It’s only ontology.

From the Dictionary:


noun: ontology; plural noun: ontologies
the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.
a set of concepts and categories in a subject area or domain that shows their properties and the relations between them.
“what’s new about our ontology is that it is created automatically from large datasets”


early 18th century: from modern Latin ontologia, from Greek ōn, ont- ‘being’ + -logy.

I have long had a phrase I use “It’s only ontology”.  I use it to listen to people as they talk about Jesus, Chi, Shan, God, spirit or soul and so on.  My little phrase reminds me to listen to the person rather than get into a debate about the existence of this or that. Also, irrespective of the existence of stuff, ontology  “shows properties and the relations between” categories.  For an archetypal psychologist, for example,  there is a fundamental distinction between soul and spirit. Other people may use the words differently, yet they can reveal much about their world view.  It’s only ontology.

PSM_V10_D562_The_hindoo_earthScreen Shot 2020-07-27 at 11.19.24 PM

I am looking back on earlier posts in relationship to ontology.  Here is one where my phrase does not hold:

Continue reading “It’s only ontology.”

The Moment in History

I am a psychodramatist and hence a student of the work of J.L. Moreno.  And I hold his philosophy and methods to be revolutionary in the sense of having potential to heal humanity.  There is an area of his philosophy and outlook where he comes short of the potential, it is in the conception of mass action and the macro forces that operate in the world.  He lacks a good grasp of Marxism. And I think Marxism lacks the science of sociometry, the outlook of small groups.

Moreno and Marx have a lot of common ground. Both Marx and Moreno have an experimental, scientific outlook. Action and learning go together. Its integrated.  This is what is meant by dialectical, a term both Moreno and Marx use for describing the process of participation in the world.  Its not one or another or even one and the other, Action and learning combine in the flow of life.

I will comment on the following passage by Moreno to show how it is similar to marxism and how it is progressive and also where it shows a gap in Moreno’s approach:

“All this, of course, could only happen if the warming up process of all human characters and all participating groups coalesce naturally into an experiment . (Rule of “gradual” inclusion of all extraneous criteria .) There are many steps and more barriers which a sensitive crew of coexperimenters might encounter on the way to a scientific utopia . However little or far they advance they never fool themselves and never fool others ; they prefer the “slow” dialectic process of the sociometric experiment in situ to social experiments which are based on inference and logic only or the social revolutions of mass action which do not know when to start and when to end .”

“Who Shall Survive?” P63

First the progressive:

Warm-up is a key concept in psychodrama, the process is complex, yet the term is somewhat self explanatory. I have written with approval of Moreno’s scientific method and the “Rule of “gradual” inclusion of all extraneous criteria.” It makes total sense sense when working with the group process of warming up.  What is central, what is extraneous? How not to dismiss all that emerges? The group warms up together and a focus emerges. See my psychodrama thesis about finding the focal conflict and central concern in a psychodrama group.

In the next few lines “slow” is a word to review.  It is sometimes slow and sometimes fast.  He has it gradual and slow in quotes. I take it he means it is relative, and as he says. part of the “dialectic process” which can be seen as outside of linear time. There are moments of dramatic change in a psychodrama group. The oft quoted idea from Lenin comes to mind:

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.”

― Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

I can imagine Moreno agreeing that this happens in psychodrama, though he does not address the flow of history in this way.

Moreno is also progressive when he contrasts “sociometric experiment in situ”  and “social experiments which are based on inference and logic only”. Here again is a shared outlook with Marx.  It is a moment where Moreno is clearly not a philosophical idealist, i.e. someone who dreams up a plan and then works out the steps to execute it.  That way of thinking is anathema to both Moreno and Marx. When Moreno says in situ, he means in the world and not on the psychodrama stage. On the stage the enactment is as close to life as possible, but he regularly affirms that life itself is the most important arena.

A gap in his methods are revealed in his concluding negative comment about mass action: “the social revolutions of mass action which do not know when to start and when to end.” These are not according to Moreno the sort of group that “coalesce naturally into an experiment.”

