Transference and Tele: Section I, Roles

This is the fourth post while doing a close reading of Moreno’s lecture on Tele, “given by the author during his European journey, May- June, 1954.”

First Post – Intro
Second Post – Transference
Third Post – Tele
Transference and Tele (tag) This will produce a list of all of the posts in this series.

Quotes from the lecture, some book & Google research and my detailed comments follow.

Here is the next paragraph in full from Moreno’s lecture.

Paragraph 9, page 8.

The next problem to consider is what reality underlies transference behavior. The poetic idea that beloved or hated figures in the past of an individual are stored in man’s unconscious, to be transferred at a moment’s notice upon the personality of the therapist has been an article of faith of psychoanalysts of all colors now for over forty years. It is indisputable in a private conclave of two as long as a particular patient agrees with a particular therapist as to the interpretation of his transference. But beyond this “existential validation a deux” such experiences are in want of a more substantial framework of theory, even within a subject’s frame of reference. Freud has postulated the genetic origin of transference, that “it does not originate in the present situation, that it is a repetition of what has happened to a patient once before in his life”. “The patient sees in his analyst the return—the reincarnation—of some important figure of his childhood or past and consequently transfers to him (the therapist) feelings and reactions that undoubtedly applied to this model.” The vague, frequently shifting and changing character of transference-countertransference behavior makes clarification particularly difficult.

The next problem to consider is what reality underlies transference behavior.

Reality! I think this question has been on my mind throughout this work, and I have gone as far as thinking of surplus reality. Both transference and tele could well be seen as forms of surplus reality. Nothing, gone, insubstantial, dead, until like God they return via the psychodrama stage (or some other medial space where imaginal qualities can come alive).

“The vague, frequently shifting and changing character of transference-countertransference behavior makes clarification particularly difficult.”

If he has a way of making this easier, and he has, it is a break through. Anticipating the next paragraph I think Moreno is right to question the reality base, and has a useful explanation.

First to this phrase:

“existential validation a deux”

He knocks it, but I think that “existential validation a deux” is a very important phenomena. It is the basis of what I call “evidence based practice” (have a look at the example of working with Alice in this paper – (soon to be re-written)) It is not just a matter of agreement between the two parties, but a resonance between the systems or processes, that create a sense of cohesion.

Paragraph 10 Page 8.

A clue for a fresh approach to this problem came to me from another observation made in the course of therapist-patient situations. Transference does not take place towards a generalized person or a vague Gestalt but towards a “role” which the therapist represents to the patient, a fatherly role, a maternal role, the role of a wise, all knowing man, the role of a lover, of a gentleman, of a perfectly adjusted individual, the model of a man, etc. The therapist, in turn, can be caught in experiencing the patient in complementary roles. Careful observation of therapists in situ added fuel to this point of view. They “look” and “act” a certain part already marked by their gestures and facial expression. I concluded then that “Every individual, just as he is the focus of numerous attractions and repulsions appears, also, as the focus of numerous roles which are related to the roles of other individuals. Every individual, just as he has at all times a set of friends and a set of enemies, also has a range of roles and faces and a range of counter-roles. They are in various stages of development. The tangible aspects of what is known as ‘ego’ are the roles in which he operates.”

Transference does not take place towards a generalized person or a vague Gestalt but towards a “role” which the therapist represents to the patient…

This is an important step, to designate the transference to a role. In other modalities various ways are used to universalise and generalise the transference as not being to the whole person, eg, archetypes and complexes, Oedipal dynamics and so on. However to bring in a role perspective brings in a new level of discourse (reality if you will). This is because a role is a “functioning form”, it has an observable aspect, and while a role can be named in many ways, there is an objectivity to it. Let me quote the summary paragraph about role from my thesis:


Role Theory Each psychotherapeutic modality has a theory of personality and human development that assists the therapist in their work. Role theory informs the psychodramatist in the area of personality and human development. The concept of “role” is central to the methods developed by Moreno. His definition is that “Role is the functioning form the individual takes in the specific moment he reacts to a specific situation in which other persons or objects are involved.” (Moreno, 1977, p. IV) His next sentence is very important, and makes it clear that a role is not simply an event in the world but an act of symbol making on the part of the perceiver. “The symbolic representation of this functioning form, perceived by the individual and others is called the role.” (Moreno, 1977, p. IV) To name a role well is an integration of art and science. A simple noun for the actor (e.g. fighter or lover) plus an adjective (such as cruel or brave) may be enough, but the true test of a good role description is if the naming does the job! To quote Moreno again: “The function of the role is to enter the unconscious from the social world and bring shape and order to it.” (Moreno, 1977, p. IV) Psychodrama is a way of concretising the otherwise elusive unconscious. Thus we use the social or cultural to manifest the unconscious. “A role is a unit of culture”, says Moreno (1977, p. IV) A good description is “objective” in the sense that when named there is some agreement that it describes accurately the essence of the functioning. The naming can be enlivening, entertaining and therapeutic. A good name for a role does all this at once because it evokes the drama and the whole system. To call someone Dr. Jeckyll, for example, has dramatic and therapeutic implications, we can see the Mr. Hyde lurking in the background, and thus maximised, it provides a vivid glimpse of an aspect of the personality structure.

Back to Moreno’s Lecture:

Paragraph 11, Page 8 and 9.

This is the gist of my critique of the transference concept, made eighteen years ago.* Although it has penetrated into some phases of psychoanalytic literature**, the consequences of this position especially for group psychotherapy have still remained obscure.


* J. L. Moreno, “Interpersonal Therapy and the Psychopathology of Interpersonal Relations,” Sociometry, Vol. I, 1937. Also “Psychodramatic Treatment of Marriage Problems”, Sociometry, Vol. III, 1940.

** Michael Balint, “Changing Therapeutical Aims and Techniques in Psychoanalysis,” Int. .Jnl. of Psychoanalysis, 31:117, 1950. H. S. Sullivan, Concepts of Modern Psychiatry, 1938.

Let me sum up his critique:

1. Not all feelings and insights, attractions are transferred from the past, some are based on the actual here and now reality. Those feelings true to the here and now he calls tele.
2. The use of different terminology for the patients transference and the therapists transference has a bias towards the professional person.
3. The flow of feelings into one person and another, back and forth are best seen as one flow with two ends.
4. The transference is better understood with a role analysis.

Let me have a go at this:

This is not a critique but a contribution to the theory of transference and countertransference! And why call it a critique, and think of himself as not understood by others etc? Transference! He is transferring something onto the world which does not fully recognised him.

The “real” reason he is not thoroughly accepted in the academic world… if I can exercise my non transferential insights and attractions to Moreno 🙂 is that his theories are deeply embedded in a practice, this is praxis. I have a sense of tele from being in groups and the oral tradition in psychodrama. The reading is important as well, but without being steeped in the practice, Moreno’s writing is not convincing.

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