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Sociometric Social Work with Communities

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Part of the Psychodrama in Counselling, Coaching and Education book series (PCCE,volume 1)

Abstract

This chapter uncovers Moreno’s often overlooked contributions to community practice through his sociometric approaches. His early work with communities is presented including in refugee camps, prisons, a reform school, and his psychiatric hospital. Brief introductions to social work with communities, therapeutic communities, and the Sanctuary Model are included. Multiple action-based sociometry processes are described with their utility for use in diverse community settings and example prompts. Sociometry processes depicted include spectrograms, locograms, floor checks, step-in sociometry, hands-on-shoulder sociograms, and the circle of strength safety structure.

Keywords

  • Social work community practice
  • Therapeutic communities
  • The sanctuary model
  • Experiential sociometry
  • Experiential community work
  • Community organizing

Social work community practice can be enhanced thought the application of sociometric tools, especially in the process of community assessment, engagement, intervention, and evaluation. Moreno’s methods offer opportunities for experiential empowerment and mutual aid in communities or organizations, just as in group work. Traditionally, social workers engage in community assessments through written surveys, data analysis, verbal discussions, case studies, and community observations. Experiential sociometry processes offer another avenue for community assessment using more embodied, here-and-now, and participatory approach. Sociometry provides social workers with instruments for group-as-a-whole engagement within community or organizational meetings. These devices offer additional methods for social workers to avoid the pitfalls of doing individual work in a community setting. Some of the same sociometry tools previously outlined in Chap. 11 on group work will be presented with their utility in community work .

1 Moreno’s Historical Use of Sociometry with Communities

Sociometry emerged from Moreno’s work as a medical doctor in Mittendorf refugee camp during World War I in Austria (see Fig. 18.1). Moreno describes the camp as more of a German “prison camp” consisting of over ten thousand Italian women, children, and elders who were interned in this newly formed community (Moreno, 2019). Within the camp, social structures organically developed and the sociodynamic effect impacted the distribution of food, clothes, lodgings, and other supplies. In his autobiography, Moreno describes the conditions of the camp as giving “rise to the most tremendous corruption I have ever witnessed” (2019, p. 192). He writes that his study of the camp’s community life highlighted different psychological currents (ethnicity, nationality, politics, class, sex, identity, etc.) which he understood as the underlying factors of the major problems in the community. From this new conceptualization of psychosocial elements in the community, Moreno wrote the following letter to the Austro-Hungarian Minister of the Interior in 1916 (later included in Who Shall Survive? publication):

The positive and negative feelings that emerge from every house, between houses, from every factory, and every national and political group in the community can be explored by means of sociometric analysis. A new order, by means of sociometric methods, is herewith recommended. (Translated from German by Moreno from the frontpiece of Who Shall Survive? 2nd Edition) (Moreno, 2019, p. 193).

Fig. 18.1
figure 1

Jacob Moreno around 1920 in Austria. Reprinted with permission from Figusch (2014)

This is Moreno’s first use of the term “sociometry.” Using his professional connections within the refugee camp, he describes his attempts to put his sociometric ideas into action, suggesting the movement of families based on their mutual connections, preferences, and shared identities. He noticed that the camp administration paid no attention to the placement of families within the camp and that when families were grouped in the camp with other families that held shared values, preferences, and identities, the preexisting social problems were replaced with mutual aid within the community (Moreno, 2019). He used the same approach to propose a reorganization of factory workers within the camp. The first sociograms were created in Mittendorf which seems to have had a lasting impact on Moreno’s sociometric work (Moreno, 2019).

After his immigration to the USA, Moreno was appointed Director of Social Research of the New York State Department of Welfare where he worked in Sing Sing Prison and the New York State Training School for Girls in Hudson. Moreno’s sociometric work with these two communities produced two of his most important early contributions to the field—The First Book on Group Psychotherapy (Moreno & Whitin, 1932) and Who Shall Survive? (1934). His work from Sing Sing Prison approached issues in the prison community with the hopes of creating a therapeutic social environment through psychosocial assessment and reorganization of inmates. Moreno describes it below:

It was our goal to turn the prison into a therapeutic society where the men were organized into groups on the basis of the needs and strengths of each of the men in the group. I knew, from previous experience, that the mere assignment of people to groups in which each one could function positively would go a long way towards improving their mental health and have positive consequences for their social interactions. (Moreno, 2019, p. 263).

He interviewed inmates and prison staff and strategically assigned them to units, groups, or roles based on shared aspects of identity or preference. Through psychosocial analysis and his assessments of the attractions and repulsions between each inmate, he appointed inmates with positive attitudes and positive sociometric wealth as leaders of groups of inmates. When describing one such inmate appointed to a leadership role he writes, “There are in every prison a considerable number of inmates like M.1 [man 1] who can be transformed into active therapeutic agents, forces which are otherwise not made use of” (Moreno, 1957, p. 60).

Previously, prisons had only been using individual and psychological assessment of inmates. Moreno’s focus was on community assessment of both psychological and social factors. “Individual classification alone is insufficient. Man lives within groups and is in his actions to a great extent regulated by them” (Moreno, 1957, p. 21). In his report, Moreno writes of the reenactment of power dynamics through the common approach to individual psychiatry with inmates. He argues instead that through group psychotherapy and his sociometrically constructed therapeutic community , “the groups function for themselves and the therapeutic process streams through their mutual inter-relationships. Every man has equal rank” (1957, p. 61). The results of Moreno’s sociometric work at Sing Sing Prison were presented at the 1931 and 1932 American Psychiatric Association meetings in Toronto and Philadelphia marking the first times the terms group psychotherapy or group therapy were used. At the end of the APA roundtable discussion, Moreno notes that the methods necessary for qualitative and quantitative analysis of groups, a scientific foundation for a group psychotherapy, were actively being developed and tested in his work at the New York State Training School for Girls at Hudson. He writes of the importance of “a sociometrized community” and suggests that “genuine foundations of group psychotherapy cannot be established otherwise” (1953, p. lxiv).