This is where Moreno’s vision, focussed on small groups is at a loss to grapple with major social upheaval. It seems he does not have a problem with “social revolution”, but a particular type of mass action. It is true, there is no knowing what will happen when it comes to masses, social forces, large groups, classes and nations. So Moreno is then at a loss, he has no way of knowing where to stand on mass movements, how to be with them or assess them. He is not able to make use of his theory of the moment or concept of spontaneity and theory of change.

There is no denying that there is a conundrum. A challenge.  A small group can have a life of its own that is bigger than the individual will of the participants. The methods, philosophy and history of psychodrama are about the collective relational processes. Moreno made unique contributions including the philosophy of the moment. But what about the clashing of multiple large social collectives? What about the moment in history? Marxism adresses this area, (but does not have ready answers.)

Note this classic statement from Marx:

“Men and women make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.

But can it be done well?  Marx is not always optimistic, here is the rest of the paragraph:

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.”

― Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

For those familiar with Moreno will see that Marx is grappling with what Moreno would call cultural conserves.  And Morenian theory has lots to say about cultural conserves. The theory of change, tried and tested in small groups is the Canon of Creativity. To become creative, to have the emergence of the adequate and new, the path is through warm up and spontaneity to creativity. But how does this theory of change apply at a macro level?

This brings us to an eternal discussion in revolutionary political discourse, where the word spontaneity is also used: the relationship between the spontaneity of the people and leadership. To get an idea about the debate, look at these two paragraphs from Wikipedia on Revolutionary Spontaneity

Revolutionary spontaneity, also known as spontaneism, is a revolutionary socialist tendency that believes the social revolution can and should occur spontaneously from below by the working class itself, without the aid or guidance of a vanguard party and that it cannot and should not be brought about by the actions of individuals such as professional revolutionaries or political parties who might attempt to foment such a revolution.

In his work What Is to Be Done? (1902), Vladimir Lenin argued fiercely against revolutionary spontaneity as a dangerous revisionist concept that strips away the disciplined nature of Marxist political thought and leaves it arbitrary and ineffective.[1]

To counterpose the two perspectives as polar opposites in this way is to do them both a disservice, but the question of the relationship between spontaneity and leadership of revolution is clear. This is also a question of the relationship between small groups and large social forces.  It is fruitful to have both the contributions of Moreno and Marx.

Marriage and family therapy – Inter-psyche

Here is a quote from Moreno that has major implications for how we conduct psychodrama in groups or with individuals when they want to work on significant relationships and the other party is not present.

And the other question that flows on from this piece of wisdom from JL is how to do “re-enactment a deux”.  The phrase ‘psychodrama a deux’ when I have heard it come up has referred to doing psychodramatic psychotherapy with an individual.  This is different.  Couple therapy using psychodramatic processes is something that some of us have well developed.  What about working with a couple when both are present in a psychodrama group?

I have been exploring that question in practice.

What about when someone does a drama involving an intimate other who is not there?

What if a couple are in crisis? Do we recommend they attend a psychodrama group?

These are questions I will be addressing in a workshop at the AANZPA  conference in Brisbane in January. ‘Addressing’ here means exploring in action with colleagues.


Marriage and family therapy for instance, has to be so conducted that the “interpsyche” of the entire group is re-enacted so that all their tele-relations, their co-conscious and co-unconscious states are brought to life. Co-conscious and co-unconscious states are by definition such states which the partners have experienced and produced jointly and which can therefore be only jointly reproduced or re-enacted. A co-conscious or a co-unconscious state can not be the property of one individual only. It is always a common property and cannot be reproduced but by a combined effort. If a re-enactment of such co-conscious or co-unconscious state is desired or necessary, that re-enactment has to take place with the help of all partners involved in the episode. The logical method of such re-enactment a deux is psychodrama. However great a genius of perception one partner of the ensemble might have, he or she can not produce that episode alone because they have in common their co-conscious and co-unconscious states which are the matrix from which they drew their inspiration and knowledge.

