Psychodrama theory: three basic assumptions


by Paola de Leonardis


This contribution is a concise elaboration of the fundamental concepts that make up the three basic assumptions of Moreno’s theory: the energetic theory of spontaneity-creativity, the role theory as the conceptual basis of individual personality development, and the tele-theory linking interpersonal relationships to social development. These three assumptions are closely connected and constitute the interweaving of the intrapsychic, interpersonal and social dimensions that characterise human life. After a general presentation, the author proposes an introduction to each of them, followed by definitions of the main concepts that comprise them.

The theory of spontaneity-creativity, the theory of roles, the theory of tele

Some key concepts distinguish the psychodramatic approach and establish its specific theory of reference. The main ones are spontaneity-creativity, role, and tele. Each of these concepts covers important psychological aspects, and each of them organises broad areas of psychodramatic theory. Together, they generate coherent conceptual constructions that constitute essential chapters of psychology, outlining basic theoretical assumptions of psychodrama. From the idea of spontaneity-creativity as the driving force of human action comes the energetic-evolutionary conception of psychodramatic theory (Moreno, 1980, p.19; p.115 ff.). From the concept of the role as observable behaviour, and more specifically of the role/counter-role relationship, springs the theory of personality formation and therefore also a particular theory of child development (Moreno, 1980, p.76 ff.; 1985, p.253). From the identification of the tele as the primary interpersonal affective tension springs a complex theory of the formation of social groups, their matrix, and the interpersonal dynamics that characterise them (Moreno, 1980, p.76 ff.; 1985, p.253).

We can therefore speak of three distinct theories: 1) the theory of spontaneous creativity as an energetic-pulsional theory; 2) the theory of roles as a theory of personality development; and 3) the theory of tele as a theory of interpersonal relationships and group and society formation. These theories constitute extremely original and, at the same time, complex conceptual sets, the formulation of which was possible at a time in history (the first decades of the last century) when it was necessary to propose interpretative assumptions of psychological phenomena, as there were no common points of reference on which to compare and weigh one’s observations and experiences. Moreno was a pioneer, as were many others, starting with Freud.

Central to the formulation of a psychological theory was, and still is, the internal coherence between concepts and observations: a coherence that the main psychological currents have built up over time, enriching and diversifying themselves. This was the case for behaviourism and cognitivism, and for psychoanalysis and Gestalt psychology, as well as for psychodramatic theory, which Moreno formulated during more than fifty years of reflective elaboration and practical experience, in a continuous exchange of interaction and mutual integration.

Some psychological approaches have been more widespread than others gaining a culturally hegemonic position in some countries, as with behaviourism in the USA and psychoanalysis in Europe. In recent times, psychodrama has had a considerable diffusion in many countries of the world – starting with the migratory and popular commitment of Moreno himself – but in none of them has it gained a central position. It has remained, like many of the humanistic psychologies and expressive psychotherapies, a complementary – additional rather than secondary – approach.

It should be noted, however, that times have now changed considerably in psychology. Psychoanalysis has diversified into branches that have brought it considerably closer to humanistic and relational theories. Behaviourism-cognitivism is integrating the contributions of evolutionism and neuroscience. Social psychology no longer has any boundaries to the intrapsychic, and vice versa, of course. In every branch of psychological thought today, it is impossible to conceive of a solution of continuity between social, group and individual. So, Moreno’s three basic assumptions do not stand on their own, each of them finds indispensable support in the other two when one is to widen the questions concerning them with respect to mental functioning – individual and collective – in its complexity.

In the following text I set out the key concepts of each of the three theories: 1) the spontaneity-creativity theory, 2) the role theory and 3) the tele-theory. I hope they can be an opportunity for exchange, discussion and possibly correction within the world of psychodrama.

Spontaneity/creativity as an energy theory of reference in psychodrama

The centrality of the binomial spontaneity/creativity in Moreno’s thought is given by several factors: its relational importance, its artistic value, and its behavioural declinations. The hypothesis of spontaneity/creativity as the driving force behind human action, independent of libido or economic motives, was formulated early on by Moreno. He focused on the centrality of spontaneity in The Theatre of Spontaneity, published anonymously in 1924 (Moreno, 1980). He explored the concept and its implications in Who shall survive? A New Approach to the Problem of Human Interrelations (Moreno, 1980). Subsequently he dedicated to spontaneity-creativity one of his most articulated and organic writings, included in Psychodrama, Vol. I – Part 4, ‘Principles of Spontaneity’ (Moreno, 1985).

