is wide open for your thoughts.

Indeed, I beg you to check out my website and comment or question.  I’ll mention you if I use your ideas. What’s with this field? I’m clear there is much room for expansion. Also, it overlaps with scores of related fields, from marketing to conference planning to how to be a better host for a party.

About the Exercises

The first group of exercises deal with what others call near-sociometry—not dealing with preferences so much as just making what’s implicit in the group a bit more explicit. Here are a couple of techniques.

First is the spectrogram—which involves the warming-up process of getting you out of your chair and mixing with others, making eye contact, hearing your own voice in interaction with others, speaking up, being tempted to not speak up. The spectrogram recognizes that folks’ preferences and other variables are relative, not just either or, and in many ways we fall somewhere in the middle, more than some, less than others.

Step-In Sociometry

The second technique is a different warm-up: Am I the only weirdo in the group?  I used to x and still do y, but I don’t know if anyone else does. How to find out. All those who x step in and you can see which of the others has shared that experience.

Choosing and Being Chosen

Now some beginning sociometry exercises. The game is to resist the strong temptation to just turn to the person next to you—that, by the way is called propinquity—the gravitational social pull of simple proximity. Resist that and allow yourself to notice someone across the room who in any way intrigues you. Notice a couple. When I say go, go make contact, pair up, leave the center of the room so others can find each other.  Talk about why you chose each other.

I’m warming you up to this funny dynamic: choice. People are always choosing each other. Which people or groups do we walk up to at a gathering event or party? How do we welcome or snub others when they approach us? What’s that largely unconscious dynamic about?

What we’re talking about with SDP is becoming a bit more explicitly aware, more sensitive, to what was for most people a rather intuitive choice process and actually bring consciousness to experimenting with it.

Let’s do this exercise again, make a circle, and we’ll choose someone else—only this time, add a variation: If you tended to go forward and choose, hang back just a little and see who chooses you; if you hung back, push yourself to be a bit more forward and take the initiative. Talk for five minutes about what that was like.

Opportunities to Learn by Repeated Choosing

The next point is to know that we choose people based on scores of subtle cues, a few obvious ones, sometimes cues you’ve learned to notice and others don’t, etc. There’s a real hunger to make connections and see how it works out, especially if it’s set up so there’s not a lot of risk, loss of energy, time, money, commitment, etc. It’s fun to be in a structured setting when all that is taken care of by the group leader. Sociometry as a method can be a bit like speed dating.

But the problem with choice is that you may be chosen for criteria that are irrelevant to you, or the criteria that are relevant are not clearly known to others. In other words, self-disclosure. Marketing what’s truly relevant to you: Do others know what that is? Do you know what that is?

 So in this sense, sociometry is a shuffling and redistribution and a chance to find out in a relatively safe exploratory process.

There are two types of choice making.  One is based on common interest—and it’s called a socio-telic preference. Tele is Moreno’s word for rapport, and socio-telic criteria are those that you want to find someone who shares a political attitude, a social concern, a religious   commitment— and as they say, sometimes these click and sometimes, well, politics makes strange bedfellows.

The second, other type of rapport is called psyche-tele. You may or may not have some things in common, but mainly , or in addition, you just feel good with them for personal reasons. As Sancho Panza, Don Quixote’s side-kick in the Broadway Musical, Man from La Mancha, sings about his choice to hang out with this weirdo, “I like him. I really like him.”  And there are connections that have this mysterious and not easily explained feeling-connection.

Sometimes we like people with whom we have little in common. More often we have some things in common and the psyche-telic connection then adds yet another level to the rapport. Or on the other hand, we might make a connection based on a common interest but it turns out we rub each other wrong. Funny, but oh, well.

You can’t design psyche-telic connections—they happen or they don’t. But you can increase the chances of their happening by increasing the freedom to seek, explore, mix, compare, and find intuitively, increasing the overall interpersonal freedom to make informal connections. This could happen a lot more than it does.

One way to help this happen more is to get in touch with what YOU want to be chosen for. And  this has to do with your own preferences and how overtly you disclose these interests.  That will be the next exercise.

We’ll start with a warming-up of what are you interested in? Let’s just name some topics for the whiteboard: I’ll start and you chime in:
 Applications of drama in therapy one-to-one.   Working with couples, Or conjoint work with families.
  Applications in business, police or crisis work,   with political refugees or traumatized people
 How drama can be integreated with spiritual development?  Etc.

Why Hasn’t This Arena Been Investigated Before?

Several reasons: First, the field grows from all directions, and many people who have come up with theories of personal or individual psychology tend to explain phenomena in terms of their own hypotheses. Others who are more sociological just bypass the individual psychological dynamics of jealousy, envy, and confusion that are part of SDP. Instead of trying to explain a phenomenon in terms of other systems, SDP inquires about the interactive processes themselves.

Of course there are overlaps in psychology—and indeed every dimension, political, economic, fashion, world-view, and so forth tends to be either pushed to the side as if it’s not significant (i.e., “marginalized), or pushed to the center as if it’s the “real” cause of things. We’re not elevating SDP, but rather just noting that some dynamics operate in the interpersonal field.

Inter-subjectivity in psychoanalysis is close, but do they deal with the phenomena that involves real common interests or not, or real areas of intelligence or simplicity, or culture, or things that aren’t distortions, but still people don’t allow themselves to think clearly about them.

Repression and Avoidance of Consciousness.

SDP involves interpersonal connectedness, or the dynamics of rapport, and these are extraordinary sensitive dynamics. Folks get deeply hurt, more so because they don’t know how to think about feeling reactions. Pair this with a culture that has hardly opened to reflective consciousness—thinking about how we think, so few really want to know what seems likely to only make them feel bad. But it’s like swimming. If you know the skill, deep water is fun; if you don’t have the skill, it is very dangerous.

SDP looks at the phenomena that come up when you anticipate the possibility of your own feelings being hurt, or your unwillingness to stir up problems for others. This is more valid for a non-psychologically-minded and fairly stable culture. It’s less valid for a culture in transition in many ways and one in which learning to be more mentally flexible and psychologically-minded is adaptive.

Psychological-minded-ness is simply an ability to look at the workings of your own mind, even if only crudely. It’s partly a willingness to try. It involves knowing that you fool yourself, and an active interest in correcting those mistakes. It’s analogous to people finally getting anti-virus programs built into their computers—something only recently becoming standard. Folks know there are viruses... programs that are deceptive and that sabotage your system. What we are not so alert to—it’s not yet widely taught—that the mind is vulnerable to a host of illusions and that these may be played upon by advertisers, politicians, peers, and others to manipulate you. When you know it’s there, you can watch out.

SDP is another refinement of psychological-awareness: It reminds you that you can get fooled and manipulated by wanting to be liked (by everyone), not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, and the like.


We can’t yet summarize, really, because what’s really going on is that we’re opening up a field that hasn’t been opened in this way. Moreno did it a bit with sociometry, but my intuition is that this all is much bigger than what he was able to say—and he said a lot.

Moreno tended to be grandiose, so he intuited many things that could come from this opening. I suspect that half of his ideas were wrong, but I’m not sure which half. So in a way, this is not meant to be definitive, but rather evocative. Come consider these issues with me, think about them, and let’s see where it goes.
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