While group work was gaining momentum in the USA, J.L. Moreno
’s ideas of sociometry, psychodrama, and group psychotherapy were beginning to emerge in Vienna. In the early 1900s, as a university student, he and his friends founded the Religion of the Encounter and opened the House of the Encounter, which seems to mirror the settlement house. It is interesting to note that Jane Adam’s settlement house even included drama clubs which were the most popular groups within Hull House (Bailey, 2006). The House of the Encounter provided free support, help completing official applications, job assistance, food, housing, and legal support for refugees and immigrants flooding into Europe (Marineau, 2014; Nolte, 2014). In the evenings at the House of the Encounter, everyone gathered for a community ritual discussing the events, concerns, and problems of the day. Moreno described these mutual aid meetings as the first encounter groups and a “theater of everyday life” in his autobiography (2019, p. 211).
Moreno describes himself as a mystic prior to his education in psychiatry. He studied theology and philosophy and was deeply influenced by his spiritual experiences and beliefs. He wrote of the evolution of an understanding of God, moving from a distant I-He God in the Old Testament, to a more personal I-Thou God with Jesus in the New Testament. His religion, and one of his early anonymous publications titled Words of the Father (1921), pronounces a new philosophy of an I-I God. Moreno was declaring that everyone has the capacity of accessing and awakening the Godhead within them. To support his claim, he highlighted creativity as a quality inherent to deities across culture and history and argued that human beings also have the capacity to create. The Religion of the Encounter is the basis for Moreno’s conceptualization of human nature through an existential and spiritual framework that recognizes the dignity and worth of each individual. Moreno’s sociometry, psychodrama, and group psychotherapy developed from the philosophy that we are “cosmic beings” in addition to our biological, economical, sociological, and psychological nature (Moreno, 2012). Through this conceptualization of human nature, he avoided pathologizing approaches and worked to empower individuals and groups to heal themselves.
Later, in his work at Mittendorf refugee camp, he had proposed that a formal assessment and diagnoses would uncover the social configuration of the refugee camp as the root of its troubles and formally suggested that the camp be restructured “by means of sociometric analysis” (Marineau 2014, p. 55). Moreno’s work in Mittendorf, between 1915 and 1918, is identified as a foundational event in the establishment of sociometric theory. Coincidentally, at about the same time, Mary Richmond published her famous book “Social Diagnosis” (1917) as social work practice continued to evolve, emphasizing the social environment of the individual (Giacomucci, 2018a). Moreno originally conceptualized group therapy as the treatment of oppressed, marginalized, or excluded populations (Gershoni, 2013; Nolte, 2014)—he worked with a variety of populations including immigrants, sex workers, prisoners, and the severely mentally ill. Stimmer (2004) claims that because of the context and nature of Moreno’s work, sociometry, psychodrama, and group psychotherapy really began as social work—“Die psychodramatische Idee jedenfalls begann als Soziale Arbeit; ihre Wurzel, ihre Basis ist die Soziale Arbeit” (“In any case, the psychodramatic idea began as a social work; its root, its basis is social work”; p. 19).
Moreno’s experiments with drama and theater began in the parks of Vienna playing with the children, telling them stories, and experimenting with role-playing
. In the refugee camp, he developed Theater Reciproque where refugees found relief from their harsh reality by engaging in the surplus reality of drama. Of this time, Moreno writes, “when Theater Reciproque becomes a part of the life of the community it takes on the force of a religious ritual, a ritual of healing.” (2019, p. 212) As a mystic studying medicine at the University of Vienna, Moreno seems to conceptualize the healing process from a religious perspective.
Jacob L. Moreno writes that the first psychodrama/sociodrama took place in Vienna on April Fool’s Day of 1921, at a decisive time in Austria just after World War I and the dismantling of the Austria-Hungary Empire. Dressed as the king’s jester, he called for members of the prestigious audience to come on stage and take the role of “King of the New World Order” and discuss their plans to stabilize the country. Shortly after this historical moment, Moreno organized the Theater of Spontaneity (Stegreiftheater) which enacted spontaneous scenes incorporating the audience, often using events from the local newspaper or suggested topics from the audience. Moreno intended to use the theater as a medium for social change, but in the process, observed that participation had been therapeutic for both the audience and role players (Nolte, 2014; Marineau, 2014; Moreno, 2019). He developed his vision of sociatry
—or psychiatry for society (1947) which articulated his commitment to healing at the societal level: “A truly therapeutic procedure cannot have less an objective than the whole of mankind. But no adequate therapy can be prescribed as long as mankind is not a unity in some fashion and as long as its organization remains unknown.” (1934, p. 3).
In 1925, Moreno immigrated to New York City. This decision was impacted by a number of factors including a vivid dream of living in New York that he had experienced, involvement in conflicts with other Vienna theater leaders, a new invention of a recording device he was working on, and hopes for a new audience that would be more accepting of his ideas. Prior to his migration to the USA, Moreno published his first nine books anonymously, inspired by his spiritual principles which suggest that ideas could not be owned by anyone:
A name is a form of capital and links the inventions and works of an author to proprietary, priority and other legal rights. Anonymity, on the other hand, begins and ends with the assumption that a work created by an individual or a group is not the property of anyone in particular, it belongs to universality
. (Moreno, 1955, p. 29).