The psychological influence assigned by Moreno to spontaneity/creativity in individual and collective life is so great that I believe it is important to frame this binomial in an evolutionary vision, which allows us to define its peculiar aspects, starting from the energetic one, therefore also pulsional and motivational.

The reference to the drive aspects in the title of this chapter may give rise to perplexity, since there is a general tendency to subordinate the energy aspect to the relational one, considering spontaneity as a “mental function” that can be activated by role assumptions. I do not disagree with this definition, but neither do I espouse it as it could be misleading. Rather than as a “mental function”, spontaneity as Moreno presents it to us it seems to me better defined as a “mental state” or “mental condition”. The mental state of spontaneity activates spontaneous roles and can in turn be activated by environmental conditions that facilitate the assumption of unusual or ‘free’ roles, or rather freer than usual, as are the roles assumed in the dimension of play, of the as if, a field in which, according to Moreno, spontaneity can be intentionally developed.

Moreno himself had great difficulty in separating the concept of spontaneity from that of energy; in his writings one often finds, even confusingly, the term energy associated with that of spontaneity. But he repeats it several times in his basic chapter on spontaneity: spontaneity is not an energy but rather a catalyst, an organiser of energy. Leaving aside the idea that spontaneity is a “thing” that one possesses or does not possess, as it could be, precisely, an energy charge, it is easy to configure spontaneity as a mental condition that can be achieved.

In the following contribution I limit myself to giving a series of definitions of key terms in the sphere of the theory of spontaneity/creativity, hoping that they may constitute an opportunity for comparison, debate and in-depth study. Spontaneity as an organiser of energy in evolutionary roles leads us to ask to what extent, and in what ways, instincts and drives enter into this organisation. I think this is an important question, because the state of spontaneity probably corresponds to the connection of deep (archaic, emotional) brain parts with sophisticatedly organised brain circuits such as the cortical ones.

Today, the instinctive and drive aspects do not seem to interest psychology much, including depth psychology itself, which built a theoretical framework around the libidinal drive that was so articulated and flexible that it survived and was even enormously enriched by the change from the drive paradigm to the relational paradigm. And yet how can one conceive of a motivational theory without taking these aspects into account? In the list of key concepts relating to the theory of spontaneity I include Morenian terms as ‘hunger for action’, which is the precondition for spontaneity, and ‘worming up’ as the main process of activating spontaneity.

Key concepts of the theory of spontaneity/creativity


From a neurophysiological standpoint, spontaneity can be defined as the mental state, or condition, in which relatively open neural circuits are rendered available between the deeper cerebral levels, of a more archaic formation, where sensations are elaborated and emotions produced, and different sections of the cerebral cortex are designated for sophisticated intellectual functions.

From a behavioural standpoint, the state of spontaneity is defined as the condition which allows the individual, in the hic et nunc [here and now] of a specific moment and situation, to carry out an action or give an appropriate response to one’s inner needs as well as being adequate compared to the surrounding reality. Therefore, the state of spontaneity is revealed in Moreno’s classic formulation, as “a new response to a known situation and an adequate response to a new situation”.

Characteristics of the state of spontaneity – The state of spontaneity is characterised by a balanced combination of emotional and cognitive aspects related to the given situation. It allows an individual to pass easily and flexibly from the level of fantasy to the level of reality and viceversa, above all in unpredictable environmental situations (Moreno,1964, pp. 149-71). The state of spontaneity favours the creative faculty, particularly developed in mankind.

The individual can be trained to access the state of spontaneity, above all offering him diversified occasions to assume roles in unusual and stimulating relational contexts and, in any case, in environments and situations with a low level of anxiety and pleasant psychophysical activation such as game situations (warming-up, role-play games).

Lastly, the level of spontaneity in an individual is theoretically measurable. Moreno formulated a “spontaneity test” that was later adopted and developed by several authors including David Kipper who, in 2007, validated his “SAI-R” (Kipper & Shemer, 2007, pp. 127-136).