Psychodrama Volume 1, 4th edition, page vii

Later — Friday, 22 December, 2017

Just noticed this quote fro Marshall Rosenberg:


It may be most difficult to empathize with those we are closest to.

Moreno was not alone in noticing this phenomena

Therapeutic Tele

I found a few pages in Psychodrama Vol I by J.L Moreno – I think this item was written well before 77 when the book came out – a Symposium in the 40s?

Moreno talks of the individual locus of physical ailments.  There is another locus for psychological work, the relationship.

Then he gets really radical.  The relationships in life are therapeutic.  The psychodramatist activates the healing potential of the relationships.

And then there is one more thing!

the medium of therapy [is separate] from the healer as well as the group therapeutic agents.

What is that “medium” – Moreno in other places calls it the sociometric matrix.

Here is how I sum up Moreno’s philosophy:  there is a network of social and cultural role patterns we are born into. Born out of perhaps, that is the matrix. Spontaneity is our ability to transcend that given.

Here is the selection in Google Drive.  It should be public – if not email me.

Thus the healing is in the relational paradigm.  (an imago book)

Roles Create Roles

“a role is the functioning form the individual assumes in the specific moment he reacts to a specific situation in which other persons or objects are involved” (Moreno, 1977, p IV)

Lets take a list of roles, these are from Max Clayton’s article (Clayton, 1994),  it is a convenient list, and it is the one that got me to think about this:

Playful fun-lover
Frightened, abandoned orphan
Anxious and suspicious fantasiser
Angry controller
Condemning critic
Good listener

For each of these there is as Moreno puts it: “a specific situation in which other persons or objects are involved.” We can grasp the role it is possibly in relation to from the role.

Playful funlover
Frightened, abandoned orphan
Anxious and suspicious fantasiser
Angry controller
Condemning critic
Good listener
Art Audience Muse
Sucker, victim
Stubborn controller
Absent Parent, Threatening bully
Challenging person or situation
Helpless follower
Self doubter

Creating Change in a Role Relationship

These role pairs will change as one of the roles changes:

The teacher can’t teach without the student

Lovers need lovers

If the manipulatee ceases to be duped and becomes assertive the manipulator can’t manipulate.

If there is no speaker, become a good listener.

If there is no artist, become an appreciative audience and contribute materials

Be loving and love may come your way.

Stop criticising, appreciate and praise and you won’t be with a self-doubter for long.

Role relationships

There are different types of role relationship. Max talks of complementary roles and symmetrical roles.

“The diagrams made it easier to be aware of the complementary and symmetrical role systems that developed with other people and of the fact that there was an increase in complementary role relationships. As ability to analyse, plan and enjoy life came to the fore, so those roles pertaining to intimacy increased. There was a welcoming of closeness and an interest in complementing what others were doing. The aggressive approach to others diminished and along with this a lessening of symmetrical role relations and of the competitive dynamic that is associated with these. There was also a development of a real sense of being a role creator. Previously there had been much more of a sense of being a mundane person. A look at the diagrams also confirmed the ability to create forms of expression through which life purposes could be fulfilled. The experience of being a role creator was accompanied by an increase in motivation.”

An example of complementary role might be speaker / listener – and this would increase intimacy, as max suggests.

Symmetrical roles can escalate and be competitive e.g. Talker / talker can become shouter / shouter.

But some symmetrical roles can be intimate lover/lover gardener/gardener

Google search found the book online Note: I have a physical copy.


Clayton, G. M. (1994). Role Theory and its Application in Clinical Practice. In P. Holmes, K. Karp, & M. Watson (Eds.), Psychodrama Since Moreno (pp. 121–144). London: Routledge. Retrieved Tuesday, 9 February, 2016 from
Moreno, J. L. (1977). Psychodrama Volume One (Fourth ed.). Beacon, New York: Beacon House.

Varieties of Encounter

Facilitating interaction was the dictum I used for the first couple therapy I did. I recall, as an untrained social worker in a hospital being asked to work with a couple who had difficulties. The night before I read a gestalt based book on couple therapy and facilitate interaction was the central practical guide I took away. I could have done worse.

