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No Need to be Afraid of “Psycho” + “Drama" 😂

Here’s a little history lesson on the inventor of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama: Jacob L. Moreno (1889 – 1974)

Psychodrama Group Therapy

This past summer Wynne facilitated her first “Action-Based” group she designed especially for Adult Children of Dysfunction. Specifically, Wynne utilizes a highly advanced group modality called “Psychodrama”. Most of the time, when people hear the words “psycho” and “drama”, they recoil in fear and respond, “I don’t want anything to do with any psychos or any drama”. Ugh. Sigh. That’s not what Psychodrama means!!!

“Psychodrama” was one of many therapeutic interventions in the early to mid-20th century by Viennese psychiatrist Jacob L. Moreno. The term “psychodrama” comes from the Greek words “psyche”, which means Soul, and “drama”, which means Motion. So, in today’s language we could describe Psychodrama as “The Soul in motion.”

The Soul in motion. The Soul dancing. The Soul making waves. The Soul making changes. The Soul creating a new life. One major reason Psychodrama is so effective is it takes group talk therapy to entirely new levels. As has been said before, in Psychodrama, we don’t just talk about it, we be about it!

The “action” part of Psychodrama is what helps cement the new changes in the brain, as it is the action in addition to the talkie-talk that creates new neural pathways. New neural pathways lead to new habits, and new habits lead to a more satisfying life.

So again, don’t be afraid. Here’s a little history lesson on J.L. Moreno to shed light on the origins of this pioneering methodology created in the early 1900’s and continues to be refined since…

Jacob L. Moreno MD, founder of Psychodrama and Group Psychotherapy (1889 – 1974)

Jacob Levy Moreno was born in 1889 on a ship on his way to Romania where he spent his early years of life. Within 10 years his family moved to Vienna, Austria, where Moreno grew up and eventually obtained his MD. He was passionately committed to social justice and seemed to possess the lofty goal of applying his methods to the entire world so all could be free of their social challenges and hang-ups and live lives of spontaneity and self confidence.

He observed that those who could adapt to life’s challenges with the creative freedom to try new behaviors and the empowerment to do so would be those “Who Shall Survive” (his book published in 1934) in an ever-changing environment. He learned and came to prefer to work with groups instead of individuals because more people could be helped in less time. Moreno was a dreamer and he thought long, wide, and big. He wanted everyone’s lives to improve. Forever and ever, Amen!

His early work in particular demonstrates his passion and compassion to help those who society tended to dismiss, such as: 

  • Immigrants & Refugees in his House of Encounter (1908)

  • Children playing in Vienna parks (1911)

  • Sex workers in Vienna (1913)

  • Mittendorf Refugee Camp (1915 – 1918 during WWI)

He obtained his MD from the University of Vienna in 1917. He later immigrated to the United States in 1925 in hopes of gaining more acceptance of his “radical” theories. Moreno was a rebel with a cause and was not afraid to challenge anyone. He was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939), who was the “Founder of Psychology”, the creator of Psychoanalysis and also a doctor in Vienna. Both of these men were probably just a tad bit egotistical (to coin some vocabulary of which Freud would approve). Moreno showed no fear. He told Dr. Freud directly,

"You analyze people’s dreams. I teach people to dream again."

Well excuse me Mister! Boom. Moreno 1, Freud 0.

Other famous psychologists who lived during Moreno’s time:

  • Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936): the one with the dogs

  • Alfred Binet (1857 – 1911): invented the first IQ test

  • Carl Jung (1875 – 1961): Founder of Analytical Psychology. His theories are the basis for the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (for which Wynne is a Qualified Assessor, btw)

  • Alfred Adler (1870 – 1937): Founder of Individual Psychology and coined the term “inferiority complex”

  • Karen Horney (1885 – 1952): Founder of Feminist Psychology. Another Freud rebel who was certain she did not have “penis envy” 😂

  • Jacob Moreno (1889 – 1974): Founder of Sociometry, Psychodrama, and Group Psychotherapy

  • Jean Piaget (1896 – 1980): known for his theories of human development

  • Carl Rogers (1902 – 1987): Founder of Person-Centered Therapy

  • B. F. Skinner (1904 – 1990): Behavioral Psychology

  • Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970): Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”

  • Erik Erikson (1902 – 1994): Developed a theory of Psychological Development and coined the term “identity crisis”

P.S. “Penis envy”? Sigmund, puh-lease. 🙄

But back to Moreno….In the United States from the 1930’s through the 1950’s and beyond, Moreno continued to work with society’s underserved and throwaways.