Creativity is a faculty of innovative intervention in the surrounding environment, that can be expressed in a relational, artistic, scientific, technological, social, and professional form, at different levels and with various modalities. Creativity is particularly activated in a state of spontaneity and is specifically connected to the term ‘poiein’, an ancient Greek word meaning to produce, create, from which we obtain ‘poiesis’, poem and poetry.

In Moreno’s theory, creativity is often contrasted with “cultural conserve”, which Moreno saw not as a cultural patrimony in its whole, which is an irreplaceable source of stimulus for innovation, but as ballast forced on the human mind by conservative social customs in relationships of power and financial interests.

Cultural conserve

The word ‘conserve’ is not a happy one, even in English it makes you think of food conservation. Conserve stands for what is conserved and cultural conservation consists of the cultural patrimony transmitted in prehistoric times and in human history. What is interesting here is the relationship between creativity and cultural (conserve) patrimony. Moreno stressed how cultural conserve – above all in technological times (“robotised”) that then began to show the risks connected to it of conditioning the masses – can act as ballast with regards to human creativity, above all the creativity “of the moment”. The category of the moment has regained a position of importance in modern psychological research, including implied consciousness and intuition.

Undoubtedly, laws, regulations, customs and uses – which are a part of the cultural patrimony – can act as social regulating factors able to slow down the inventiveness and creativity of an individual. However, that does not dim the rich function of stimulus that the cultural patrimony – above all, artistic and scientific – continues to exercise on the creativity of single individuals.

Hunger for action

This is an original Moreno term that denotes an instinctual energetic state, enclosed in the word ‘hunger’, already expressed by a newborn baby with massive movements (devoid of any precise form) that, with the growing in age and maturing of neurophysiological structures, is gradually transformed into intentional and directed acts. Act-hunger is expressed in the small baby in a state of total spontaneity, because every thing and every situation is new to him. In a broader sense, Act-hunger in the individual indicates an impulse to place himself in a relationship with his surrounding world, with the passing of time configuring the impulse for exploration, the search for what is new, until it takes the form of ‘thirst’ for knowledge (epistemophilic impulse).

The S-C Factor

Moreno merged two concepts into one, spontaneity and creativity, coining the concept of the S-C Factor, to indicate and emphasise the process of mental activation that uses an energy charge, transforms it in an act, structures it into roles, to finally organise it, through interaction and relationship, in patterns of roles or matrix or clusters or constellations of roles, with a creative result (innovative, evolutionary) compared to the existential potential of the individual.


The state of spontaneity can be reached through a warming-up process of the mind-body system, firstly of a psychomotor kind and then of a relational kind (also called psychodrama warm-up). The psychomotor warm-up in psychodrama is achieved through games of body expressiveness, gestural communication, playful interactions and so on. The relational warm-up or psychodrama warm-up, is achieved through activities in conditions of “as if”, interactive games and role-playing games in which the parts played are defined (a parent, a house holder, a policeman, a disappointed lover, etc.) but completely improvised and free in their interpretation.

The theory of roles: a relational reading of personality development

The theory of roles is the second of three basic assumptions of Moreno’s psychological theory. The hypothesis is that vital energy, which the newborn expresses through massive movements, is gradually organised into roles and counter-roles in interaction with his/her auxiliary world, in primis with the mother or caregiver in the neonatal dyad. In Moreno’s words, the personality emerges from the roles and not vice-versa (Moreno, 1964, p. 157). In grasping the meaning of this statement, the theory of roles can be defined as psychogenic (De Leonardis, 2012), that is to say, a generator of psyche as the structure and functioning of the personality of an individual originate from the formation of roles in relational interaction (Moreno, 1980, p.76 ff.; 1985, p.253).

Moreno gives the term role a much richer meaning than the current one: it is not only a basic unit of behaviour but a basic unit of personality formation and development of the individual. Recalling the use of the term role in theatre, Moreno underlines that it is precisely from the theatrical “trying on the role” that the actor not only discovers unknown aspects of himself but, realising them in the role played, dissolves a potential conflict: that between his own role potentiality, prey to the meshes of his affective expansiveness, and one of his powerful crystallised roles that prevents the other from manifesting itself.

Moreno says:

“Every role is a fusion of individual and collective elements, resulting from two orders of factors: its collective denominators and its individual differentiations. It may be useful to distinguish: the assumption of the role, i.e. the fact of accepting a defined, completely structured role that does not allow the subject to take the slightest liberty….; the playing of the role, which admits of a certain degree of freedom; and the creation of the role, which leaves ample room for the subject’s initiative… The perceptible manifestations of the ego appear in the roles in which it operates. (Moreno, 1980, p.76, emphasis by the author).