I have written on dialogue and encounter in the AANZPA Journal more recently: The Imago Affair. Let me quote a relevant chunck from that paper as I wish to further reflect on encounter.


At their heart, both Moreno’s and Hendrix’s work go beyond technique and are an invitation to a profound experience. The aim of a dialogue is not a specific outcome, nor is it reliant on one method. Here is the section of Moreno’s well known poem that encapsulates the idea of encounter.

A meeting of two: eye to eye, face to face.
And when you are near I will tear your eyes out
and place them instead of mine,
and you will tear my eyes out
and will place them instead of yours,
then I will look at you with your eyes
and you will look at me with mine.

Harville Hendrix introduced the validation step into the Imago structure with an eye to facilitating just such an experience. It is often taught as understanding or making sense. The lead-in line goes like this: “You make sense. And one thing that makes sense is…” The listener is invited to cross a bridge into the world of the other, and to see what they see, and feel what they feel in that world. Note the similarity to Moreno in Hendrix’s idea.

Buber clarified for me that a “Thou” relationship with others required honouring their “otherness” as an “I” distinct from me and any concepts I might have of them. This required a willingness to look at the world of another through his or her eyes.

Linger on the moments of connection described here:

I will look at you with your eyes (Moreno)

look at the world of another through his or her eyes (Hendrix)

Are they the same?

Both Imago and in the work of Moreno there is the idea of a special meeting. Not just any meeting, but something profound, where you become the other…

How to facilitate, or operationalise encounter is different in the psychodramatic sphere than in the I Imago sphere. They use different contexts for their techniques as well, psychodrama: the stage. Imago: the couple in dialogue and Hedy Schleifer has a variation:  Host / Visitor to the other’s world.

There are techniques/concepts in these modalities that are sometimes akin, but differently nuanced, and sometimes unique to the method. There are other modalities and have techniques for interaction, of importance is the variation of Imago developed by Hedy Schleifer and her husband, and the work of Dan Wile.

My friend and colleague Dan Randow and I are working on describing the varieties of techniques for encounter. Here is a beginning.

Here is a list of techniques/concepts:

Doubling: in Psychodrama

Mirroring — Psychodrama

Role reversal — Psychodrama

Doubling in Imago:  Related to the use of lead-lines

Doubling in Dan Wile’s CRT

Mirroring in Imago

Validating,  Imago

Empathy as used in Imago

Dialogue (Imago)

Host, Visitor (Hedy Schleifer)



How does role reversal relate to encounter? In role reversal and in doubling you become the other to the best of your ability. You take the physical position of the other, quite literally in role reversal and by being alongside and slightly behind the other when doubling.

Is it useful to distinguish the inter-psyche from the intra-psyche; what goes on in our subjective world and what goes on between us?  Maybe sometimes, all these encounter processes aim at improving the relationship and healing and growth of the individuals at the same time.



“Origins of Encounter and Encounter Groups” by J.L. And Zerka Moreno

Evernote Snapshot 20151220 044323

I managed to get hold of a monograph, Origins of Encounter and Encounter groups. (Moreno & Moreno, 1970). It is a stimulating read. I have just created three separate posts.

Balancing openness with the integrity of the psychodrama method.

Moreno and social science
This monograph has a concise statement that I have not seen before.

This is obviously the main theme of the monograph. Useful. Encounter is so central to Moreno’s opus, but it has not been developed well in practice. It was railroaded by the ‘encounter’ movement.

Moreno, J. L., & Moreno, Z. T. (1970). Origins of encounter and encounter groups (Psychodrama and group psychotherapy monographs, no. 45). Beacon House.


This is the third of three posts based on the monograph “Origins of Encounter and Encounter Groups” by J.L. And Zerka Moreno

This is obviously the main theme of the encounter monograph. There is more here on encounter than I’ve seen in other books by Moreno.[Check out Vol 2] Useful. Encounter is so central to Moreno’s opus, but it has not been developed fully in practice. It was railroaded by the ‘encounter’ movement.

