Jacob Levy Moreno (1889 – 1974)

J L Moreno developed psychodrama. He was an extraordinary person who planted conceptual seeds, explored social structures, produced interaction and pioneered psychological methodologies. He created and tested concepts by living his life fully, and wrote of his discoveries. He identified the social atom at the time Rutherford was exploring the scientific atom.

Born in Austria in 1989, he orignially studied medicine. As student Moreno produced the theatre of spontaneity in response to observing children at play. He worked to build relationships amongst refugees ensuring their capacity to live life after social network devastation. His concern for isolates (people who choose not to have social connections, and are not chosen) created uniting and inspiring forces with the development of sociometry. His unshakable belief in the creative genius in each of us gave birth to psychodrama. He was a central participant in developing group psychotherapy, and worked steadfastly and passionately to create a society in which everyone has a productive place.

Moreno’s great contribution in working with people, who had reached an impasse in some area of life, was to shift them from being ‘reporters’ of events to ‘actors’. He greatly valued ‘display’. He knew there were discrepancies between the verbal representation and the display of an event, and he wanted to reduce this. Display includes ‘action and interaction, the expression of the body, and the dimensions of past, present, future and space’. Zerka Moreno, ‘Psychodrama, Role Theory and the Concept of the Social Atom’ JGPPS Vol 42, No 3.  Moreno knew that people have ‘incomplete perceptions of themselves and others, as well as perceptions which are lacking, weak, distorted or pathological, and especially one-sided and subjective. Where perceptions are clear and mutually confirmed, positive tele is at work’.   <span class=pink>Zerka Moreno, ibid.</span>

An avid researcher and experimenter, Moreno’s seminal work with a New York school for delinquent girls provides us some insight to the power of his work.  Brought in to stem the frequent tide of runaways, Moreno asked the girls to choose “whom do you want to sit with in the dining room?”. The seating arrangements were enacted from the choices the girls made. Absconding dramatically reduced.  Moreno’s thesis that this positive mutuality was tele, a significant flow of feeling and is the cement which binds people together in reciprocally satisfying relationships. He set the groundwork for sociometrists with this investigation.

Sociometrists become part of the group being studied and elicit the active co-operation and collaboration of group members. Group members become co-researchers in projects. This early work formed the basis of Moreno’s concepts of social networks.