The sociometric community work implanted at the Hudson school for girls became the foundation for one of Moreno’s most important books—Who Shall Survive? . In this book, Moreno describes his threefold position for creating a therapeutic community —(1) spontaneity –creativity propel human progress; (2) love, mutual sharing, and faith in each other are essential principles in groups; and (3) a superdynamic community or society based on these principles can be actualized through new techniques (1953). During his time at Hudson, Moreno studied various informal and formal groupings and psychosocial networks within the residential community of 500 girls. He refined his sociometric tests, sociograms , spontaneity tests, role diagrams, social atoms , role training , sociodrama , psychodrama, and his theories for a therapeutic community and group psychotherapy. Much of his sociometry oriented around the restructuring of the 16 cottages that the 500 + girls was housed in. Moreno successfully confronted the task of reducing the number of runaway girls from the school through sociometric analysis and reconstruction of social groups within the school (Moreno, 1953). He conducted sociometric test collecting and visually depicting the data of which cottages, cottage leaders, and cottage-mates each girl preferred to live with. In some reprints of Who Shall Survive?, this community sociogram was included in a foldout diagram taking up nearly 10 pages (Moreno, 2014). Moreno and his colleagues implemented a new intake process for new members of the community that involved sociometric and role testing between new members and staff who were cottage leaders with openings for new members (Nolte, 2014). In this way, the staff were included within the sociometric analysis as part of the community.

Moreno’s early work on social networks emerged from his sociometric discoveries at the Hudson school. In exploring the invisible social connections between runaway girls in the community, he began to utilize his sociograms to depict unseen psychosocial networks within the larger community overlapping multiple cottages. He tested his social network theories by spreading rumors in the girls’ community and tracking how long it took to reach certain individuals or cottages within the larger community (1953). He writes that “there are certain structural processes observable in groups studied which are best explained if it is assumed that networks exist” (1953, p. 640). His work at Hudson attracted the attention of the media and even President Roosevelt—Moreno emerged as one of the most famous social scientists in the 1930s for his ideas on community and social networks (Moreno, 2014). Though he worked sociometrically with other communities including schools, classrooms, farm workers, factories, organizations, businesses, the military , and other small groups, his work at Hudson, Sing Sing, and Mittendorf seems to be most foundational in his approach.

2 Community Social Work Contexts

Moreno’s approach to community work finds seamless congruence with Hardcastle, Powers, and Wencour (2011) description of social work—“social work practice is about using the community and using naturally occurring and socially constructed networks within the social environment to provide social support” (p. 3). Moreno’s early work with immigrants, refugees, sex workers, inmates, and the underlying philosophy of his methods of sociometry, psychodrama, and group psychotherapy pivots on the foundational concept of using the resources within the group or community to provide support. He described each community or group member as a therapeutic agent and worked to restructure the group or community process to cultivate mutual aid between members.

Macrosocial work practice has evolved to include three primary domains—the community, organizational management, and policy (Austin, Anthony, Knee, & Mathias, 2016). It has been proposed that the primary goal of community social workers is to utilize social networks within communities to connect community members to organizational or community resources (Rodriguez & Ferreira, 2018). An argument could be made that all community work is based on the engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation of social networks within the community. Social workers intervene on the individual level by connecting individuals or families to social networks or agencies within the community who can meet their needs or enhance their living conditions. De Robertis (2003) notes that one of the most essential tasks of community social workers is to (re)establish connections of people to the community or society, and to (re)establish connections of the community to society. Community organizing has been described as a process by which a community discerns its goals or needs, prioritizes them, commits to working toward them, accesses related internal or external resources, takes action, and in doing so cultivates collaboration and mutuality within a community (Ross & Lappin, 1967).

Social workers utilize individual (micro), group (mezzo), and community (macro) interventions in clinical practice. It is worth noting that every individual and group intervention take place within the context of community (often multiple overlapping communities). Person-in-environment means that the client must be conceptualized within their social and community contexts. Even casework interventions and referrals have an element of community practice as a referral is essentially the facilitated connection between a client and a community resource (Hardcastle et al., 2011). Many agencies actually contain multiple (formal or informally recognized) communities or social networks within the organizational structure (a community of staff, a community of patients, a community of alumni, a community of volunteers, etc.).

A community is simply defined as a unified group of people, usually with a shared history, identity, goal, or interest. Communities are often categorized into five different types, based on either interest, location, action, practice, or circumstance. There are, of course, many different types of specific communities including neighborhoods, national communities, ethnic communities, religious communities, political communities, professional communities, educational communities, organizational communities, treatment communities, and recreational communities, among others. Social workers engage with all of these types of communities to bring about change. In some cases, the entire community is actively engaged at once, but in most cases the social worker is engaging with a subgroup of a community. For example, it may be logistically impossible the convene a group of the entire Pennsylvania medical community, but a subgroup of the community may respond to a call to meet and information, decisions, and calls to action can be distributed back to the entire community.

While clinical and group work are connected to community work , social work with communities is a uniquely different arena of practice (Austin et al., 2016). The goals of community work, though sometimes similar, differ in nature from the goals of clinical or group work. Though the goals in each social work arena may overlap, the means (interventions, practice skills, tools, etc.) used to work toward these goals have much more differentiation between clinical social work, social group work , and social community work. Perhaps the most obvious difference between these three levels of social work practice is the size of the client. In individual work, the client is an individual; in group work, the client is a group; in community work, the client is the community or organization. Another major factor distinguishing community work from group work and clinical work is that it is not typically framed as therapy. Though it is not psychotherapy or treatment, community work is often therapeutic and healing. The specific use of community as therapy, such as the therapeutic community , will be discussed shortly. Regardless of the community context, it can be helpful to revisit Yalom’s therapeutic factors of group psychotherapy in the framework of community.

Yalom and Leszcz (2005) propose these eleven factors for a therapeutic group experience—instillation of hope , universality , imparting information, altruism , the corrective recapitulation of the primary family group, development of socializing techniques, imitative behavior, interpersonal learning, group cohesiveness , catharsis , and existential factors. When the community-as-a-whole is approached as its own group, each of these eleven elements can be considered. In a similar fashion, these therapeutic factors also become relevant to the development of a therapeutic society . The synthesis of these curative factors provides a sense of connection, purpose, meaning, healing of past wounds, and future orientation for groups, communities, and society.

