The founder of psychodrama,
sociometry, and group psychotherapy.
Jacob L. Moreno (originally
Moreno Nisslam Levy) was born on May 20, 1892 (alternately, in
some sources, May 18, 1889) in Bucharest, Rumania to sephardic
Jewish parents. In 1894 at age two (alternately, four), his family
moved to Vienna, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
He early decided upon a career in medicine and, after studying
mathematics and philosophy at the University of Vienna, he began
his training as a doctor there in 1912. During his years as a
medical student, Moreno became involved in various projects involving
storytelling to children and group work with prostitutes of the
Am Spittelberg District in the capital city. In this period,
Moreno settled upon a number of crucial insights including a
rejection of Freudian theory and its negative views toward "acting
out" as well as reflecting on the potential for personal
change which could be effected within group social settings.
He claimed in later life to have coined the term "group
psychotherapy" during this time.
Moreno received his M.D. degree
in 1917 and was soon appointed as superintendent of a children's
hospital in Mittendorf. The patients there were refugees from
the Tyrol and the advance of Italian troops. In his role, Moreno
closely observed the social organization of the children, their
parents and families as well as the shifting alliances and groupings
of the wider community. These observations led to further reflection
on the ways in which social systems functioned. He practiced
psychotherapy in Vienna and the nearby Volsau from 1919 until
he left for America in 1925. He also founded a monthly literary
and philosophical publication, Daimon, the first of a
range of subsequent publications he began throughout his life.
One of Daimon's contributing editors was the Jewish existential
philosopher, Martin Buber.
Beginning in 1921, Moreno began
experimenting with the use of dramatic or theatrical methods
as a means of treating groups of individuals. His "Komendian
Haus" experiment that year was followed soon thereafter
with the founding of Das Stegreiftheater or The Sponteneity
Theater. This facility used improvisational drama and served
as a kind of testing ground for his emerging ideas about psychiatric
treatment means of theatrical practices. In the early 1920s,
Moreno also developed a complementary set of ideas which he termed
sociometry, a research method which detailed the social
structure of entire groups.
This development of psychodrama
and sociometry continued after Moreno's arrival in the United
States in 1925. He established a psychiatric office in New York
City and, at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, briefly worked
with children through psychodramatic techniques. In 1929, Moreno
organized an Impromptu Theater at Carnegie Hall which met three
times weekly and employed psychodrama and group psychotherapy.
In 1931, he carried out a series of studies at Sing Sing prison
in New York on sociometry and used the term "group psychotherapy"
for the first time publicly at the 1932 American Psychiatric
Association meeting in Philadelphia. The following year, he began
a long-term sociometric study (1933-1938) at the New York State
Training School for Girls at Hudson, NY with Helen H. Jennings
as his co-investigator. Results of this work -- about 100 "sociograms"
illustrating the social structure of the School's population
-- were displayed at the NY State Medical Society meeting that
year. In 1934 he published his fundamental analysis of community
and social groups in Who Shall Survive? and introduced
psychodrama to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC, one
of the most innovative psychiatric facilities in the country.
In 1936, Moreno opened his own sanatarium at Beacon, NY, a small
city along the Hudson River about 60 miles north of New York
City. This facility included a theater built to permit psychodrama
sessions. In 1937, he began publication of Sociometry:
A Journal of Inter-Personal Relations. This scientific
journal was initially edited by the eminent social psychologist
Gardner Murphy and served as an influential outlet for his work
as well as other social scientists interested in role theory
and the behavior of groups.
Moreno never held a long-term
academic appointment, but did teach for short periods at the
New School for Social Research (1937-38), Columbia University
(1939-40), and other institutions in the United States and elsewhere.
The late 1940s saw the introduction of psychodrama at various
psychiatric institutions, for example, the Boston Psycopathic
Hospital and Veterans Hospitals in Los Angeles, Kanasa, Arkansas,
and other venues. Following the Second World War, Moreno also
began to foster psychodrama in Europe (including France in 1947
and Czechoslovakia in 1959 and 1963). The first International
Congress of Psychodrama took place in 1964 in Paris.
Moreno married three times,
the last wedding took place in 1949 when he married Zerka Toeman.
She became a psychodramatist and worked closely with him for
the final quarter-century of his life. Moreno died in Beacon,
NY on May 14, 1974.
Theory and Practice
It would be nearly impossible
to provide a comprehensive summary of Moreno's thoughts here.
