messages from worldwide psychodramatists


James Sacks



Dear fellow psychodramatists,

As to my vision about the future of psychodrama, I do not know whether you
want me to refer to what I expect the future to be or what I hope it will be.

As for the former, I am such a bad prognosticator that I hesitate to guess.
I remember, as a child, when I had to cross a spooky field at night, I then
issued myself an official forecast that I would definitely be attacked by a
ghost on the way. Then I would remind myself of how bad I was at predicting
and that, therefore, I couldn't possibly be right. By this logic, I might
predict that the
psychodrama movement will wither, that attendance at the meetings will
decline and that there will be no jobs for psychodramatists; worse than
that, I could predict that the meetings will burgeon in popularity but that
the scientific quality of the work will fall to the level of a
quasi-religious cult, blindly following a charismatic leader.

As to what I hope:
it is that psychodrama will come to occupy a fully respected position
in the mainstream  of psychodynamic theory and practice at the highest
level; that psychodramatists will be working closely with other
professionals sharing some common frame of reference as to the nature of
mental health and illness and the psychological mechanisms involved. I
would also hope that psychodramatists might greatly enrich that common that
frame of reference based on the wealth of psychological data available to
them and to no one else. If I allow myself to be carried away with this
grandiose "vision thing" I would add that, in one way or another,
psychodramatic concepts will have a broad enough application to make a
difference in the general welfare of humanity. As evidence that this hope
is not not ridiculously unattainable, I offer this quote from a verbatim
tape made of a conversation between a journalist, Avi Shlaim and the late
King Hussein, shortly before the King's death. They are referring to the
peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. (The New York Review of Books, July
15, 1999) :

"AS  Who negotiated the peace treaty?
KH. Essentially Rabin and us.
AS  And did you feel you got a fair deal?
KH  I felt we did, yes.I think so, we had a unique relationship. I felt he
placed himself in  my position many times. I placed myself in his position,
We did not try to score points off each other. We tried to work something
that is workable, that is acceptable to both our people, something that was
balanced, something that was reasonable. And that's the approach we had and
we managed to get that.Š"

As the King talks about their role reversal, he is forced to abandon his
use of the royal plural so that "we" refers to a relationship between him
and Rabin in an equalitarian way.

As to retrospective thoughts, my personal (or interpersonal) romance with
psychodrama occupies an entire half century. In 1949 (give or take a year
or so) at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in Chicago
where I was a graduate student. I was hauled by another student into a
demonstration session of "Moreno's psychodrama". I had never heard of
either although the most sophisticated research in my department always
included sociometric data. I absolutely loved the idea of using this kind
of improvisational drama to mobilize and externalize what was inside. Later
(circa 1955) I took a course in psychodrama with Ray Corsini and Adaline
Starr, two early Moreno disciples on the University of Chicago faculty.
This was the very best course I had ever had. I was converted. After 1957 I
moved to New York and saw Hannah Weiner conduct marvelous open sessions at
Moreno's theater on Park Avenue. I threw myself into every auxiliary role
that Hannah entrusted me with. My psychological orientation was and has
remained psychoanalytic but no one could tell me that there was any
incompatibility between them. If psychoanalysts did not  exploit the
psychodramatic route to understanding of the human mind, it was a
shortcoming in their most sophisticated science. For diagnosis alone,
phenomena that occurred on the psychodrama stage were remarkable and
demanded psychoanalytic explanation. Further, the infinite malleability of
the technique fitted it for every kind of therapeutic intervention. I could
not and cannot believe otherwise.

Perhaps the first person I spoke with on that trip to Beacon was Jonathan
Moreno,who was about 6 years old at the time. He took me to see the
"elephant tree" on the grounds. The tree was a giant with heavy low
branches that formed a sort of protective arbor at the base. The bark was
grey, smooth and bent into joints and elbows. I knew that here imagination
was encouraged. This elephant was masculine, ponderous and very benevolent.
It was old JL himself.

The whole atmosphere of Beacon was a polar opposite to the strained and
constrained one in University departments or conventional professional
associations. From the start, everyone was absolutely equal. Moreno
accomplished this, not by divesting everyone of their titles as we had at
Chicago where Dr. Bettelheim became Mr. Bettelheim. Instead, Moreno awarded
honorary doctorates to staff, students, visitors and patients. It was
Doctor Everyone. There were floridly delusional patients in residence at
the time and this seemed the most natural thing to them. There was no
attempt to confront them with distasteful aspects of reality but rather to
arrange for them to live out their own versions of reality under the
psychodramatic umbrella. There was always time later, when they felt
stronger and better, to introduce repudiated consensual reality.