2.1 Therapeutic Communities

The concept of therapeutic communities (TCs) has emerged in various points in time, mostly connected to religious/spiritual sects, educational groups, or mental health advocates (De Leon, 2000). The most common types of contemporary therapeutic communities are specifically for psychiatric patients or folks recovering from addiction . Therapeutic communities for psychiatric patients were organized by psychiatrists while the TCs for addiction developed in opposition to psychiatry and medicine (Ayyagari, 2014). Main (1946) and Jones (1953) are generally considered as the founders and pioneers of the modern therapeutic community , originating from their work in the UK in the mid-twentieth century. In the therapeutic community perspective, treatment is not located in the provision of therapy by staff, but instead, in the therapeutic effects of involvement in healthy community life (Jones, 1953). The community itself is seen as the doctor (Rapoport, 2013). Main, in his 1946 manuscript first utilizing the term therapeutic community , states that, “the fact must be faced that radical individual psychotherapy is not a practicable proposition for the huge numbers of patients confronting the psychiatric world today” (p.67). The therapeutic communities were major advocates of group therapy due to its congruence with the TC philosophy (Bloom, 2013).Therapeutic communities were based on the following assumptions: Patients should be co-responsible for their own treatment; patients have the ability to help each other; the community should be led democratically; treatment should be voluntary (as often as possible); physical restraint should be avoided whenever possible; psychological therapies were preferred to physical treatments (Almond, 1974; Bloom, 2013; Cumming & Cumming, 1962; Wilmer, 1981). Maxwell Jones’ therapeutic community in England included the use of theater and drama by 1943, later integrating psychodrama when Jones became aware of Moreno’s work around 1949 (Bloom, 2013; Casson, 2000; Jones, 1949, 1953).

Moreno’s Beacon Hill Sanitarium , later renamed Moreno Sanitarium , was founded in 1936 in Beacon, New York, and resembled the structure of a therapeutic community in terms of the democratic and equal nature of role relationships between participants (Moreno, 2014). Robert Landy describes it to have “represented Moreno’s notion of an integrated community, an early exemplar of a therapeutic milieu, where all staff and patients, family and visitors were encouraged to engage with one another openly and equitably” (2008, p. 53). Another connection between Moreno and the emergence of the therapeutic community model in psychiatry comes from Bierer (1960), who was a close friend of Moreno and pioneer of the TC movement (Moreno, 2014). Like other fields, scholars of the therapeutic community movement rarely make mention of Moreno’s work, even though it predated Main and Jones by a decade or two. It is likely that Moreno’s resistance to operating within mainstream psychiatry also contributed to the absence of reference to his ideas.

The addiction -focused therapeutic community movement emerged in 1958 with the founding of Synanon by Charles Dederich in Santa Monica, California. One of the primary supporters of Synanon and the therapeutic community model, who served as their director of research, was Lewis Yablonsky —a prominent psychodramatist, sociology professor, and close colleague of Jacob Moreno (Yablonsky, 1962, 1965, 1976, 2002). Yablonsky notes that Dederich was an admirer of Moreno’s work and that psychodrama techniques become an embedded part of nearly every Synanon group (Moreno, 2014). Synanon experienced early success and integrated philosophies and approaches from Alcoholics Anonymous , the Human Potential Movement , encounter groups and psychodrama (Janzen, 2000; Yablonsky, 1989, 2002). In 1963, Daytop Village was founded in New York, its leaders motivated by Synanon’s model. Daytop and Synanon were the most influential and well-known therapeutic communities in the addiction industry. The addiction-focused therapeutic community structure draws inspiration from Alcoholics Anonymous in that they elevate ex-addicts to the status of co-therapists or peer supports with a large emphasis on mutual aid (Yablonsky, 1989). While the TCs created by the social psychiatrists used pharmaceutical interventions and maintained equal status between all community members, the addiction TCs rejected pharmaceutical treatments and developed hierarchies within the community structure. Synanon and Daytop Village communities were recreated around the world and helped tens of thousands of former criminals or addicts. Yablonsky writes that the Synanon project “facilitates the realization of a true total therapeutic community , a live demonstration of Moreno’s concept of the total therapeutic community , where everyone is a therapist (and at the same time a patient) to everyone else” (1976, pp. 151–152). In its later years, Synanon and its members became associated with intense catharsis , violence, abuse, coercion, cults, and crime—including putting a rattlesnake into the mailbox of a lawyer (Janzen, 2000).

Therapeutic communities became widely implemented and have demonstrated successful outcomes (De Leon, 2010; Vanderplasschen et al., 2013). At the same time, many TCs, particularly in the addiction field, developed poor reputations for their use of confrontation, humiliation, shaming members, and the intense emotional nature of community meetings. The philosophy of “tough love” and “break them down to build them back up” became guiding forces as TCs began implementing what they called “attack therapy” and excessive confrontation (Ayyagari, 2014; Polcin, 2003; White & Miller, 2007; Yablonsky, 1976). Lieberman, Yalom, and Miles (1973) major research study on encounter groups , which included 17 encounter groups with different leadership styles and approaches, found the Synanon groups to have the biggest dropout rates (38%). Many became concerned with the ways in which these TCs were harming and re-traumatizing community members more than helping them (Ayyagari, 2014; White & Miller, 2007). Cadiz and colleagues (2011) write that “many of the basic philosophies of a traditional therapeutic community conflict with philosophies about how to treat trauma and what a survivor needs to recover” (p. 133). The high rates of trauma underlying addictive disorders make some practices of the therapeutic community especially inappropriate or even unethical (Ayyagari, 2014; IDHS, 2005). As the field of trauma therapy quickly evolved in the past few decades, The Sanctuary Model for trauma-informed therapeutic communities and systems developed.

