Adam Blatner, M.D.

Written and posted June 29, 2004

Dear Colleagues, here are some thoughts. I hope you'll email me with your responses, to

1. Sociometry should be recognized as a field of study and an endeavor that is theoretically separate from psychodrama, although there are a number of areas of overlap.

(There was a strong dispute on Grouptalk–the psychodrama listserve–back in the Spring of 1998 on this–partly responding to Peter Kellermann's suggestion that the two fields be separated. Part of the objection had to do with different perceptions of what "separation" consists of. There are a variety of ways of thinking about this, and I'll say right now that I'm not suggesting that psychodramatists not be taught about sociometry. Rather, my point is to recognize that each field has dimensions that don't directly involve certain aspects of the other field. The political implication is that we try to help folks in other fields of psychology appreciate the value of exploring the dimension highlighted by sociometry without demanding that they also learn how to do classical psychodrama. A little later, if people agree to my doing so, I'll post that 1998 discussion--at least 8 pages of listserve messages back and forth--as another webpage linked to this.)

I concede that in practice, to the extent that psychodrama slips into addressing group dynamics, talking about them, etc.–apart from using any action methods–sure, it will address dynamics that are "sociometric."

The point is that it is possible to do sociometry, to explore issues of interpersonal preference, reciprocity, group cohesion, rapport, feelings associated with liking and being liked, without ever using action methodologies. Indeed, most of the action methods that are closest to sociometry, such as action sociograms, can be conducted by non-psychodramatists with relative ease.

Of course those areas of overlap make it true that a practitioner who knows about both these fields will be able to function better than one who doesn't know this, assuming an equal level of competence otherwise. An analogy in medicine might be the way a surgeon benefits from knowing about microbiology (regarding sterility and infection) and pharmacology (regarding anesthetics and antibiotics), yet the three fields also involve bodies of knowledge that are significant and a good deal of which stand apart from surgery per se.

That they have roots in the vision of the same person–Moreno--does not mean that the two fields are completely interdependent. Pasteur's research into microbiology took him into the new field of immunology, and while there is a good deal of overlap, again the two fields have much knowledge and many methods that also may be applied separately.

Many people have used psychodrama for many years with moderate success while hardly doing anything explicitly sociometric. (Whether they "thought about the sociometry ofa situation," whatever that means, is a moot point.)

Of course, to repeat, there are many wonderful ways in which the two approaches can be used synergistically, so that one can warm up from sociometric work into psychodramas, or shift from a psychodrama into a sociometric exploration.

2. Similarly, there should be recognized a moderate separation between sociometry (i.e., in the sense of measuring or even addressing of the phenomena associated with tele, interpersonal preference) and role theory. Here the relationship is closer, admittedly. Using the aforementioned medical analogies, it might be the relationship of, say, surgery and anatomy. Much more overlap exists, yet there are still a fair number of aspects of surgery that require little knowledge of anatomy, and many aspects of anatomy that are clinically important to doctors who do no surgery at all.

In the fields of psychodrama, again, like sociometry, one who addresses roles, perhaps even engages in a systematic role analysis, as is more common in Australia and New Zealand, may find many advantages in integrating the two approaches.

The political implications here are important, because it is both possible and advantageous to psychodrama and the general fields of therapy, group work (both for personal development and community building), and for other fields, to learn about both sociometry and role theory even if they don't learn how to do psychodrama. Some might perceive a threat to their being viewed as holding a special and unique expertise in these three areas, and that by maintaining the inseparability of the three fields, psychodrama, sociometry, and role theory. Such a view expresses a guild-like proprietary interest in this body of knowledge, requiring anyone who would learn about any one of the three to submit to an expensive and lengthy training to learn the other two.

On the other hand, by opening up the field, more people might find any one of the fields of activity more relevant, and from discovering the depth and utility of this area, perhaps be more sympathetic and interested in learning about the other two areas.

More about role theory later.

3. Sociometry addresses only one field of knowledge within a far broader field of group and interpersonal dynamics. It is an especially useful field, and one that offers significant value to those working in other areas. Again the analogy: Immunology has become increasingly recognized as useful in the practice of medicine, yet there are many aspects of medical practice that don't involve immunology. The implication here is that learning everything about sociometry does not confer expertise in working with group dynamics– there are still many other dimensions to be studied.

4. Sociometry is a relatively new field, and many of its techniques and approaches may yet be viewed as crude and immature a century from now. Again, the call is to an attitude of humility. There is a special need for writings about its practical applications.