I think some clarification is needed, philosophically, for the psychodrama director to enhance practice, and for people seeking greater depth of encounter in their lives. How is encounter related, in practice, to role reversal, mirroring and doubling, how can encounter be produced on the stage and as a phenomenon in life?

A more comprehensive definition of encounter is contained in Progress in Psychotherapy, Vol. I.* “Encounter, which derives from the French rencontre, is the nearest translation of Begegnung. The German zwischen-menschlich and the English ‘interpersonal’ or ‘interactional’ are anemic notions compared to the living concept of encounter. Begegnung conveys that two or more persons meet not only to face one another, but to live and experience one another—as actors, each in his own right. It is not only an emotional rapport, like the professional meeting of a physician or therapist and patient or, an intellectual rapport, like teacher and student, or a scientific rapport, like a participant observer with his subject. It is a meeting on the most intensive level of communication. The participants are not put there by any external authority; they are there because they want to be— representing the supreme authority of the self-chosen path. The persons are there in space; they may meet for the first time, with all their strengths and weaknesses—human actors seething with spontaneity and zest. It is not Einfühlung; it is Zweifühlung—togetherness, sharing life. It is an intuitive reversal of roles, a realization of the self through the other; it is identity, the rare, unforgotten experience of total reciprocity. The encounter is extemporaneous, unstructured, unplanned, unrehearsed—it occurs on the spur of the moment. It is ‘in the moment’ and ‘in the here’, ‘in the now’. It can be thought of as the preamble, the universal frame of all forms of structured meeting, the common matrix of all the psychotherapies, from the total subordination of the patient (as in the hypnotic situation) to the superiority and autonomy of the protagonist (as in psychodrama).” “Summing up, Begegnung is the sum total of interaction, a meeting of two or more persons, not in the dead past or imagined future, but in the here and now, hic et nunc, in the fullness of time—the real, concrete and complete situation for experience; it involves physical and psychic contact. It is the convergence of emotional, social and cosmic factors which occur in all age groups, but particularly in adolescence (Begegnung syndrome); it is the experience of identity and total reciprocity; but above all, psychodrama is the essence of the encounter.”

* The first journal which has the phrase “interpersonal relations” in its title.

(Moreno & Moreno, 1970)

I’m not sure if the reference is to Psychodrama Vol 2, but that does have a relevant passage:

In other words, a process which had operated from the start, parallel to the charm produced by transference, is now coming more strongly to the fore. He sees the patient now as she is. This other process acting between two individuals has characteristics missing in transference. It is called “tele”, feeling into one another. It is “Zweifühlung” in difference from “Einfühlung”. Like a telephone it has two ends and facilitates two-way communication. It is know that many therapeutic relations between physician and patient, after a phase of high enthusiasm from both sides, fade out and terminate, often for some emotional reason. The reason is frequently a mutual disillusionment when the transference charm is gone and the tele attraction is not sufficiently strong to promise permanent therapeutic benefits. It can be said that the stability of a therapeutic relationship depends upon the strength of the tele cohesion operating between the two participants.

(Moreno & Moreno, 1975:6-7)

Moreno, J. L., & Moreno, Z. T. (1970). Origins of encounter and encounter groups (Psychodrama and group psychotherapy monographs, no. 45). Beacon House.

Moreno, J. L., & Moreno, Z. T. (1975). Psychodrama Second Volume: Foundations of Psychotherapy (Second Printing). Beacon, New York: Beacon House.

Balancing openness and integrity of the psychodrama method.

This is the first of three posts based on the monograph “Origins of Encounter and Encounter Groups” by J.L. And Zerka Moreno

The psychodrama method is an open system, people add to it and take from it in various ways. In the Australian and Aotearoa tradition we do a lot of role reversal, more than in the US. We have incorporated the focal conflict model as a way of making sense of group process. Role theory includes coping, fragmenting and progressive roles, borrowing from Karen Horney. On the whole we do honour the philosophy of Moreno as the basis for our work. I hope there os room to develop further, especially using sociometric methods to explore the philosophy and new techniques. Also it may be useful to know that there is no exact one way to do psychodrama.