2.2 The Sanctuary Model as Trauma-Informed Therapeutic Community

The Sanctuary Model emerged from Sandra Bloom and colleagues’ work between 1985 and 1991 in a suburban Philadelphia inpatient psychiatric hospital (Bloom, 2013). The Sanctuary Model is essentially a trauma-informed and democratic therapeutic community approach developed with attention to the importance of attachment, neurobiology of trauma, and community life (Bloom, 1997, 2008). After years of refinement and implementation around the world, it has become well respected as a trauma-informed philosophy for treatment centers, organizations, systems, cities, and society (Bloom, 2012, 2013). The sanctuary approach is centered around seven commitments: (1) nonviolence; (2) emotional intelligence; (3) social learning; (4) open communication; (5) democracy ; (6) social responsibility; and (7) growth and change (Bloom & Farragher, 2013). Each of these seven commitments is regarded as essential and interconnected elements of a system’s operating framework which guide the formal and informal relationships between staff, patients, and administration.

The Sanctuary Model offers “a compass for recovery” called “S.E.L.F.” which is an acronym for Safety, Emotions, Loss, and Future (Bloom, 2013). These four simple concepts represent major areas in one’s life that can be disrupted by trauma and adversity, as well as the four domains in which sanctuary programs base their treatment plans, organizational changes, community dialogues, and decision-making process (Bloom & Farragher, 2013). The S.E.L.F. compass is operationalized through the regular use of safety plans, treatment planning, psychoeducational groups, structured team meetings, and community meetings (Bloom, 2008). Bloom writes that, “ultimately in the Sanctuary Model, the purpose of our shared assumptions, goals, practice, and vision is to create what Maxwell Jones, a half-century ago, described as a ‘living-learning environment’ within which healing, growth, and creative expression can occur” (Jones, 1968; as cited by Bloom, 2008, p. 16). In addition to her inspiration from Jones’ early therapeutic community philosophy, it is interesting to note Bloom’s positive regard for psychodrama evidenced in regular references to how helpful it had been in her psychiatric treatment programs (Bloom, 2000, 2013; Bloom & Farragher, 2013)—she even wrote the foreword for a textbook focused on the clinical uses of drama in therapy with children (Weber & Haen, 2005). Similar to Moreno, Bloom’s writing transcended clinical contexts and also considered the objective of a healthy society.

3 Toward a Sane, Therapeutic, and Democratic Society

Bloom (2013) comments on how the problems, issues, and dialogues within society often reflect the same problems and issues within the therapeutic community or treatment community—“after all, the problems that confront us as individuals, as small groups, and as an entire society reflect the same basic human themes” (p. 221). Moreno writes of a similar idea and intervention structure called the social microscope , outlined in Sect. 15.2 (Moreno, 1953). Trauma, loss, anger, suffering, abusive authority, neglect, abandonment, avoidance, addictions, and injustice—these issues addressed in psychotherapy or an inpatient psychiatric community are the same pressing issues within society (Bloom, 2013). Bloom and Norton write:

the goal of the TC is not to maintain an unhappy status quo but to create the ‘heat’ that generates change. This change is generated largely through the democratically informed interactions between staff and clients and clients with each other. And today, the institutionally based practice of this ‘deep democracy ’ is itself a subversive notion in that it seeks to subvert the militaristic, hierarchical, and frequently punitive retributive control structures that typically characterize most of our social systems and replace them with an environment offering different styles of relating that seek to avoid the repeating of past traumas. (2004, pp. 230–231).

This passage highlights the parallel process between change within the therapeutic community and within a democratic society. Moreno’s philosophies of sociatry , group psychotherapy, and community work —elevating every participant to equal status with therapeutic agency and power, demonstrate the essential quality of an active democratic process. Sociometry has even been described as a science by, for, and of the people (Moreno, 2014).

Who Shall Survive? (1934) was published in between world wars and addressed the problems of society and the question of its survival (Moreno, 2012). In it, Jacob Moreno writes that “a truly therapeutic procedure cannot have less an objective than the whole of mankind” (Moreno, 1953, p. 119) and that “sociometry can well be considered the cornerstone of a still underdeveloped science of democracy ” (Moreno, 1953, p. 113). Moreno’s description of an action-based and democratic sociometry is congruent with Bloom’s statement that “democracy is better understood as a verb than a noun. It is a creative process that must be created and recreated constantly if it is to survive” (2013, p. 260). Moreno and Bloom seem to echo John Dewey ’s ideas of democracy, in that he describes it as a mode of connected living and a commitment to inclusion and active participation (Dewey, 1916; Kristoffersen, 2018). For Moreno, this concept can be traced throughout the evolution of his writings back to his early mysticism and his 1920 Words of the Father publication. He writes of his inspiration for the Words of the Father coming from the realization that “we are all bound to one another by responsibility for all things. There is no limited, partial responsible. And our responsibility makes us, automatically co-creators of the world” (Moreno, 2019, p. 253). Later, in his monograph titled The Future of Man’s World (1945), he conveys this same philosophy while urging society to consider a system where all humans, without exception, can engage spontaneously as initiators and co-creators. He attempted to put this into action through the founding of The Sociometric Institute in 1942 with the intention of training sociometrists to help bring about a new democracy. Its introductory statement indicated:

a truly living democracy cannot be attained unless it is based upon the science of the actually operating interpersonal and intergroup relations which exist and function below the surface… The true, full meaning of sociometry will be unrealized unless it considers a worldwide scope. Its task cannot be accomplished in an isolated laboratory, remote from the living web of the social present… The total fabric of human relations represented by the nation at large must be faced as one single objective. (Moreno, 2019, p. 317).

While writing his autobiography at the end of his life, he comments on his inability to accomplish this therapeutic society in his lifetime. Forty years later, Bloom continues the dialogue, also indicating that we have a long way to go before a truly democratic and sane society is realized (2013).

Moreno’s overarching vision of sociatry is the framework within which all of his work was contained (Giacomucci, 2019). This vision of healing society was best operationalized through Moreno’s development of sociometry, sociodrama , public psychodrama sessions, his work in various communities, and his founding of multiple organizations. Group psychotherapy extended beyond the limited reach of individual psychiatry or psychotherapy, while community work allows one to effect change on a significantly larger scale. Just as one individual can provide healing for another, so too can one group contribute to the healing of another group. The attainment of a truly democratic and therapeutic society may require the involvement of communities contributing to the healing of other communities and an enhancement of the cohesive social fabric or organic unity that binds us together as a human species. A realization of the organic unity of humankind has yet to be actualized and operationalized at the societal level. Perhaps the future generations of society, more closely connected through technology and social networking, will have the tools to actualize a sane and therapeutic society.