The ample published literature about sociometry in general is not particularly clinically applicable. Most of it was done by sociologists who worked from an academic perspective of observation and description, often using classrooms of children as their major focus. How much such observations can be extended into practical applications is questionable. There may be some principles derived, but they're fairly obvious, anyway, such as the idea that children who are unpopular tend to have fewer positive social skills.

The point here is to avoid alluding to Moreno who said this or that, and to avoid thinking that we really know very much about sociometry. Humility is called for in the spirit of opening to new ideas, inviting new thoughts, re-thinking the possibilities and variables. Moreno is to be honored for opening the door, but the field is really so rich that he could hardly penetrate and systematically develop it, any more than Louis Pasteur could do for either microbiology or immunology.

5. It might be useful to get a committee of those who have been grading the responses to the written tests of the American Board of Examiners over the last twenty years to come up with some consensus papers–it would make a wonderful book!  What are the right answers, and what are the common pitfalls, the common errors? I envision a number of books on the different sections of the test–but especially for sociometry and ethics.

6. Back to seeking to appreciate boundaries and overlaps among the sub-fields associated with sociometry. One is the idea of doing a formal measurement for a group regarding its own sets of interpersonal preferences. (More about this below). Another type of sociometry involves the group's giving itself feedback about other types of information deemed relevant. The point here is that this information may have little to do with interpersonal preferences, except to figuratively open the door to developing a bit of sociotele (i.e., common interest) by making explicit what the subgroupings are. (By the way, this idea is part of a recognized approach in group work advocated by Yvonne Agazarian, a well-known teacher. I don't know whether she has heard of sociometry.)  The use of spectrograms and locograms falls into this category. The use of social atom diagrams and sculptures or tableaux also may have little direct relation to an investigation of the reciprocated or non-reciprocated patterns of attraction, repulsion, and indifference that is closer to the core of sociometry proper, but still social atom analysis has come to be viewed as being "part" of sociometry.

7. Group cohesion is to some extent an expression of positive tele, of people coming to like each other. However, there are also non-telic factors operating here, related to the perception of common danger or pressing need, and issues of morale that have been addressed by people charged with maintaining morale in businesses, the military, leadership classes of all kinds. Again, sociometry offers value, but should be viewed as being a useful part of a broader field of study and application.

8. About sociometry proper, the system proposed by Moreno for the assessment of telic dynamics in a group: What kind of group would benefit from this approach? It seems that the warm-up of the group, getting them interested in the feedback, would itself constitute a great deal of discussion and negotiation. In part, this has to do with identifying degrees of interdependence and commitment to the group–variables I'll be mentioning more later. Another part of the warming-up is the ensuring that everyone involved feels familiar with and empowered by a knowledge of (1) ways of improving the situation–especially their own standing in the group, or the group cohesion; (2) feel optimistic that some improvement is possible; (3) feel some significant need for or caring about the prospect of an improvement in the group's functioning or morale, and (4), probably some other requirements to boot.

9. I think that helping people in general to become interested in this dimension, the psychology of rapport, is itself one of the major contributions and values of sociometry. Just thinking about whom you like and who likes you, and vice versa, is both uncomfortable and enlightening, like beginning to think seriously about politics and its actual complexity. Mature consciousness requires a bit of work and courage.

The main thing I've learned in my over 40 years of contemplating psychiatry and psychology is that Freud's theory of repression was right, but far too narrow. Sure, disreputable sexual impulses might be repressed–especially a century ago when the injunction, "Just don't think about it" was a fairly common response to problems. Nowadays, you don't hear that so often, but in fact it's more disguised, and it's not about sex. My observation is that people tend to avoid thinking about things that they don't know how to think about, that make them over-stretch, feel a mixture of shame, ambiguity, and confusion.

The implication here is that exhortation won't work. One needs to provide tools, and with those tools, demonstrations, explanations, and patient teaching about how those tools can be profitably used.  Anyone who has undertaken the mastery of computer, cell phone, DVD and video recorder, and other new technology will be familiar with varying degrees of technophobia.  The same is true for the psychological and social tools that are what psychodrama, applied role theory, and sociometry are about.

10. My interest or bias is in bringing these tools to a wider range of people in our society, and in making them more easily understood. For this reason, I have re-evaluated the in-group term, "tele," which most people not immersed in psychodrama find mystifying, off-putting jargon. In the spirit of opening, demystifying, and inclusion, I have considered alternatives, and now think that the term "rapport" does equally well in introducing people to what we're all talking about.

11. For a while I hesitated, because rapport is generally seen as only positive. But then I recognized that most people in psychodrama tend to treat the term "tele" as only positive, also–except when they use modifying terms, such as "negative tele," "mixed tele," "neutral tele," "indifferent tele," and so forth. So, heck, why not use the same modifying words with "rapport," because it seems as if lots of folks "get it" equally well.

