Notes on Zerka Moreno's Workshops*

(compiled by Adam Blatner, M.D.)
(Revised June 30, 2002)

 [These notes were taken at workshops I attended around 1985-1986, in Houston, Texas. Say, if some of you have notes by trainers that contain ideas you don't think are covered in the mainstream psychodrama literature, why not put them down and post them on your website, or offer them to the trainer to put them on his or her website, or send them to me and I'll post them, mentioning your name!--AB]

 Spontaneity is a new response to an old situation or an adequate response to a new situation.

 People who lose their sponaneity become "zoomations," machines who are dangerous in their unthinkingness.

 Tele is always mutual [but not always the same quality of feeling on both sides--AB]. It has to do with the capacity to feel into the reality of the other person. It relates to intuition, perhaps even e.s.p (i.e., extra-sensory perception)..

 The auxiliary (also known as "auxiliary ego") brings the protagonist into the situation, Interprets for the absentee figure. For starters, let the protagonist pick the auxiliary Later, the director can choose a trained or special auxiliary. Remember that patients can help each other much better than they can help themselves. (The same is true of doctors.) However, more highly integrated people are able to function more effectively in this role.

People should not feel badly if they're picked to play a negative role. For example, one person who was picked to be a "bossy mother" felt badly, but later asked the protagonist why she was picked. "You are kind and I'll be safe," was the reply.

The auxiliary ego may play roles apart from the ordinary--parts of the protagonist's body (e.g. legs, back), pets, or inanimate objects. It's often an interesting technique to ask the protagonist what in the room is meaningful to him. A picture on a wall may have a lot to say. The auxiliary may even portray a value or an abstract concept.

We are all pregnant with emotional/spiritual images--we need midwives to facilitate the rebirth of the creative.

Role reversal is done when the auxiliary is not fully informed about his role or when a change of perception is needed.

A person who is mentally ill is a creator who got stuck.

We can't give up our unfinished business, but must bring it to fruition and respectability.

Some of the best trained auxiliaries are those who have themselves been sick and have become more integrated as a result of their experience.

The "word" is not the route to the psyche; in the beginning was not the word, but the act.

We have a reservoir of roles that we are called on to use, like grey matter in our brains. For example, Paul Gaugin, the late Nineteenth Century impressionist painter, was faced with a mid- life crisis as a burgeois agent in the Paris stock exchange. He suffered from an emergence of a role for which there was no counter-role in his life. To solve this, he escaped to Tahiti.

In early childhood, there is a normal "megalomania," for the mind experiences itself as the center of its cosmos; using play fantasy, it heals its injuries.  As the child becomes older and more aware of others, it suffers the trauma of "falling out of paradise" into the matrix of differentiated identity.  This results in two dimensions of awareness--fantasy and objective reality. Psychodrama serves as a bridge between the two worlds. For example, a psychotic, criminal, or even a neurotic or personality disordered person has retreated to a subtle or gross level of fantasy because s/he could not be nourished sufficiently by objective reality.

How delicate is this bridge. We're all broken and need to become more cohesive, more integrated from within. Through the catharsis of integration, we become balanced within and without.

Auxiliaries work on two levels: the role they take and the experience they bring to the role.

There are regional and cultural differences regarding general expectations regarding appropriate behavior of a "father," "mother," "child," etc.

When role reversing, allow participants to take a bit of time to warm up to experience, because what's needed is emotional as well as expressive involvement. "Psychodrama should never be less than life; it should be more than life."

In using the technique of the telephone, have those enacting the telephone conversation face away from each other so they're not playing off of each other's nonverbal communications.

Feel free to remove the auxiliary if s/he gets in the way of the action. The auxiliary is a helper, so keep 'em helpful.

Regarding crying: Some protagonists cry all through the enactment. Allow this only once for that protagonist, then in their next enactment have them focus on what crying is about, what scene represents its origins. The first scene need not involve any change for the protagonist--just portrayal of the situation. The second enactment explores the themes "behind" the first enactment. If you let the protagonist cry freely in the beginning, it's easier to restrain him later.

Jim Enneis, the major director at Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. in the 1950s and 1960s often treated forty to fifty patients at a time on a ward of psychiatric patients. He would direct from the rear of the room in a mellifluous southern- accented voice. He'd send nurses to support crying patients with instructions not to make the patients feel "that sick."