  • Prisoners at Sing Sing Prison in New York

  • New York State Training School for Girls (a reform school for girls)

  • He opened Beacon Hill Sanitarium in New York, a last-resort hospital for the severely mentally ill

During these years he continued to define and refine his theories and methods until his death in 1974. He was a prolific writer and publisher. He also loved poetry, theater, and philosophy. He was deeply spiritual and referred to his “Higher Power” (a generic term used today) as “The Godhead”, which was the creator of all things and the creator of all “creativity”. It is obvious from studying his life that he wanted to change the world one healing “encounter” at a time.

Moreno’s Theories

During Moreno’s work with WWI refugees in the Mittendorf camp, he developed his theory of Sociometry, which is the measurement of thoughts/feelings/interactions among groups. Young aspiring group leaders are taught to “assess the vibe” in the group. There are a few rudimentary tools to quantify this “vibe”, but most of this is done by way of therapist observation and intuition. Sociometry, however, and its tools, are a way to actually measure and concretize the “vibe” in the room. Those measurements often expose unseen connections and conflicts….the manifestation of which then lead to group interventions to effect change both for the individual as well as within the group as a whole.

Through his work with prostitutes, he discovered that the therapeutic agent in groups was through the group member interactions, and not the group leader as an individual. The power of change is through the group members themselves and how each contributes, or “co-creates”, the interventions that lead to the outcomes. He is the first to discover the power of a group for change and healing to the individuals as well as to the masses. JL Moreno thought globally as well as working with the persons in front of him. He was a dreamer.

In 1942, while BF Skinner was shocking rats and Carl Rogers was asking us “How do we feel?”, Jacob L. Moreno established the first professional association for group psychotherapy: American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. In 1947 he created the Journal of Sociatry, later renamed to the Journal of Group Psychotherapy. His last contribution before his death in 1974 was creating the IAGP, or International Association of Group Psychotherapy.

I think it’s safe to say that Jacob L. Moreno was the Guru of Groups among his psychiatry and psychology peers.

Sociometry informs that that one cannot offer intervention to individuals without first assessing group dynamics. It is the group leader’s responsibility to ensure all group members are adequately “warmed up” to the topic at hand, to themselves, to each other, and to the group leader, in order for the safest and most effective interventions to take place. Sociometry is foundational to a successful group. When group members feel safe and connected is when the “work” of the group really kicks in.

Our Next “Action from Love” Group

Please see our previous post introducing our recurring Action from Love group. We’re doing it again! If you identify as an adult child raised in dysfunction and you are ready, or “warmed up” to engage in a group healing journey, we are ready for you. Check out some feedback we have received:

"This [group] was an awesome experience.This group helped me overcome some childhood issues, and freed me from feeling guilty about things I didn't need to feel guilty about." -- Group Therapy Participant

Wynne’s deepest clinical passion is to help adults who are still suffering from the effects of growing up in environments characterized by repeated neglect, abuse, abandonment. These effects run deep and wide and show up at work, home, school, in relationships, habits, and more. Not all dysfunctional patterns are obvious. Some are insidiously discrete or even socially acceptable at times. But the damage is there and running its course through the lives of its members.

Dysfunctional family systems continue on over time and, left untreated, pass from generation to generation. People suffer for decades without an adequate understanding of where their issues came from, or what to do about them, to live a life of peace and self-confidence. Accurate information is the first step toward eliminating denial. The purpose of this group is to start to break through some denial, gain insight into the effects of childhood experiences, and to learn new ways to behave when coping with old wounds. Come join us! It’s fun and liberating. We’d love to have you.


Thank you so much to #teamsoulspring counselor Wynne Stallings for her contributions to the content of this article.


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