However, as a result, many of his early ideas were taken by others. In his move from Austria to the USA, he shifted from primarily religious writing to primarily scientific publications and began to publish using his name.
Upon arrival to New York, Moreno began tirelessly working to promote his ideas offering demonstration at hospitals, churches, prisons, and schools, though he experienced many difficulties as an immigrant. At her suggestion, he married Beatrice Beecher in 1926, largely to be granted US citizenship and a license to practice medicine in New York State. In 1929, he opened Impromptu Theater at Carnegie Hall, a re-creation and adaptation of the Vienna Theater of Spontaneity. In 1932 at the APA conference in Philadelphia, he presented his sociometric research from Sing Sing Prison coining the terms “group therapy” and “group psychotherapy.” It is interesting to note that psychoanalyst Franz Alexander, who coined the term corrective emotional experience, was present at this 1932 APA meeting with Moreno and commented on the potential effectiveness of Moreno’s group method to reduce crime (Moreno & Whitin, 1932). Through his work in the early 1930s, Moreno gained the support of Dr. William Alanson White, superintendent of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC and former APA president. While supporting Moreno in New York, White was also working with Harry S. Sullivan in DC (Marineau, 2014) who later developed an interpersonal theory of psychiatry (1953) which shows some resemblance to Moreno’s interpersonal theory of sociometry.
For an entire year in the early 1930s, Moreno lived at the New York State Training School of Girls at Hudson, New York, and worked as the Director of Research. Here, he conducted extensive sociometric assessments, tests, interventions, and research which led to the 1934 publication of one of his most famous books, Who Shall Survive?: A New Approach to the Problem of Human Interrelations. Moreno and his colleagues in Hudson were some of the first social scientists to address racism and racial tensions within communities (Moreno, 2014). By this time, he was lecturing regularly in multiple universities including Columbia University, the New School for Social Research, and New York University. Beginning in 1935, Moreno started predicting boxing match winners through the application of sociometric analysis; for the next 19 years, he never made a wrong prediction and was often in the newspapers because of it. After his short marriage to Beatrice, he married Florence Bridge in 1938. Jacob and Florence had one child, Regina Moreno, and worked together to further the field of psychodrama until their divorce some years later. Florence’s contribution to psychodrama theory was primarily on the topic of child development (Moreno & Moreno, 1944).
It was not until 1936 in Beacon, New York, that Moreno began to systematically develop and use psychodrama as a form of psychotherapy at which point, he developed a reputation for successfully treating psychosis, interpersonal problems, and marital conflicts. In 1936, Moreno opened Beacon Hill Sanitarium SeeSeeMoreno Sanitarium
in New York State which was later renamed Moreno Sanitarium (see Fig. 3.3). It was here that his group therapy and psychodramatic approaches found a firm foundation and was used routinely with his clients suffering from severe mental illness. This treatment program was in many ways similar to the milieu therapy and therapeutic communities that would emerge later (Moreno, 2014).
Moreno Sanitarium developed a reputation for treating “untreatable” psychiatric cases (Moreno, 2019). In his work with patients with psychosis and schizophrenia, rather than try to convince them that their delusions and fantasies were not real, he encouraged them to act it out on the psychodrama stage. In 1937, the Red Cross Director became interested in psychodrama, and a few years later, a psychodrama stage was built at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC, the largest federal mental health institute in the USA. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed interest in Moreno’s ideas in the mid-1930s hoping that they could help the USA through its time crisis (Moreno, 1955).
In 1941, Zerka Toeman traveled from England to Beacon, New York, in hopes of finding effective treatment for her mentally ill sister at Moreno’s Sanitarium. Zerka quickly began working for Jacob Moreno, editing and translating his work and later contributing her own additions to sociometry and psychodrama. Later in 1949, they married. In 1941, J.L. Moreno opened the Sociometric Institute and Theater of Psychodrama (later known as the Psychodramatic Institute) in downtown New York City where he began to train other practitioners in his new model—from the late 1940s until the early 70s, six nights a week, a public psychodrama was conducted at J.L. Moreno
’s Manhattan theater (Moreno, 2014). Within a few years, dozens of psychiatric hospitals around the USA were using psychodrama in their treatment programs including multiple Veterans Administration hospitals—some of which event built dedicated psychodrama stages on their campuses.