The extension of role structuring in matrices as a key factor in the formation and development of individual personality has been proposed and argued by several authors. It is worth mentioning, among others, the contribution of Jaime Rojas-Bermudez (psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and psychodramatist, student of Moreno), who has devoted himself above all to the study of the formation of the ego through the matrix structuring of proto-roles, that is, of the roles that are formed through the first experiences of satisfaction/unsatisfaction of physiological needs: breathing, eating, sleeping, urinary expulsion and faecal expulsion (Rojas Bermudez, 1984; 1997).

On this basis, I include many terms relevant to child development and personality structure in the list of key concepts relating to the theory of role/counter-role.

Key concepts of the role/counter-role theory


Moreno defines a role as a functioning form or way of being of an individual in a given situation at a precise moment. The term is not considered synonymous of behaviour, though it does play a part in it (the part visible in one’s environment). In Moreno’s psychological theory, the role has a meaning that is both broad and simple as it is the smallest element of which the structure of the psyche is formed. A fully developed role contains a part anchored to the social structure, a part that is rooted in the individual’s personality and, if it is a role that is activated in a spontaneous state, a part of subjective innovation.

Types of Roles

Depending on their level of development and level of spontaneity, roles are divided into Crystallized Roles, Coping Roles and Evolutive Roles. From these types of roles we can distinguish proto-roles, or roles that form in the newborn’s first experiences relating to his physiological needs and primary existential functions. The following proto-roles can be identified from those needs and functions: 1) the role of one who ingests (eater); 2) the role of one who expels solid matter (defecator); 3) the role of one who expels liquid matter (urinator); 4) the role of one who breathes (breather); 5) the role of one who explores (explorer); 6) the role of one who is awake or sleeps (sleeper), or better still, one who passes from a sleeping state to an awake state and vice-versa.

Roles and Counter-roles

The role/counter-role binomial is the basic unit in any relationship, whether interpersonal or simply interactive. It constitutes the primary experiential unit. The distinction between the two poles of the binomial depends on the position of the observer who will assign, to one or the other part of the polarity, the name of role or counter-role. The role can also be expressed with inanimate counter-roles: from the slats on the cot explored by a small child, to his toys, the sky at sunset in which we dive in sometimes, to a piece of marble under the touch of a sculptor.

Role Matrices

Over the course of their gradual formation, in relation to the neurophysiological development of the child, the roles connect and organise into intrapsychic matrices. An intrapsychic matrix means a configuration, imaginable as three-dimensional, of interconnected roles. The roles in this structure constitute connecting nodes. Connections between the nodes are established by emotional and cognitive processes of which implicit or explicit memory remains. The area in which the matrix is contained is comprised of tensions/instincts/drives/impulses magnetised by prevalent needs during the various phases of development.

Some role matrices are recognised as principal role matrices, which are formed during early child development, and can be identified according to a chronological sequence as the: 1) Fusional or Maternal Matrix formed on the basis of security/insecurity experiences; 2) Individualisation Matrix, based on the quality of the separation/individualisation process; 3) Alterity Matrix, based on the need for individual exploration and expansion; 4) Family Matrix or Oedipal Matrix, on which gender identity is formed; 5) Social Matrix or Peer Matrix, which organises the capacity for interpersonal relations between many; 6) Values Matrix or Social Ethics Matrix, on which adherence to and participation in social norms, collective values and customs are based.

Once formed, the role matrices remain operative for the life-span of the individual; they function in a state of relative interconnection, each with an operative prevalence in specific relationship contexts and in relation to the experiences and personality traits of the individual.

Child Development Theory

In Moreno’s development theory (Moreno, 1985, pp. 113 ff., pp.145- 146), the newborn develops starting from a dyadic condition that is barely differentiated from the mother or caregiver (a condition Moreno calls ‘First Universe’), that gradually, and with the help of the auxiliary world surrounding the child, transforms into a differentiated condition (that Moreno calls ‘Second Universe’, which with the ‘First Universe’ completes the ‘Identity Matrix’), and from which further states of development begin to form.