4 Experiential Sociometric Assessment of Communities

This section will orient on the use of experiential sociometry tools for large groups, communities, and organizations, including public community sessions, treatment communities, and professional communities. Other, non-experiential sociometry tools are also applicable for community work , especially sociograms and social networks , but are beyond the scope of this chapter. New technology has emerged that facilitates the efficient and easy depiction of sociograms and social networks, similar to Moreno’s community work using the sociometric test to hand draw sociograms and social networks (Nolte, 2014). Many of the experiential group processes described in Chap. 11 can be utilized in community settings for sociometric assessment and intervention. Sociometry tools are uniquely adept for addressing issues of privilege, inclusion, and oppression in groups or communities (Nieto, 2010). Perhaps the most useful action-based sociometry tools for community work are spectrograms , locograms, floor checks, step-in sociometry , hands-on-shoulder sociograms , and circle of strengths .

Similar to the implementation of these experiential processes in group work (see Chap. 11), it is helpful to follow a basic three-stage clinical map when choosing criteria for sociometry prompts in community work as well. While community work is usually not psychotherapy, there are clinical tools that a community worker can integrate into their interventions to keep the process safe. Many community issues are related to collective trauma or loss, especially community activism and social justice events. Perhaps every social injustice is also collective trauma. The facilitation of a community event with attention to the three stages of a trauma-informed clinical map can help keep the community safe and prevent re-traumatization. As noted in previous chapters, three-stage clinical maps for trauma work are similar between multiple models (Chesner, 2020; Courtois & Ford, 2016; Giacomucci, 2018; Herman, 1997; Hudgins & Toscani, 2013; Shapiro, 2018). The first stage begins with establishing safety , strengths, and containment . The second stage orients on the trauma, adversity, or difficulties. And the final stage is focused on transformation, integration, growth, and future planning. These three stages can be used, along with the three phases of a psychodrama group process—warm-up, action, and sharing. Using these two three-stage models, a community worker can ensure safety while considering a community’s warm-up to action and cooling down from it.

5 Spectrograms

The spectrogram (see Sect. 11.3 for more detail and a video link) offers a quick process for revealing important information about a community. Many community organizers already utilize this process, calling it the thermometer, temperature check, or spectrum line, but little has been published in about it by community organizers (Hunter & Lakey, 2004; Seeds for Change, 2019). A spectrogram assessment with a community can be thought of as similar to a questionnaire item using a Likert scale experientially (Giacomucci, 2020a). The community worker designates different ends of the spectrum within the space, often using the walls of the room to represent the two extremes of 0 and 10% or 0 and 100%. Participants are provided with a prompt and invited to physically place themselves on the spectrum based on their response. This process allows the facilitator to quickly assess the community based on their self-report on various topics. The experience of participating in the spectrogram allows community members to see where they fit in within the community based on different qualifiers and to connect with others who are similar to them in this way. Furthermore, it reveals to both the community and the facilitator which community members have self-assessed themselves to be the highest and lowest on the spectrum. Depending on the criteria, this provides important information about who might have experience to help others in the community or who may need help in order to more fully integrate into the community. Here are some examples of spectrogram prompts in various community settings:

Open Community Dialogue on Racism for Students on a University Campus

  1. 1.

    How many resources do you have to help you confront racism ?

  2. 2.

    How comfortable do you feel talking about racism ?

  3. 3.

    How frequently do you experience racism on this campus?

  4. 4.

    How willing/able are you to volunteer your time to support anti-racism initiatives on campus?

Townhall Meeting for Local Residents Exploring Feelings About a Pipeline Building Plans

  1. 1.

    How aware are you of the plans to install a major gas pipeline through this neighborhood?

  2. 2.

    How knowledgeable are you in terms of the risks of this type of gas pipeline?

  3. 3.

    How much do you support the building of this pipeline?

  4. 4.

    How interested are you in participating in a protest of the pipeline next month?

Addiction Recovery House Community

  1. 1.

    How connected do you feel within the community?

  2. 2.

    How helpful has this community been for your continued recovery?

  3. 3.

    How satisfied are you with the quantity and quality of services offered at the recovery house?

  4. 4.

    How satisfied are you with the leadership of this recovery community?

  5. 5.

    How strongly do you feel about changing a specific aspect of this recovery program?

Membership Meeting of Professional Society of Social Workers at Annual Conference

  1. 1.

    How satisfying has this conference been for you thus far?

  2. 2.

    How long have you been a member of this professional community?

  3. 3.

    How pleased are you with your member benefits?

  4. 4.

    How interested are you in getting involved in the future with committees in this organization?

Psychiatric Hospital Staff Meeting to Discuss Concerns of Patient Violence/Aggression

  1. 1.

    How safe do you feel coming to work on a typical day?

  2. 2.

    How supported do you feel by your peers if there was a violent incident on the unit?

  3. 3.

    How happy are you with the current hospital policies around handling violent or aggressive patients?

  4. 4.

    How interested are you in receiving further training in dealing with violent or aggressive patients?

  5. 5.

    How interested are you in participating in a peer support group to process feelings related to past experiences of patient violence or aggression?

The use of spectrograms , as depicted in staff meeting example above, allows the organizational community to assess their needs or wants while initiating connections and proposing future plans to address concerns. This staff meeting could have been facilitated only through discussion, but it would have significantly limited the number of employees who could have participated in the discussion. It is likely that there would be multiple employees who would be unwilling to verbally share in front of the entire community, and thus their preferences would have gone unheard. The spectrogram engages the entire community, each individual at the same time, and reveals the collective feelings or preferences of a community. It offers co-workers a chance to see who feels similar to them on various prompts which facilitates more meaningful connection. At the same time, organization leaders can assess the favorability of various proposed solutions before implementing them—in the example above, the following potential solutions were considered and assessed for the community’s interest in them: policy changes, trainings, and support groups.