Readers are advised to consult the online references below in
Blatner (2002 a, b). A brief summary of Moreno's importance to
narrative should begin with acknowledgment of the centrality
Moreno ascribes to creativity in human life. He felt that,
unfortunately, many individuals were stuck; they had become mired
in ways of responding which reflected a profound lack of
creativity. Moreno termed the ability to deal flexibly and creatively
with new situations as spontaneity. This term refers to
a kind of freedom individuals have in their encounters with new
situations to employ novel or adaptive actions fitting with the
specifics of the situation. Therapeutic intervention, then, should
increase the spontaneity of individuals in the ways in which
they lead their daily lives.
For Moreno, human beings should
not be understood primarily as biological organisms which, as
a by-product of functioning, display a circumscribed mind or
psyche. Rather, the body forms an inner biological core which
is surrounded by the psyche and that psyche, in turn, is surrounded
by the social world (Moreno, 1943). Moreno employs two helpful
concepts to define the relationship of the individual with society.
The first is the "social atom" which represents "the
smallest social unit within the social group. Every person is
postively or negatively related to an indefinite number of socii
who in turn may be related to him positively or negatively"
(Moreno, 1943, p. 324). Moreno pictures each of us as related
reciprocally or simply by a one-way interest to a world of other
persons. This matrix of persons serves as our social atom. This
matrix itself is embedded within a broader notion of the "cultural
atom." By this Moreno means the multiple roles and counterroles
which an individual must play toward the members of his or her
social atom. Since we may often play more than one role in our
relationship to another person, our cultural atom is, of necessity,
larger than our social atom.
Psychodrama is the overall
technique which Moreno advocated to address the psychological
and social needs of individuals. A psychodrama session takes
place on the stage. There the individual protagonist can explore
imaginatively the many roles he or she plays with others. A director
of the psychodrama (the "therapist" in conventional
language) suggests actions or scenes for the protagonist to act
out. Assisting the protagonist are a set of "alternative
egos" -- individuals on the stage who can serve as foils
or stand-ins for others in the protagonist's social atom. The
audience, Moreno believes, becomes a "silent partner"
in the action on the stage as they witness the protagonists working
through the conflicts, role disequalibria, and dead ends of their
lives. Within psychodrama, Moreno developed a set of "deep
actions" or dramatic techniques to foster the therapeutic
goals of the psychodramatic stage. These include role reversal,
the empty chair (before Fritz Perls did), the magic shop, the
double, the mirror, and other means (Greenberg, 1974). Moreno
also extended the notion of psychodrama to what he termed sociodrama
-- the stage-based involvement of multiple individuals who address
issues of interpersonal relations or collective ideology.
For narrativists, Moreno's
influence has been important and seminal. The use of drama fostered
an awareness of how patients could build stories -- creating
meaningful connections between events in life which otherwise
may have seemed disparate or isolated. Moreno himself was convinced
that a crucial advantage of psychodrama lay in its ability to
mold or play with time: protagonists could go back to long-forgotten
scenes in their lives or advance many years into hoped-for futures.
Secondly, Moreno's therapeutic work rejected the autonomy and
insularity of the psychodynamic patient: all individuals are
profoundly related at every moment to the social and cultural
world in which they have developed and now live. Thus, any treatment
modality must deal with that social reality. Further, Moreno's
emphasis upon the multiplicity of roles in the daily lives of
his patients advanced the importance of role theory and its potential
to explain more fully the actual situation of the self. Finally,
Moreno spurred others to advance his ideas, e.g., Ted
Sarbin encountered Moreno early in his career and found Moreno's
emphasis upon role helpful in advancing his own thinking.
Bibliography: Jacob L. Moreno
Blatner, A. (2002). Psychodrama
theory--Further issues. [Online] http://www.blatner.com/adam/pdntbk/theory2.htm
Blatner, A. (2002). Theoretical
foundations of psychodrama. [Online] http://www.blatner.com/adam/pdntbk/pdtheory.htm
Greenberg, I. A. (1974). Moreno:
Psychodrama and the group process. In I. A. Greenberg (Ed.),
Psychodrama: Theory and therapy (pp. 11-28). New York:
Moreno, J. L. (1934). Who
shall survive? A new approach to the problems of human interrelations.
Washington, DC: Nervous and Mental Disease Publishing Company.
Moreno, J. L. (1943). Sociometry
and the cultural order. Sociometry, 6(3), 299-344.
Moreno, J. L. (1987). The
essential Moreno: Writings on psychodrama, group method, and
spontaneity (J. Fox, Ed.). New York: Springer Publishing.
Moreno, Z. T. (1949). History
of the sociometric movement in headlines. Sociometry, 12,