In the present psychodramatic formulation of child development (Consolati & Dotti, 2010; Boria (2005; De Leonardis, 2012, pp. 35-58), the stages of development are marked by the organisation of constellation roles around the prevalent needs and impulses in the different ages of life. These role organisations are called Intrapsychic Matrices (see above: Role Matrices).


Moreno’s concept of personality has a decidedly relational nature. Personality is seen as structured through role/counter-role experiences, which differ in the various ages of life, and that due to their characteristics of intensity and/or constancy are organised into role matrices, which in turn configure organised constellations of personality traits over time.

Personality Structure

The Ego is formed by introjected roles and counter-roles. The ‘Me’ is formed by roles and counter-roles reflected from others and in turn introjected by the Ego. Two ‘inner positions’ can be distinguished in the intrapsychic configuration of the Ego, one active and one reflexive, respectively called: Ego-actor, agent in the world and holder of emotions, affections, intentions; and Ego-observer (or inner participant), representative of implicit and explicit knowledge, and interlocutor in relation to cultural and social instances. Therefore, developed differently, the Ego-observer contains what psychodynamic theory indicates as the Super-Ego, Ideal of the Ego and Ideal-Ego.

The nucleus of Self can be understood as an aggregate of genetic endowment, vital impulses and primary experiences linked to the ‘proto-roles’, or delineations of role, connected to the primary functions and biological needs. It contains in nuce the ‘existential project’ of the individual, which is both personal and collective, as the two aspects are inseparable on a genetic level as well as in the evolutionary process due to the relational character of the evolutionary process itself.

The Self in its entirety as a dynamic entity can be envisaged as a nucleus of Self immersed in a substance of increasing complexity and organisation, that can be defined as sense of Self. Understood as such, the Self is a depository for every experience, the seat of every form of implicit and explicit memory, the direct overseer of the attentional system of the individual, and guardian for the survival of the nucleus of Self.

Self and Ego – The ‘Self’ makes use of the Ego (that is a structure of roles/counter-roles organised in a bipartisan actor/observer manner) in its relations with the outer world and with its own inner world.

Functioning of the Personality

The personality functions on the basis of the configuration of the various role matrices, which correspond to different motivational systems. Genetic components become part of the role matrices in measures that are hard to trace, which in any case connect in a certain amount to conditions of primary physiological needs (hunger, thirst, sleep, etc.) and relational needs (need for security, warmth, autonomy, relations, etc.)

Each role matrix is structured around a precise constellation of primary physiological needs and relations that mutate according to the phase of child development. Despite this evolutionary linearity, the functioning of the personality forms a complex system as the role matrices, from the time they first start forming, are interconnected to each other according to the experiences of the individual and the contexts in which they come into play.

Motivational systems emerge and develop from the role matrices that configure differentiated personality characteristics on an individual level as well as differentiated relational models on a collective level.

Motivational Systems

Well-developed role matrices configure unsaturated motivational systems, open to connections with each other and the dynamic synthesis of new experimental experiences coming from the interaction of the individual with the outer world. In psychodramatic theory, the individuation of the principal motivational systems embraces the reading of relational psychoanalysis (Lichtenberg, 1989; 2001) and motivational evolutionary theory (Liotti, 2008), but it is also consistent with the Morenian idea of personal role matrices. Six principal motivational systems are thus recognized:

  1. the motivational system connected to physiological needs;
  2. the motivational system connected to the caregiving (regarding both the giving and receiving of care);
  3. the motivational system connected to the process of individual recognition and autonomy, of which the assertive-aversive system is a part;
  4. the motivational system connected to the sexuality-sensuality drive, distinct from but often closely connected to the motivational system of caring;
  5. the motivational system of exploration, of individual expansion and research;
  6. the motivational system of social aggregation and cooperation, of sharing and reciprocity, and of the configuration of group values.

The theory of tele: from interpersonal relationship to social organization

The theory of tele is the third of three basic assumptions of Moreno’s psychological theory. It is based on the hypothesis of the existence, in man, of a faculty of interpersonal recognition, due to intraspecific phylogenetic endowment, which, except for a certain level of socio-cultural familiarity, is explicit in perceiving the other in their own specific individuality. That perception, called tele, is characterized by the subjective emotional colouring of attraction, indifference or repulsion, of different degrees and independent of both reciprocity and transferal tensions produced by previous relational experiences.