Spectrograms with community members can be modified for communities that include members who might have physical limitations. An object could be placed on the spectrogram to represent a member who cannot physically move onto the spectrum. Or, participants could be instructed to indicate their place on a spectrum by raising their hands higher or lower—hand on your lap to represent 0 on the spectrum, hand as high as you can reach to represent a 10/10 on the spectrum (Simmons, 2017). Similarly, the spectrogram can be used during online meetings by asking participants to imagine the top and bottom boundary of their camera feed to be the high and low end of the spectrum and to physically position their hand within that spectrum based on their response to the prompt.

6 Locograms

The locogram process offers a quick evaluation of the community’s preference or experience based on a given prompt. It offers opportunities for quick democratic voting processes when a community decision needs to be made. Designating different areas of the space to represent different choices or qualifiers, participants are asked to physically place themselves at the option that best represents their preference or experience. A locogram can be useful as a warm-up, voting process, evaluation, or movement for future planning.

Purpose: Prioritizing Issues in a Neighborhood

  • Economic and financial issues

  • Violence and crime

  • Addiction and mental health services

  • Sports and recreation opportunities

  • Other

Purpose: Community Hospital Assessment of What Customers Believe as Most Important for the Hospital to Improve

  • Aesthetics of the campus and building

  • Quality of treatment

  • Customer service from hospital staff

  • Financial accessibility

  • Other

Purpose: Community Organizing Event to Involve Members in Initiatives

  • Fund-raising

  • Participating in marches or demonstrations

  • Organizing community recreational events

  • Advocating to politicians or community leaders

  • Other

Purpose: Professional Conference Workshop Selection

  • Workshop 1

  • Workshop 2

  • Workshop 3

  • Workshop 4

  • Workshop 5

  • Workshop 6

  • Other.

*This structure is utilized at the annual American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama Conference for a here-and-now sociometric selection of workshop attendance by participants rather than all workshop attendance being based on preregistration.

Purpose: Assessing Common Co-occurring Disorders in Addiction Therapeutic Community

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • PTSD

  • ADHD/ADD

  • Bipolar disorder

  • Other.

The example above of an addiction therapeutic community using a locogram to explore community members’ shared experiences of co-occurring disorders provides a meaningful path for connection and normalization of mental health issues which are very prevalent for folks in addiction recovery. This process allows participants to identify with each other about their shared experiences with specific mental health issues beyond their addictions and to identify allies for future mutual aid when struggling with their co-occurring disorder. A locogram with these qualifiers would also provide community leaders with a community-as-a-whole assessment of which co-occurring disorder(s) their members most struggle with. This information could be used to develop future educational events, clinical service offerings, or basic resources to community members related to specific mental health issues.

One modified locogram that is used often in immigrant community organizing spaces or at international psychodrama conferences is a world map locogram that allows participants to connect with others who live or migrated from the same countries or continents (Seeds of Change, 2019).

Purpose: Facilitating Connections Between Community Members Based on Country of Origin (or Ancestors’ Country of Origin)

  • North America

  • South America

  • Europe

  • Africa

  • Asia

  • Australia.

This world map locogram is implemented by the author and co-facilitator Maria Jose Sotomayor-Giacomucci in community workshops focused on exploring family immigration histories of participants and retracing one’s family or ancestral immigration journeys. Once the world map is designated on the floor of the workshop space, multiple prompts can be offered, facilitating the movement of participants with each new prompt. Some examples include “where do you live currently?,” “where have you lived in the past?,” “where did you, your family, or your ancestors immigrate from?,” “where is one place you love to travel to?,” or “where would you like to travel to in the future?”. With each prompt, participants can be invited to share in smaller groups with those who are standing near them on the world map. This process of using multiple prompts on a locogram is usually called a floor check , which is another sociometry tool.

7 Floor Checks

The floor check (see Sect. 11.5 for more detail and a video link) is a psychosocial intervention tool from the Relational Trauma Repair Model (RTR ) by Tian Dayton, which is primarily used in clinical or educational settings but can also be adapted for use in communities or large groups. It seems that many community leaders intuitively use processes similar to the floor check that result in similar outcomes of breaking up the larger group into small groups based on shared experience or intention (Hunter & Lakey, 2004). The floor check is especially useful in community groups due to its ability to access mutual aid within the community and position community members as therapeutic or educational agents for each other. There is also an element of community assessment that the floor check puts into action as it reveals specific experiences of community members. When facilitating a floor check, the social worker prints paper indicating different options based on a specific theme or topic and places them throughout the space. Usually, they are simply placed on the floor, but they can also be taped to the walls so they are easier to read. Then, a prompt is offered, and each participant is asked to go stand at the option that best answers the prompt for themselves. With each prompt, participants are invited to share with those standing with them about why they put themselves there. When facilitating this process, depending on the goals, it can help to consider the size of the group when discerning how many options to offer. If there is a group of 100 people and we want to facilitate as much dialogue as possible, it might help to offer 10–20 floor check options to spread participants out into smaller groups. However, if the goal is to help community members see similarities and not feel alone, then it might make more sense to offer less options. With 100 people and 5 floor check options, the resulting small groups are likely to be much larger. Here are some examples of floor check topics, options, and prompts in different community settings:

High School Student Community Meeting—Exploring Social Issues in the School

  • Options: Bullying; Discrimination; Academic Pressures; Alcohol/Drug Use; In-groups & Out-groups; Home Life; Sports, Clubs, & School Activities; Other

  • Which do you think you handle best?

  • Which do you think is most difficult for others in high school?

  • Which has been most difficult for you to handle in high school?

  • Which do you feel that you have gotten better at handling since you started school?

Group of Local Business Leaders—Identifying Strengths and Limitations

• Options: Financial Resources; Community or Customer Relationships; Staffing; Leadership; Community Partners; Other

  1. 1.

    Which do you feel your business is most secure in?

  2. 2.

    Which do you feel your company is most lacking in?

  3. 3.

    Which do you feel you could help another business with?

  4. 4.

    Which would you like support on developing in the future?