Zerka was a most amazing woman. If you think she is organized and active
now, you should have seen her then. She compensated for every one of JL's
limitations. Where he was bumbling and impractical she was consistent and
efficient. He, for example, never drove the car. I don't know if he could
have. She, with her one arm, did all the driving, and there was a lot.
There was a central office filled with an enormous library of
psychodramatic and sociometric books and papers for the students. She ran a
tight ship there. It was she who managed all the logistics of their
uniquely international life. Prominent professionals did not travel much in
those days but the Morenos were everywhere. "Citizens of the world", she
said.When he relaxed, which he did suddenly and unexpectedly,  she took
over, ran the sessions and made common sense of what may have been unclear
in Moreno's own explanations.

Everything Moreno did was essentially outrageous by any previous standards.
I found myself being, thinking, "He did what!" and then, often, "Hey, why
not?" He tried very hard not to do the same trick twice. It would have been
falling into a non-spontaneous mode which translated exactly, in my
understanding, to Freud's dreaded repetition compulsion. Even now ,
whenever those who knew him get together, they are always eager to trade
Moreno stories. People who knew him at different times have very different
stories. Wherever he was, he left a trail of astonishment in his wake. I
will just tell just one. It occurred about two hours before a session was
to begin at the Institute in New York. A few people had come in off the
street, a few students were there and I was waiting to run the regular
session that evening. There were maybe ten of us altogether, not even in
the theater but in his office. There was informal conversation with no
expectation of having a session. Moreno began talking with a young lady
about her general state of soul, a sort of "how are you doing" sort of
thing. Most of us were hardly paying attention but for Moreno it was always
psychodrama time. She answered in a desultory manner, that things were
"Okay, I guess. "Are you in love", he asks. Already I am taken aback. "Not
really", she answers. "Have you ever been in love", he persists. "Maybe
once", she says. "Aha", says he. "So you were once in love. With whom?" "A
man." "But this is very important, this one love. If we need to, we can
have someone here take his role but it is better to have the man himself. A
relationship involves another person. Who was the man?" Moreno had such
authority and a disarming manner that one did not refuse such a request. So
she gave the name, let us say "George Hawkins". "And how long since you
have spoken with George Hawkins?" "Oh, it's been years. Maybe five years."
"And what has become of George since then?" "Oh he's been married for a
long time now." "And where do they live now?" Again I am amazed that he
would ask this. "I think in Stanford, Ct.". Here Moreno picks up the phone
on his desk and asks for information, gets the guy's number and calls him!
When he answers, Moreno says,"How do you do? My name is Jacob Moreno and I
am a psychiatrist. At the moment I am trying to help a young lady whom you
may remember by the name of D. L. It seems that there were certain left
over feelings that she has yet to resolve from that time and I wonder if
you would be willing to try to help her with them? Do you think this would
be acceptable with your wife? (pause) Fine, then she will tell you what she
is thinking about and you may reply." He then began to do a long distance
psychodrama session with role reversals, etc. George was able to hear the
words spoken aloud and I was enlisted to monitor the phone and repeat aloud
what he said, trying to be faithful to his tone of voice. There were of
course, tears but a smooth denouement at the end. Many things seemed
clarified and resolved and we all ended up feeling that D. L. was less
likely to undervalue her own wishes, more able to relinquish unconscious,
unrealistic hopes for getting George back and, in the end, more likely to
find love again. At about then, it was time for me to run the regular
Saturday night session. Now isn't that astonishing, I ask you?

Recently I retired from training and private practice and am devoting
myself to a more bucolic and selfish lifestyle. I am writing down some of
the ideas I never took time to. I read more broadly than I did in my more
active years. I struggle to improve my French so I can make contact with my
four step-grand daughters. Each time another one is born I swear to learn
as fast she does but she always overtake me. When I am feeling obsessive, I
continue to add more items to my gargantuan Bibliography of Psychodrama,
which, by the way, is available, free to all at the IAGP, Psychodrama
Section, website <> or on
the ASGPP website <>.

I never doubted that I was born to do psychodrama. It is a decision I have
never, ever regretted. I don't know what my life would have been had Moreno
had not lived, but it is very hard to imagine. I could have found no other
work to be so personally gratifying and in which I felt myself as close to
truth as I was ever able to get. Colleagues sometimes expressed surprise
that I stayed so exclusively with this approach. Others toyed with it and
moved on. This was impossible for me. Psychodrama alone seemed made for me
and I for it. I only wish that old JL, sitting in his director's position
on the middle level of his stage in psychodramatic heaven could somehow
know my gratitude for his wondrous invention.


                Jim Sacks