The concept of tele – a completely new term coined by Moreno –links together the individuals in a group or community. Moreno attributes tele with the formation of interpersonal networks of relations, which he originally called telematrices on which are structured both group matrices as well as intrapsychic matrices (inner groups). Moreno anticipates the concept of tele in The Theatre of Spontaneity, where he talks about how to make two states of spontaneity compatible and interacting:

Definitions such as ‘feeling’ or ‘condition’ are inadequate when dealing with a state of spontaneity, because we are not only referring to the process that takes place within a person, but also to the flow of feeling directed towards another person’s state of spontaneity. From the contact between two states of spontaneity, centred, of course, in two different persons, an interpersonal situation arises. That can express both harmony and friction.” (Moreno, 1980, p.190, emphasis by the author).

The concept of tele is clearly formulated by Moreno in Who shall survive? A New Approach to the Problem of Human Interrelations (ibid, pp. 284-301; pp. 313-314; p. 328), where he distinguishes from the concept of empathy, which, according to Moreno, concerns “one-way affective projection”, and from the Freudian concept of transference or “unconscious projection of imaginary experiences onto the person of the physician”, which do not take into account the resulting socio-affective structures.

The concept of tele contains, according to Moreno, above all the sense of a reciprocal affective tension: a physiological organisation oriented towards interpersonal recognition. Just as language has required the development of “at least two distinct and complementary organs acting reciprocally on each other” – the organ of vocal articulation and the organ of listening and understanding – so too tele is the result of the development of the tensions of attraction, rejection or indifference given by the perception of the proximity of a fellow human being. A feeling expressed by one individual in the direction of another must be primed at a distance, so: “… to express the simplest unity of feeling, transmitted from one individual to another, we shall use the term tele, from the Greek ‘far away’.” (ibid., 1980, p.288).

Moreno notes that he lives in an era in which sociology limits itself to the study of the masses, trying to measure the tendencies of populations, and in which so-called collective psychology limits itself to describing reactions (e.g. loss of individuality): for this reason he finds himself compelled to create new terms for new concepts concerning group interaction, that is “the field that extends between different organisms”.

Moreno specifies: “Every individual functions in a system delimited by two kinds of frontiers: the affective expansiveness of his personality and the socio-affective pressure exerted on him by the environment in which he lives.” (ibid., 1980, p.192). This socio-affective pressure – which in Moreno’s hypothesis has neurophysiological origins prior to the birth of the Self – exerts its profound influence even on an individual who is hypothetically completely isolated, and has been structured throughout the millennia in various forms and social frontiers capable of modelling and protecting individuals: the family group, the peer group, the work group, and so on.

These considerations gave rise to sociometry, which Moreno developed to detect and measure the affective tensions of telic origin that give configuration and cultural consistency to social groups. The theory of tele contains concepts that are perhaps the most challenging and, with the exception of sociometry, least shared outside the world of psychodrama. The following list includes key terms referring to both the interpersonal and intrapsychic dimensions of groups.

Key concepts of the tele theory


This is an original Moreno term derived from the Greek telè = distance. Moreno defines tele as the basic bonding unit that connects the individuals in a group or in a community, of any size, whether they be very small or very large (Moreno, 1980, pp.180-190). Moreno states that the tele develops in a field of action that takes place outside the boundaries of the single organism and that extends between the different organisms. Both interpersonal and social bonds originate from the tele: that is why we say that tele is the basic sociogenic unit (De Leonardis, 1994, pp. 45-50), the generator of the group for interpersonal socio-affective aspects, and in society for affective, cultural, regulatory and organisational aspects.

Characteristics of Tele

The affective expansiveness that the tele represents is delimited on one side by the individual’s personality, and on the other by the socio-affective pressure of the environment in which the individual lives. According to Moreno, the affective colouring of tensions of sensorial origin, called telic tensions, which connect individuals in a group or a community, can be attractive (positive tele), repulsive (negative tele) or neutral (indifferent tele). The affective colouring of the tele that flows between two people in a group is subjective, therefore, there can be reciprocity between them (two people both perceive attraction, or repulsion, or indifference), or opposition (one person perceives attraction, the other repulsion or indifference, or vice-versa).