Outpatient Psychotherapy Clinic Staff Meeting—Professional Growth Strengths and Needs

  • Options: Trauma Therapy; Substance Abuse; Ethics and Legal Concerns; Assessment and Evaluation; Group Therapy; Family Therapy; Casework and Referrals; Other

  1. 1.

    Which area do you feel most competent in?

  2. 2.

    Which area would you like more training in?

  3. 3.

    Which is an area you would like more focus on during supervision?

  4. 4.

    Which is an area you feel that you could present a workshop on for the team?

Professional Conference Community Meeting—Exploring Membership Wants/Needs

  • Options: Professional Development; Networking; Journal and Newsletter Publications; Committees; Regional Chapters; Presenting at Events; Advertising and Promotions; Organizational Leadership ; Other

  1. 1.

    Which membership benefit do you utilize most?

  2. 2.

    Which membership benefit do you wish to use more going forward?

  3. 3.

    Which membership benefit least interests you?

  4. 4.

    Which membership benefit might you be willing to volunteer to support?

The final example offered above for a conference event offers the leadership and membership of a professional society an opportunity to reflect on the benefits of membership. Using the prompts above, one would be able to assess which member benefits are most utilized by members and which least interest members. This would be important information for the organization to consider as it discerns which member benefits it might increase or decrease its organizational investment in. The inclusion of an option for “other” also would give members an avenue for offering new ideas for member benefits. And, the final prompt “which member benefit might you be willing to volunteer to support?” would provide an opportunity to efficiently get members connected with leaders of each initiative for future involvement. This same process could be used as a floor check for each organizational committee to evaluate the interest levels for each committee.

8 Step-In Sociometry

Another useful experiential sociometric process for community work is step-in sociometry (see Sect. 11.6 for more detail and a video link) , which allows for the quick and efficient identifying of similarities between community members. This exercise is best conducted by having community members create a large standing circle. Participants can take turns making statements and moving into the center of the circle, while others who identify with their statement also step into the circle. This process can be useful for a facilitator as an assessment or evaluation tool, or as an intervention for helping the community increase its cohesion and connectedness (Giacomucci, 2017). The step-in process can easily be modified in large groups, instead using hand raising or standing up as a motion for indicating identification. Step-in sociometry is already used regularly in community organizing spaces (Hunter & Lakey, 2004), and many facilitators use a simple form of it when asking participants to raise their hand if they agree or identify with a point. Here are some examples of its application in community contexts using broad prompts (multiple statements would be made within each prompt by community members) that follow the three-stage clinical map:

Religious Community Meeting

  1. 1.

    Step in and name something that is important to you about your religion.

  2. 2.

    Step in and share something that you find difficult about your religious practice.

  3. 3.

    Step in and label a goal you have for yourself going forward about increasing your religious practice.

Prison Community Meeting

  1. 1.

    Step in and name something that helps you get by in prison.

  2. 2.

    Step in and share something that is difficult or frustrating for you about being in prison.

  3. 3.

    Step in and share a hope you have for yourself going forward in life.

Neighborhood Anti-violence Coalition Community Meeting

  1. 1.

    Step in and name something you love about this community.

  2. 2.

    Step in and share one way that violence has impacted you in the community.

  3. 3.

    Step in and share a vision you have for community change in the future.

International Social Work Conference

  1. 1.

    Step in and share one area of social work that you work within.

  2. 2.

    Step in and name one part of being a social worker that is difficult for you.

  3. 3.

    Step in and label a hope you have for your conference experience.

University Faculty Meeting

  1. 1.

    Step in and share one of your favorite things about the university or your role here.

  2. 2.

    Step in and label something difficult about your work at the university.

  3. 3.

    Step in and name one way you would like to help the university improve.

LGBTQ Community Center Opening Celebration

  1. 1.

    Step in and share what you hoped for in attending our opening event.

  2. 2.

    Step in and name an issue you see in the community.

  3. 3.

    Step in and share something you think this center could offer to be helpful to the community.

In the final example of an opening event for a new LGBTQ community center, the use of step-in sociometry provides an opportunity for assessing community issues, needs, wants, and expectations while also facilitating connection between community members. The first prompt explores what attendees hoped for in terms of attending the event which would provide the center’s leadership with a sense of what could be helpful for the rest of the event while also keeping this information in mind for future events. The second prompt helps with the assessment of issues in the community and how many people think each issue is relevant. The level of energy for any given statement within this second round could provide the center with information about which issues may need to be prioritized. And the prompt of the final round gives community members a chance to give voice to what they would like from the community center. Rather than opening a center with at top-down issued list of initiatives, services, or goals, this type of sociometric community assessment allows the community center to take the pulse of the community they are serving and tailor their services to the real needs of the community. This process of assessment inherently recognizes the community as the expert in their own issues and needs.

9 Hands-On-Shoulder Sociograms

The use of hands-on-shoulder sociograms is also applicable in community work , especially useful for organizational meetings. Moreno’s use of sociograms in community work seems to have been focused on written sociometric test which was compiled to create intricate sociograms of entire communities. Nevertheless, the similar assessments can be conducted in action with the experiential sociogram by offering prompts and inviting participants to put their hand on the shoulder of one person in the room to answer the prompt. One advantage of the written sociogram is that participants could list and rank multiple choices or preference while the hands-on-shoulder process only really works with one choice. As noted in Sect. 11.7, a limitation of this exercise is its reliance on physical touch , it is important to first assess the community’s preferences and level of safety around physical touch. This becomes especially important when working with communities that have religious or cultural beliefs related to physical touch, especially between different genders. The hands-on-shoulder process can be modified without physical touch to use a scarf of piece of fabric as a connector instead of physical touch. The use of experiential sociograms with communities also makes it more difficult for the facilitator to track which group members have not been chosen between prompts. It is suggested that this exercise be reserved for small community or organizational groups unless a facilitator has a team of co-facilitators or significant experience with sociometry in large groups. In a large group, it can be useful to invite a smaller group of participants to engage in this exercise with others observing or to break the community into smaller more manageable groups with their own facilitators to concurrently participate in the hands-on-shoulder sociogram process with the same prompts. Below are some examples of how hands-on-shoulder sociograms could be useful in community settings.

Community: Long-Term Residential Treatment Program

  1. 1.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of someone who you have connected with in a meaningful way recently.