I found this passage recently. The openness is like open source software, it means psychodrama does not belong to anyone. To maintain the integrity of the philosophy it is important to delve into it collectively and show how it is integrated with practice.

It is not so important that Moreno’s school did these things first. That is merely one aspect of the problem. But we want to pierce the vanity and outrageous bravado of our many good friends and enemies Who, under the broad mantle of science, have disowned and absorbed these ideas and are brazenly trying to get away with it. The problem is not “getting a bigger bag of better working tricks.” The problem is far more serious; the disowners undermine a system of thought, a view, a philosophy of the world, a synthesis of methods which hang together and whose break-up produces confusion instead of enlightenment, invite disaster instead of producing cohesion.

Freud’s dilemma was holding his ideas tight to himself, therefore his rejection of everyone who did not recognize his priority and adhere to the dogma: Jung, Adler, Rank, Stekel, Ferenczi, among others. Moreno did the opposite. He is tolerant and devoted to his students. His secret weapon was “giving away” his ideas; his strength lay in letting people use his ideas, encouraging them to try them out, making them their own. There was considerable risk in this; losing the priority claim was only one small part, the deeper conflict arose out of separating the methods from the philosophy. Substitute theories and philosophies are false and misleading, as they abrogate or abort the complete execution of the methods. Moreno’s position was therefore: “Take my ideas, my concepts, but do not separate them from their parent, the philosophy; do not split my children in half, like a Solomonic judgement. Love them in toto, support and respect the entire structure upon which they rest. Make them your own as completely as I do. Role reverse with me and put yourself entirely into my position.” Many have not done this; they have split the children and separated them from their true parent, like the false mother before Solomon intended. But an ever-growing number are becoming aware and the recognition gap is slowly narrowing. If Moreno – continues to make his students aware of this gap, his way may yet prove to be the Winner.

(Moreno & Moreno, 1970)

Moreno, J. L., & Moreno, Z. T. (1970). Origins of encounter and encounter groups (Psychodrama and group psychotherapy monographs, no. 45). Beacon House.

Moreno and social science

This is the second of three posts based on the monograph “Origins of Encounter and Encounter Groups” by J.L. And Zerka Moreno

I’ve read and written extensively on Moreno’s scientific methods. This is a concise statement from the Encounter Monograph I have not seen before.

Moreno’s Ideas of a Science of Human Relations

An adequate science of human relations did not exist before the advent of sociometry. *

“Comte’s Hierarchy of the Sciences, 1) mathematics, 2) astronomy, 3) physics, 4) chemistry, 5) biology, and 6) sociology, has become obsolete. His assumption that all sciences can be treated by the same basic methodology is an error. The social sciences need—at least in their crucial dimension—different methods of approach. The crux of the ontology of science is the status of the ‘research objects.’ Their status is not uniform in all sciences. There is a group of sciences like astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology in which the research objects are always mere ‘objects’. Their actions speak for themselves and the generalizations concluded from them are not threatened by any metaphysical protest or social revolution of their kind.

Then there is another group of sciences, the social sciences. It is because of a chronic inertia in their development that sociometry has raised the question: how are social sciences possible? It has found that the social sciences like psychology, sociology, and anthropology require that its objects be given ‘research status’ and a certain degree of scientific authority in order to raise their level from a pseudo objective discipline to a. science which operates on the highest level of its material dynamics. It accomplishes this aim by considering the research objects not only as objects but also as research actors, not only as objects of observation and manipulation but as co-scientists and co-producers in the experimental design they are going to set up.” Our two chief experimental designs are sociometry and psychodrama.

* J.L. Moreno, Who Shall Survive?, 1934 and 1953. p. 63-64.

(Moreno & Moreno, 1970)

Moreno, J. L., & Moreno, Z. T. (1970). Origins of Encounter and Encounter Groups (Psychodrama and group psychotherapy monographs, no. 45). Beacon House.