In the USA, Moreno’s popularity increased in the 1940s and he was even considered for a department chair role at Harvard University (Moreno, 1955). American Sociologists adopted Moreno’s ideas with a passion while American psychiatry remained less interested. The American Sociological Society even created a section on sociometry in 1941 and in 1955 began publishing Moreno’sSociometry journal which had been in print since 1937 (Moreno, 2019). The Cold War and World War II sparked a greater reliance upon group therapy due to the influx of soldiers back into society. All three branches of the US military employed Moreno’s sociometry concepts along with Lewin’s group dynamic analyses to enhance the functioning of military leadership (Moreno, 2014). The US Navy became particularly interested—sociometric studies in the Navy discovered that poor group cohesion and low sociometric choices were correlated with various poor outcomes such as sick days, low morale, accidents, and disciplinary actions (Moreno, 2014). The British sent leaders of the military to study sociometry with the Morenos’ to better understand the varying death rates in various military platoons. They attempted to use used sociometry to organize groups of soldiers within the army during the war—“the whole process of induction and basic training in the British Army was restructured along the lines laid down by sociometric theory” (Moreno, 2019, p. 320). By the 1950s, Jacob Moreno and his wife Zerka Moreno had begun traveling six months of the year to provide psychodrama demonstrations around the world. The increasing popularity of psychodrama at the time is evidenced by a 1950 publication which estimated that about one-third of all mental institutions were using psychodrama as a therapy approach (Borgatta, 1950).
In the 1960s–70s, psychodrama techniques became popularized through the encounter movement, T-Groups, sensitivity training, the Human Potential Movement, and humanistic psychology. J.L Moreno’s work influenced most of the leaders of these movements who had studied with him previously, including Kurt Lewin, Abraham Maslow, Fritz Perls
, Viktor Frankl, and Carl Rogers (Maslow, 1971; Moreno, 2014, 2019; Treadwell, 2016). Within these popular movements, very little credit was given to Moreno’s influence. Moreno was friendly with Kurt Lewin, who was a pioneer of group dynamics, T-Groups, action research, and founded the National Training Laboratories (NTL) which had a significant impact on the field of group dynamics and group research. Unfortunately, Lewin died suddenly in 1947 and his followers and Moreno did not get along which further marginalized psychodrama from the emerging T-Group movement and group dynamics research (Moreno, 2014).
The popular magazine Life published a 1968 article on the Human Potential Movement (Howard, 1968) which provoked Abraham Maslow, father of humanistic psychology and former APA president, to send the following letter to the editors:
Jane Howard’s article on Esalen and other new developments in education and psychology was excellent. I would however like to add one ‘‘credit where credit is due’’ footnote. Many of the techniques set forth in the article were originally invented by Dr. Jacob Moreno, who is still functioning vigorously and probably still inventing new techniques and ideas. (Maslow, 1968, p. 15)
Other authorities in the field have made similar comments as it relates to Moreno’s influence on the encounter movement, the Human Potential Movement, T-Groups, gestalt therapy, and other experiential techniques. Eric Berne, the founder of transactional analysis, comments on this dynamic which he calls the Moreno problem:
Perls, founder of the gestalt movement, shared with other ‘active’ psychotherapists the Moreno problem: the fact that nearly all known ‘active’ techniques were first tried out by Moreno in psychodrama, so that it makes it difficult to come up with an original idea in this regard. (Berne, 1970, p. 164)
Similarly, William Schultz, a pioneer in the encounter group movement, notes that “virtually all of the methods that I had proudly compiled or invented [Moreno] had more or less anticipated, in some cases forty years earlier” (as cited in Blatner, 1996, p. 181). And in his book on the history of the encounter movement, Kurt Back (1972) notes that “Moreno can claim, perhaps rightly, that he is the originator of both group therapy and encounter groups” (p. 149).
J.L. Moreno believed that the encounter movement “cannibalized” his work and impacted the reputation of psychodrama (Moreno, 2014, 2019). It was during this time that many developed concerns for the psychological safety of psychodrama techniques and encounter groups which had become more focused on confrontation (Blatner, 2000; Cooper, 1974, 1975; Giacomucci, 2018b; Posthuma & Posthuma, 1973; Yalom & Lieverman, 1971). In a large study on various types of encounter groups, researchers found 7.8–9.1% of participants reported harm related to their participant in the encounter groups (Lieberman, Yalom, & Miles, 1973).As the encounter groups (as well as T-Groups and sensitivity training groups) became more sensationalized in the late 1960s and early 1970s, academic respectability and theoretical connections dissipated leading to a loss in credibility (Spence, 2007). As the evidence-based practice movement began to take root and grow in the 1970s–90s, the encounter movement and psychodrama techniques continued to lose their popularity.
In 1974, Jacob L. Moreno died. He abstained from food and drink after a long battle with illness. Moreno’s youthful dream had come true—his methods had been adopted into the larger culture while his influence remained mostly anonymous. When his friend and colleague Lewis Yablonsky visited him just before his death, Moreno whispered in his ear, “I’ve lived a full life. I’ve done my job. It’s time for me to go on to something else” (1976, p. 284). Although his life on earth ended here, in true psychodramatic fashion, the final chapter of his autobiography describes his future projected journey beyond death—into the afterlife including encounters with God, angels, Freud, and the great philosophers (Moreno, 2019).