Tele, Empathy and Transference

Empathy – Moreno said – is a one-way positive affective perception: a person perceives tensions, emotions, conceptions, of another person but not vice-versa. The prevalent psychological function in play here is identification with someone. Transference is the emotional tension that transfers to another individual tensions, emotions, previous conceptions, relived through an unconscious evocation of significant emotional experiences and correlated through various channels to the person present. The prevalent psychological function in play here is projective identification. Tele is the faculty of perceiving the other in their specific subjectivity, receiving a sensation that can be positive, negative or neutral. The prevalent psychological function in play here is recognition of alterity.


This means the condition of reciprocal positive tele. Through the encounter condition, perception of the other, in their full subjectivity, is broad and deep (“…I will look at you with your eyes, and you will look at me with mine…”: Moreno, 1971). The encounter is a phenomenon of the moment, taking place in the here and now; but it often constitutes a point of arrival in a relationship. To stress its exceptional quality, the term ‘Encounter’ is often written with a capital letter. The Encounter represents an interpersonal relationship model in which the subjectivities remain clearly distinct while, in reciprocity, openness of oneself and access to the interiority of the other are at their maximum. Therefore, it constitutes an experience of expansive abundance and evolutional movement. According to Moreno psychodrama, with its rules of suspension interpersonal dialogue and judgement, creates the ideal conditions to generate forms of Encounter among members of the group.

Interdependent relationships and intersubjective relationships

The experience of Encounter (positive reciprocal tele), that the setting of psychodrama encourages, becomes the basis for the forming of interpersonal relationships characterised by reducing transferal tension to a minimum and with acceptance of the subjectivity of the other and oneself, thus, relationships free from affective dependence or counter-dependence. Reciprocal recognition and acceptance promote openness to the new and, through sharing, implement the process of personal individualisation and the progressive discovery of one’s own evolutional path.

The Group

The tele represent the “affective cement” in the process of formation of groups. According to Moreno, the group is an affectively significant social unit through which an individual can achieve change also in his social aspects, and the inclusive social change of personal aspects of group members. The qualities that characterize a group are welcomed in psychodrama, as highlighted by K. Lewin, and which differentiate it from being just an aggregation of people: its being more than the sum of its parts, its type of inner or hierarchical structure, the common goal shared by its members.

External Groups-Internal Groups

External groups include every form of familial and social grouping. Internal groups, or intrapsychic groups, are understood as interiorised forms of external groupality, for example, the family nucleus during various ages of life, or a group of friends compared to an ideal group of peers. A relative isomorphism is hypothesised in the structure and dynamics that govern external groups and internal groups; their organisational matrix and possibility of continuous modification through the streams of information they experience is very similar.

The Psychodrama Group

Not all groups are bearers of individual and social change. According to Moreno, the psychodrama group is the prototype of a group of change. This is due to: 1) its structure regulated by a sense of parity between its members, confidentiality and reciprocal reliability; 2) shared rules for valorisation of each individual’s subjective truth, withholding of judgement one on the other, and confidentiality with respect to the outside world; 3) the shared common aim of reciprocal individuative development and Encounter. That is why Moreno defines the psychodrama group as locus, medium e agens di terapia.

Social Matrices

The network of telic tensions forming bonds between people belonging to a social group is called a social matrix (Moreno’s original definition is telematrix). The social matrix has a horizontal dimension, related to the here-and-now, and a vertical dimension, diachronic, marked by events that characterise it over time. As in the case of role matrices, a social matrix can take on very different forms: it can be crystallised and rigid or, on the contrary, dynamic and unsaturated. The social matrix is dynamic when it continues to mutate and become enriched over time, and it is defined as unsaturated when the telic connections within it are changeable and, though reorganising themselves each time in relatively stable structures, maintain open significances. Every group has its own social matrix: the group is formed, develops and dies, with it.

Intrapsychic Matrices

These are the matrices of inner groups, or intrapsychic groups, formed based on social, cultural and familiar transmissions, as well as on personal experiences of significant groups. Widely accepted within the Morenian framework, is the distinction G.H. Foulkes made between the Transpersonal Matrix (formed by the sharing of common social and cultural aspects: customs, language, institutions, etc.), the Familiar Matrix (formed by experiences in tight and extended familiar groups) and the Personal Matrix (formed by the two preceding matrices, and the combination of all of the individual’s experiences of groups over time). The personal matrix of each individual is connected, in a continuous flow, to the social matrix of every new group that he becomes a part of (Foulkes, 1977/2019).

