HVPI Sunday morning

Me in the empty chair this morning, writing . . .

Me in the empty chair this morning, writing . . .

I am writing this post at a little circular table on the porch of Boughton Place. The whole “campus” here – two buildings and some open lawn – has a hippy feel to it: slightly ragged and messy, but infused with spontaneity and life. The bathroom I am using is, um, sub par. When I arrived there was old food in the communal fridge. But the grounds are planted with flowers and gardens. Nothing “looks good” – as in measures up to some quaint B&B standard. But everything’s functional. And this morning on this porch I feel like I am in a little slice of paradise. Everything works. And I have slept better these last three nights than I have in some time.

This is a quick post because we begin our penultimate day in 45 minutes. I took six pages of notes yesterday – and I am not a note taker. I am writing now without them because if I had them, I would begin to write a book. So . . . some spontaneous thoughts, impulses in keeping with the spirit of Psychodrama:

  • Rebecca gave her lecture on the history of Psychodrama yesterday and I was transfixed. So much about the man who gave birth to this work, the ideas he espoused, the way he and they were received (or not) by conventional institutions, his eccentric and difficult personality, all of it speaks to me in an essential way, the way something does when it finds the mission in your heart and dances with it.
  • Moreno was a doctor, not an analyst. His beginning in this work was through an improv ensemble he was a part of in Vienna called The Living Newspaper which he did for fun and stimulation. They brought the news to life through improvised theater. So the origin of this work is not scientific. It is playful and creative.
  • His initial work was not psychodrama, but sociometry – the study of how groups and individuals interact. He developed psychodrama to heal wounds in uncovered through sociometry.
  • His work in sociometry is the basis of the kind of work Facebook and Google is doing now, when they study the way you interact with groups on line.
  • His son, Jonathan Moreno, has written a book which I am ordering today about his dad called Impromptu Man which describes all of this and more in much greater detail. You can also hear him interviewed by Marty Moss-Cohane on Radio Times here. BTW Jonathan lives in Philadelphia and works at UPenn . . . .
  • Moreno’s concerns were grandiose. The deeper into this work he got the more he was convinced it was a solution to enormous problems he diagnosed in western culture. He said this work was to designed to prevent us all “from becoming robots”.
  • As a theatrical personality, he presented himself to the world extravagantly, wearing an operatic cape, for instance. His rejection of individual therapy techniques – like psychoanalysis – was bombastic, and he quickly alienated the conventional therapeutic community of the early – mid 20th century (which was a nest of vipers to begin with but that’s a different story).
  • The stage he built in 1936 – which we are working on now – has a balcony which Moreno said “is so God can be present” if the patient so desires. Unlike many therapeutic pedagogies, he did not reject spirituality, he embraced it.

. . . . yesterday I was a part of two psychodramas. My bond with the group of people I am studying with is deep. And this too is an aspect of this work. We build empathy for our fellow sufferers – the walking wounded we are all a part of – as we support each other in this work. And that empathetic work opens us up to our own unresolved issues. I can’t stress enough the way everyone in the room is being worked on by the work simultaneously in different ways and in different degrees, even through there is one protagonist who is ostensibly the center of our attention. It’s as if the protagonist is less the “star” of the show, but rather the text we are reading from to learn about ourselves.

Today, Rebecca will be having lunch with those of us who are not therapists, to talk about ways to apply this work in other ways. This too is a hallmark of psychodrama. Moreno created a deeply egalitarian ethos. His first workshops in New York City were open to the public and he worked with working class people off the street. In Vienna he created a group to support prostitutes. Even as there is great care and exactitude from our trainers about this work (and Rebecca has detailed the way Psychodrama has been wounded by charlatans who claimed to be teaching it but were actually damaging people), there is nothing precious about its dissemination. She wants to encourage us to use what we learn at this intensive in the rest of our work, responsibly.  Perhaps western medicine – and especially the world of psychological therapy –  can be characterized by a priestly attitude; that only the special and chosen ones can practice it, and those ones are the ones who decide who the next priests can be. Moreno and Psychodrama are a rejection of that attitude in that they are based in creativity, they embrace groups without qualification, and the training exists outside of academic institutions.

Which brings me to my final point this morning. A student asked Rebecca, why – if Psychodrama does such demonstrably good work for people – isn’t it more prevalent? The answer is complex. It has to do with the way Psychodrama resists empirical analysis, measurable outcomes. I promise you the people in the psychodramas I participated in yesterday were helped and healed. But can I measure that scientifically? No. And in its roots in creativity, Psychodrama has attracted a following which is creative (I think Rebecca used the term “artsy-fartsy”). The people attracted to this work are those of us who are comfortable with mystery, the unexplainable, with eros more than logos. Western medicine is dominated by scientists and academics, and to some extent, Psychodrama is based on an approach which rejects some of the central tenets of that establishment.

Lastly is Moreno himself, of whom Rebecca said “I love his work, but I don’t think I would have liked the man.” He described himself as a benign megalomaniac. Like so many creative trailblazers, it seems to me Moreno was born with Otherness, a yin/yang which shaped him and has work for worse, but mostly for better.