In exploring a scene with a protagonist, the director or the double should walk in circles: clockwise for reviewing the future, and counterclockwise for reviewing the past. Thus time is converted into a spatial metaphor which partakes of an archetypal sense of direction.

Sometimes a person goes on and a relationship dies. A director should beware of trying to resuscitate a relationship, because it involves a sentimentality that's unworthy of the existential reality of the the protagonist.

When we feel the pain of the protagonist or the role of the others in a situation, we fall a little bit in love with them. Thus psychodrama is a little like church, in that people are helped to love their fellow humans.

In the early years, Moreno used trained auxiliaries and they'd warm up with a protagonist behind the scenes or off to the sides. Gradually he came to using the auxiliaries from the group, discovering the natural sociometry of a protagonist picking his or her own auxiliaries. This was especially powerful because the auxiliaries chosen often had similar concerns.

Regarding the apparently uncanny ways that protagonists sometimes pick auxiliary egos who turn out to have had similar or relataed experiences or dynamics: Even though the protagonist is not acquainted with other group members, tele partakes of a sensitivity  which involves an almost clairvoyant type of intuition. We all have it, and perhaps it's time we open to this idea. In the old days, Moreno would pick auxiliary egos and use trained auxiliaries, but gradually he and [Zerka] found that co-patients or other group members actually made better auxiliaries, especially those who are more advanced in their own course of healing. Some patients never worked as protagonists, only as auxiliaries, and yet they benefited, because that's still a powerful way to expand one's role repertoire and experience a catharsis of integration.

Don't think that because you build up a scene you've got to stick to it. You can change scenes. It's a moving panorama.

Repairing the social atom is important. Psychodrama gets it out of your mind and concretizes it.

What if the protagonist throws out a number of issues or crises and the director is unsure what to do? Ask the group, "Which of the clues do you think is most important?"

At times it's possible not to bother spending any time (to speak of) setting up the physical elements of the scene--i.e. where is the door, where's the seat--because the person is warmed up enough to enter the interaction with out all that. At other times, it's possible to spend a great deal of time just setting up the scene, for the imaginal involvement is itself therapeutic. Indeed, it's an interesting warm-up to set up carefully and completely a special room that you once lived in. <A related technique is to diagram your house (like a map), or your neighborhood, as a form of structured anamnesis.--A.B.>

Recognize the action space and separate it from the group space.

After sharing, ask the person who was the auxiliary that played a role of a significant other in the enactment, "How was it for you in playing that role?"

Remind the protagonist to speak in the present tense.

Remember that you as director are orchestrating a drama, so try to have the protagonist and auxiliaries face the group as if they were projecting to a group. At times you may want to back off and stand where the audience is so you can get their point of view. It helps in the staging.

Don't call up the auxiliary until you're ready to have them actually enter the scene. Present the roles involved in a scene first by having the protagonist role revers with others in the scene. But don't appoint who in the group will be the auxiliaries for each role until you're ready to actually start them in action.

Patients with suicidal thoughts often have a significant shift of psychic energy into their "social atom of death." Remember that people can have social atoms for different contexts: community, work, religion, family, and there is also a collective of "those who have died." If a significant other or sometimes a number of others have died, the protagonist (patient) sometimes feels a pull or a call from the social atom of death. This can be magnified if the connection with life is weakened by a poverty of other relationships or by unpleasant relationships in life.

Remember, when one has a deep relationship with a person, in a way it's like having two relationships. There's the person himself, who cannot be replaced; and there's the role that the person played, which characterizes the relationship. If you lose a person, you have to deal with both losses. The second type can to some degree be repaired, but first a grieving person must withdraw the entire relationship into the self, as it were, and re-establish contacts with the outside world.

Psychodramatic treatment for a fixation on the social atom of death is to bring these people back alive for an encounter. Usually there is some degree of affirmation of life as the protagonist role reversies or uses auxiliaries.

A variation of this is to have the protagonist draw his social atom, and then encourage them to put everyone important on it, even if the person is deaad or in other ways doew not necessarily reciprocate.