  2. 2.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of someone who has inspired you during your time here.

  3. 3.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of someone who you think you could learn something important from.

  4. 4.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of someone who you would like to get to know better.

Community: Spiritual Fellowship

  1. 1.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of the person you have known the longest in this community.

  2. 2.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of someone who’s spiritual dedication you admire.

  3. 3.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of someone who you could call if you needed to talk about a spiritual problem.

  4. 4.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of one person that you think is an unrecognized leader in this community.

Community: Conference for Social Activism

  1. 1.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of someone whose work you would like to get to know better.

  2. 2.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of someone whose passion you are inspired by.

  3. 3.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of someone who you would like to collaborate with in the future.

Community: Agency Meeting of Caseworkers

  1. 1.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of one person who you think demonstrates exceptional advocacy skills.

  2. 2.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of one person you would ask for help regarding resources within the community.

  3. 3.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of someone who you could talk to if you needed to process emotions related to the job.

  4. 4.

    Place your hand on the shoulder of one person that you think could be a leader in the organization in the future.

In the last example, of an agency meeting of caseworkers at an organization, the sociodynamics within the team are revealed by the experiential sociogram process. Each prompt highlights how the community members experience different employees of the organization. This information is quite useful for organization leaders. Knowing who the team thinks is the best advocate or the most knowledgeable about community resources would allow agency leaders to strategically put those employees in formal or informal roles based on their perceived skills and strengths. Essentially, this sociogram process is an organization-as-a-whole evaluation of how employees experience each other based on different criteria. This information could prove very valuable when considering promotions within the company as well. Consideration of the perceptions between staff members could facilitate more insight into who the team is already experiencing as informal leaders in the community and thus would be more willing to work with in formal leadership roles. Moreno used sociograms in his research with groups in the military and choosing leaders based primarily on sociometric connection. In doing so, he found that soldiers were more willing to follow leaders that they had chosen over leaders that were appointed by others outside of their small group. This has implications for every organization and suggests a more democratic approach to promotions within organizations might be ideal.

10 Circle of Strengths

The circle of strengths (see Sect. 11.8 for more detail and a video link) is a safety structure for experiential trauma therapy from the Therapeutic Spiral Model (TSM ) which focuses on intrapsychic, interpersonal, and transpersonal strengths (Giacomucci, 2020b; Hudgins & Toscani, 2013). This process uses the concretization of strengths to create safety, containment , and conscious acknowledgment of strengths within the group. It can be facilitated in many different ways including having participants identify their own strengths, another group member’s strengths, or strengths of the group-as-a-whole (Giacomucci, Gera, Briggs, & Bass, 2018). As strengths are identified and concretized, they are placed in a large circle in the group space to symbolically represent unity, strength, and containment of the group. This process appears to be especially useful for developing group cohesion which can be advantageous in both community and organizational contexts. The circle of strength prompts can be modified to focus on specific community topics such as:

Inpatient Psychiatric Hospital Client Community Session

  1. 1.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you have that can help you with mental health.

  2. 2.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you experience in the person to your left in the circle that can help them in their mental health.

  3. 3.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you experience in this entire inpatient community that can help with mental health.

Refugee Community Support Group

  1. 1.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength that helps you cope with the difficulty of being a refugee.

  2. 2.

    (Break out into dyads ) Choose a scarf to represent a strength you see in your partner that can help them cope with the difficulties of being a refugee.

  3. 3.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you experience in this entire community of refugees.

Community Support Session After a Natural Disaster

  1. 1.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you can help you recover from the disaster.

  2. 2.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you experience in someone else in the group that has helped them recover from the disaster.

  3. 3.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you experience in this community that can help with recovery after the disaster.

Organizational Board of Directors’ Meeting

  1. 1.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you bring to the board.

  2. 2.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you experience in someone else on the board.

  3. 3.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you experience in the organization-as-a-whole.

Trauma Treatment Center Team Meeting on Vicarious Trauma

  1. 1.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you have that can help you prevent vicarious trauma.

  2. 2.

    (Break out into dyads ) Choose a scarf to represent a strength you experience your partner that you think can help them prevent or cope with vicarious trauma.

  3. 3.

    Choose a scarf to represent a strength you experience in this entire treatment team that can help with vicarious trauma.

In the example above of a trauma treatment center team engaging in the circle of strength process, participants have an opportunity to connect with each other on an emotional level with positive criteria. Team members have a chance to reflect on their own self-care process as it relates to vicarious trauma while also acknowledging strengths they see in each other and the team-as-a-whole. Regardless of topic, nearly every treatment team that has participated in the circle of strength process with this author has commented on how it has helped to enhance connection between team members and overall cohesion within the team.

11 Conclusion

Any of the above sociometric exploration could be conducted through digital or paper assessments of individual community members, but in doing so would lose the inherently social and relational element of the experiential sociometric process. These sociometric explorations allow participants to see in real time where and how their responses fit into the larger community-as-a-whole response and to initiate dialogue with others about their choice. This type of community-as-a-whole assessment facilitates connection, normalization, and dialogue in ways that would not be possible through digital or paper assessments of individuals within a community. Sociometric group tools help social workers work with the group-as-a-whole instead of falling into the trap of individual work within a group setting. In the same way, these sociometric tools offer social workers community-as-a-whole processes that avoid the risk of doing individual work within community settings.

A social worker equipped with these simple sociometric tools can create an infinite number of experiential processes with community groups that assess, engage with, and evaluate dynamics within the community while providing participants with a sense of connection, cohesion, belonging, and empowerment. Each of these individual sociometry tools can be used as the primary part of a community session with sharing afterward or as a warm-up for another activity. Multiple of the aforementioned tools could be used in a single session, or they all could be adapted into a curriculum for ongoing community groups or a multiday event. These sociometric processes are often used as warm-ups for sociodrama enactments in community settings which will be outlined in Chap. 19.

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Giacomucci, S. (2021). Sociometric Social Work with Communities. In: Social Work, Sociometry, and Psychodrama. Psychodrama in Counselling, Coaching and Education, vol 1. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-33-6342-7_18

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