12. Also, we should distinguish between at least three levels of positive tele: mildly, moderately, and strongly. Different qualities apply–it's not just a linear advance. One tends to find a discontinuity insofar as being willing to engage at different levels of intimacy at certain thresholds: When do you consider a persona a friendly acquaintance, versus just knowing someone–more face recognition? And when is that person advanced to the level of friend? What do you do with friends that you don't do with acquaintances?

Whom do you invite to certain events, who is or is not on your guest list? Whom do you invite to more intimate events? How does one get into your inner circle? At what point of acquaintanceship does it become okay or desirable to have what levels of sexual contact?

(Sex is becoming more casual nowadays among many teenagers, so that kids aren't even wanting to have "boy-friend" relationships, with a "going steady" kind of being together a lot or being strictly monogamous understanding. Such relationships are said by some to be too "annoying."  So sex, which used to be a measure of intimacy and rapport has shifted as a marker.)

Another quality of strongly positive tele spoken about and occasionally written about (as in Zerka Moreno's new book (written with Rutzel and Blomkvist) is the psychic connection that occasionally is noted. This might be the way a warmed-up protagonist chooses an auxiliary to play a role that in fact resonates with a situation in the auxiliary's personal life. Other examples from readers are welcome.

13. Get acquainted with your own preferences about yourself–what do you want to be chosen for?  This involves an interesting warm-up process also.

14. Express those preferences by a thoughtful process of self-disclosure, choosing words, settings, formats. How will those who might choose you find you and understand what you have expressed? Have you been clear? Have you buried your key ideas amidst a confusing welter of irrelevant information? Have you admitted your strengths appropriately, without false modesty? On the other hand, might you have over-estimated certain abilities so that others then have false expectations of you?

15. Maintain a conscious level of reciprocity. Do not assume that others will assume that you are favorably disposed towards them. If you're "too busy" to respond, they may reasonably conclude that you do not care about them (indifferent tele) or perhaps may even find them unpleasant (negative tele). This may not be so–you might like them, but have failed to extend yourself to nurture the relationship. (This is a maternal transference, a residue from around age 11 or so, when kids tend to take their parents for granted.)

16. In another file that I'll be linking to, there's a lengthy Grouptalk discussion in April, 1998 about some of these issues, with fifteen or twenty people contributing.

17. Another file yet has a similar discussion in, I think, November 1997, about tele. I'll post it on this website, if people feel okay about doing that.

18. Here's a bit of here and now sociometry: I'm needing some reassurance. I'd like some of you to respond to me personally, back-channel or in the grouptalk field, whichever makes you more comfortable. I'd like several things, in fact, but don't have particular expectations that you have to fulfill any or several of these requests:
   A.. Some acknowledgment that the intent of my outreach is to promote a vigorous level of honest intellectual re-evaluation, in the spirit of spontaneity, rather than merely clinging to the cultural conserve. Also, that my intent is to promote a greater degree of interchange on grouptalk and in the field, and from this, a greater degree of group cohesion.
   B.. I don't require that you agree with me on any or all points. I do hope you'll not dismiss these ideas by presuming you know my "underlying motives." Please argue with me in a civil, respectful fashion, presenting your ideas as if we were on a debate team.
   C.. Consider continuing this discussion in a workshop you'd co-present with me at the forthcoming ASGPP conference, a discussion session titled "Current Issues in Sociometry." It would be not only about controversies, but also about new ideas.
   D. Gathering together anecdotes and sharing them, beginning drafts of papers you might write for our journal–these would be okay, too.
    ... So this is the outreach. Do you feel interested, intrigued, any resonance with the implicit motivation here? (I confess to feeling some anxiety about putting this out.)

19. Some people may feel negative tele towards others in a group who are more gung-ho, more pushy, seeming to expect more involvement, dedication, participation, than the first party are prepared to give. So the variable of degrees of obvious involvement plays a role.
    Corollary, others feel negative tele towards those who obviously are lagging in comparison to one's own sense of involvement and activity related to a given task. And positive tele is felt to those who clearly seem to be helping "pull the wagon."
    Indeed, one of the best ways of building positive tele is to find some simple task that needs work, moving chairs, putting away equipment, helping with the mailing, and taking that on.  One of the best ways of dampening that is to find that you're the only one in the group who is jumping in–makes you feel like a sucker.  Has this variable been written about?

More later.
 Please supplement this if you like with other papers on sociometry on this website:  Sociometry Notes
     Sociometry Notes 2.

 This is enough for now. Please respond to