It is necessary to find someone--or better, several people--in life to balance the social atom of death. Use auxiliaries, if it seems no one cares. Mobilize both auxiliaries and the protagonist.  Say to the protagonist, "You may not have appreciated how many people out there are available to help you. But you have to ask for help yourself. Others may be more eager, generous, and less critical than you think."

Marriages can easily become sociometrically impoverished. There is a need to expand the partner's role repertoire. When a new person enters, such as a baby, in all its neediness, there is a "revolution of a new life," with all its complexities. Moreno said, "We have a large reservoir of roles which can be educated." He recommended the establishement of premarital clinics to test out roles.

The centrality and peripherality of roles change. Thus, Gaugin's role of artist became central in mid-life, his role as Parisian stock-broker became peripheral. HIs family thought he'd gone crazy, but not the people in Tahiti.

Often we progress through the three classes of roles as we develop them: psychosomatic, psychodramatic, and sociocultural. The psychosomatic roles are developed first in childhood, the eater, excreter, sleeper. The first role to learn is that of breather, and if a baby is slo to "warm up," people get upset. On the other hand, they're proud if she's spontaneous. The rhythms of walking vary with size, and so differences between, say adults and children, can present a problem for the little ones who have to stretch themselves hurrying just to keep up. In general, psychodramatic roles need to be played in fantasy before they can be played in real life and integrated with social roles.

What can be done if you are the director or auxiliary and you're wondering if the director is on the right track? Have a double ask the protagonist, "Is that right?" or "I think this might be on the wrong track." Another thing that can be said is, "I think this is a clue that should be explored next time."

What if you as a director seem to repeatedly miss the same kind of important issue? It's probable that you have a block in that area, and you need to have your own psychodrama around this issue. Recognize that psychodrama directors need to be protagonists from time to time. There is a trust that the method itself works, and the experienced director becomes more comfortable with this in time. For example, I had difficulty playing the role of an aggressive mother until I went back and in my own enactment played the mother I didn't want to be like. Gradually, we need to learn to be able to play @b[any] role objectively, recognizing that they're all simply roles, and their passionate or vivid enactment "proves" nothing about the auxiliary. It's an interesting challenge in training to consider which roles we have difficulty in playing.

In the course of an enactment, when you reach certain critical points, you (as director) can ask the protagonist, "What was your judgment about yourself?" Another question that's useful is, "What part did he or she play in that pain?"

A theme for warm up: Consider moments when we may have really hurt someone. I remember a time when I had been sick, my mother told me that the doctor wanted to take me away to the orphanage in a black bag. Of course, I was upset--I almost died--but, no, I made a decision to live. I needed to learn from my mother that even if there's no reciprocity of tele, the other person's resistance is nevertheless important. Otherwise, there's no relationship when it's only one-way.

Zerka's background: [Much of this is in Blatner's 4th edition of Foundations of Psychodrama, pp 26-27].

 Born in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, from a secure Jewish family. They moved to England when the Nazis were coming. She was the youngest of four children. Zerka Toeman had an older sister who was psychotic-- -probably a form of schizophrenia. Her sister lived in Belgium. "I owed her much--she was compassionate."

 Zerka attended college at Willsden High School and College in London. Her sister was treated by Aubrey Lewis at Maaudsley Hospital. In a way, she heard voices, also--voices that speak from the inner, wiser self, in times of crisis. These voices kept her sane. One voice told her to come to America when she was eighteen. She worked for a time as a governess to a Dutch-Jewish family (who now lives in San Mateo, Calif.) She taught English and coped with local antisemitism. The American consulate refused visas to Jews, but it was supposed to be a secret.

 In April, 1939, she was walking in an elegant suburb on a quiet night, and again had the impelling sense that she had to go to America--it was four years later--she was 22, and the sense of presence pressed her: "Yes, you must go! There is something important--someone important waiting for you.

 So, Zerka snatched her sister out of Europe, and when she arrived in America, her sister had deteriorated. They were referred to Moreno, partly because Zerka had some background in the theater, the fine arts, and psychology. It seemed as if he recognized her--he was 28 years her senior.

 "I asked him years later, 'Were you unhappy in March or April of 1939?' 'Yes,' he replied, 'I was unhappy. I had just had a child and I didn't love the mother.'"

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