Group Sociometry

Sociometry is the method Moreno elaborated to detect social or group matrices and measure their current characteristics and mutations over time. Sociometry can be carried out through writing (in a form that is not shared by the members) or through action. In the latter, its diagnostic significance, compared to the state of the group, becomes therapeutic, which means it encourages the development and change of the group itself. In fact, the carrying out of active sociometry is shared by all the group, which gains awareness of its own sociometric characteristics in the here-and-now of action and therefore tends to restructure itself on a more complex evolutional level.

Sociogram – A basic sociometric unit.
Social Atom – Interpersonal (telic) network in a given moment.
Sociometric Encounter – A two-way relationship created from a sociometric experience.
Sociodynamic Effect – Consolidation of a part of the group and marginalisation of other members.
Sociodynamic Decline – Weakening of affective intensity (e.g., passage from a small group to a large group).
Sociometric Cohesion – Cohesive effect on the group (a tendency to good form).
Sociometric Effectiveness – Effectiveness dependent on shared objectives (versus the disruptive potential of sociometry).
Perceptive Effectiveness – Communication of how the other members of the group are perceived, perception on how one is viewed by others, and self-perception within the group.

Social Atom

Frequently, in psychodrama literature there is an overlapping between the terms “Social Atom” and “Personal Sociometry”. The social atom is the sociometric representation of an inner group (familial, professional, friends, etc.) of an individual, that is the dynamic representation of the way in which the interiorised group is perceived by one of its components according to a significant criterion (e.g., the level of trust/distrust, affective closeness/distance, etc.). The sociometric representation of a social atom can refer to the present (e.g., my friends today), the past (e.g., my friends from adolescence), or the entire existence of an individual (e.g., the real friends in my life).

Co-conscious and Co-unconscious

According to Moreno, the concepts of co-conscious and counconscious refer to shared experiences, that have remained ingrained because of emotional and/or cognitive significance, included or not included in the defined field of consciousness. These functions are active in every age of life, even though a predominant part in their formation comes from primary experiences of the young child in the dyadic relationship with his caregivers, not recorded in his memory due to neurological immaturity. The prefix ‘co-’ is not used only to underline the fact that the recorded experiences are shared. Coconscious and co-unconscious are distinguishable from consciousness and unconsciousness because they are conceived as internalisations of experiences authentically co-lived by two or more people, experiences in which each person has put something of himself, and of how the ‘other’ was perceived by the other, and came to become an integral part of the experience itself.

A co-experience of this kind is only possible in a tele relationship, in which each person has the perception of reality of the other in his unicity and subjectivity. This does not mean that the people co-involved in this co-lived experience live it in the same manner; the true substance of co-conscious and co-unconscious is the part of the experience in which each person has a significant perception of the ‘alterity’ of the other, or of the others co-involved, and as such he internalises it and makes it his own, thereby nourishing his own evolutional process.


In agreement with psychiatry, Moreno indicates sociatry as the discipline for the curing of society. It was created as a possible response to the vision of humanity restricted by mechanisms of ever broadening economic and psychological power, potentially subjugated to technological invasiveness to which it delegates its social expansiveness and, however, today as yesterday is dominated by insecurity, anxiety and fear of change.

The values Moreno indicates as essential for liberating man from such restrictions are co-responsibility and co-creativity in the personal dimension, as well as in the collective one. The prefix “co-” better defines these values, which inserted into a universal “sense of us” (us as that totality of creatures in the universe) includes the individual and society, at the same time opening-up to diversity, comparison with, and transformation through it.

Moreno’s operative proposal for implementing these values starts from the bottom: from the group, which is from the formation of groups in which those very values become shared and operative. According to Moreno, the psychodrama group is the group model from which to begin because – experiencing its warmth, expansive efficiency, creative potential and, therefore, its motivational strength – the individuals are moved to spread its spirit and its laws into their personal groups and social groups. The ideal multiplying capillary potential of this process is clear: the transformative dynamic of the world starts from the person, and its main instrument is the group.



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See also Mercader Larios C. (2013), Teoria y tecnica del psicodrama, Apuntes de Psicología, Vol. 31, n.3, pp. 321-325, http://rosarey. red- tico-es-la-teoria.

Information about the author:
Paola de Leonardis: Independent Individual & Family Services Professional, Psychodrama Trainer.