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Moreno’s Universe of discourse – what the hell is that.

To Peter Howie and other AANZPA Facebook friends


Hullo Peter,


Your thesis topic gives opportunity for an in depth exploration of both “warm up” and the body of core concepts that J L Moreno produced as he observed the human condition and worked to access and develop spontaneity and creativity for the health of the whole universe by micro-relational means. I am really pleased you have elected to tackle “warm up”.


When Lera Boroditsky used the word “thinking” or “thought” you suggest we could fit in “warm up” and indeed we can. If that suggests that they are synonyms then not so. You don’t propose that. Rather you propose that “warm up” has greater adequacy because it is richer in useful data.


There are problems with Lera’s commentary on Chomsky, and surprisingly for someone focussing on language and claiming research strengths, in suggesting he simply proposed ideas while she is research based – implying that she is scientific one. She doesn’t consider that she and Chomsky operate in entirely distinct “universes of discourse”. She claims that language influences culture; but might that not be reversed. Indeed culture and social influence of perception studied since Asche in social psychology since the mid-thirties, and considered by social-philosophers down the ages would suggest language follows behaviour movement and Sociometry and therefore “culture”. Chomsky did not propose theory lightly. He gave much thought to linguistics in the widest imaginable way. He was eminently suited to propose the possibility that all humans have in common cognitive processes that determine underlying processes of languages that environment, history and culture will differentiate and vary. Psychologists can claim that research demonstrates this or that and that empiricism is to be relied upon. However the area of social-psychological research is notoriously confined to simplistic and limited examples of human functioning. It is when they build theories that they simply propose their ideas which go far beyond the application that can be justified on the basis of their research. Most of their research is relatively trivial. (My own area in psychology at Masters was social-psychology. One of my teachers in Auckland, Margaret Wetherall, went on to her doctoral thesis at Aberdeen comparing the benefits in useful data novelists provide over social-psychologist’s by their research. She focused on the work of Doris Lessing.)


Never-the-less the work of Lera Boroditsky witnesses to the strength of cultural/societal influences in the constructions (Berger & Luckman) of what become human realities – or perhaps the specific universes (Maturana) of experience that each of us has individually. Looking at it from her ideas of the psychology of language form and structure. She does not choose to discuss, in her broadcast, the possibility of the  argument being stronger the other way round.


“It’s all in the warm up!” How often have we heard that cliche or truism proclaimed and approved amongst us? Yet it probably is a reality. What I think we should beware of is either the mysticism that leads to the elitisms of Ed or the search for grounded truth or communicable similes – boiled down explanations – with Adam. I’m glad Ed remind us, on Grouptalk, of Moreno’s uniqueness, and that Adam demands we be grounded in phenomena.


However I am quite sure nowhere else in any other thinker’s writing will we get to Moreno’s concepts. (“My God!”, I can’t quite believe the arrogance – even having perused all of human literature.)


When I was beginning a second or third search to get a better grip on Moreno’s “role” concepts in the mid “nineteen nineties”, I came to the thought that ‘cohesive thinking’ was not on the Morenian menu. Moreno’s legacy is ‘clues’. Numerous, scattered, inspiring and not very obviously connected up. The key concepts are however, crucially  inter-connected and cohesive when you put them on the table-top together. Indeed they cannot be separated. I sent my first drafts to Ann Hale and she made generous response. However she wrote that the collection of role factors I had made would involve her in so numerous considerations – in the moment as a ‘director’ – as to be beyond her actually bringing them to mind. Me too – of course. She went on to write that her own guide to observing role is “The Canon of Creativity”. Working, as she did, with Moreno in his latter years on the student edition of WSS might well have embedded that in her thinking. The ‘Canon’ diagram – or imago – does seem a ‘snapshot’ of Moreno’s vision of how,humans ‘work’. The circumference track reminds how crucial is ‘warm up’.


I am encouraged to remind myself of some key Morenian concepts:

Warm up, Functioning Form – Role(embryonic, rudimentary, adequate, over-developed, conflicted & progressing, surviving, striving & comprising: thinking, feeling & action), S Factor – Spontaneity(Levels: 1) Taking, 2) Playing, Creating), Creativity, Conserve, Sociometry, Action form: Psychodramatic, Sociodramatic, Social(social position – social status – social expectations), Psychosomatic, Doubling, Mirroring …



I doubt that our understanding of “warm up” will be helped by simile or comparison with other discipline’s language or common use terms – except to indicate the general ‘ball park’. (For example: readying, anticipating, focus, intrigue, creative-listening, imagination, eagerness, etc, etc.)


Moreno’s cohesion is revealed when his set of unique concepts are seen in dynamic interconnection. As you said at conference, describing doesn’t help except sometimes with engagement with a creative enquirer in a personal chat. Opening experience in the present and tracking the dramatic interaction certainly does make discernment possible. Enacting an example can open the mind.


You say you open conversations with peers who respond with their own experiences and understandings. In doing that you increase your store of data. I’m not adding to data here but hope the perspective I take may be useful. When I used the word “unique” I should perhaps have stayed with the idea of “universe of discourse”. I am reminded of a workshop at the Sydney Conference of ’88 led by Donnell Miller. It was on Anger and he argued and demonstrated that psychodrama does not work well if the director takes the route of dramatising abstractions and metaphors. (i.e. “Choose some one to be the anger.”) Donnell pointed out that psychodrama is relational and the dramas are essentially humans in relationships. Move outside of that the method loses integrity. I was very impressed and assisted by that. Gestalt does work with abstractions and metaphors. The dramas I have observed since 1988 have convinced me that Donnell was right. The connection with warm up is that I reckon to get people on board with Morenian eac concept we have to bring them into Moreno’s mind set or his “universe of discourse”. Creativity – and its Canon, spontaneity as an “S factor” with phases of development, role as a functioning form that includes three “components” and at least three “aspects” plus organisational gestalts and warm up that is inseparable from the Canon but also relates to phases of human activity, the inter-relationships displayed by Sociometry and so on.


However you tackle your doctoral thesis I look forward to wrestling with it and I have been stimulated and enthused by your writing as you did on our Facebook page.


Warm regards,



Stage a wonderful and particular place in reality

Stage for Dr Jacob Moreno’s psychodrama is a material construction designed so that realities, truth and soul are able to be opened, faced and known for what they are. Reality is what is both ordinarily lived in a slice of life plus all that is and all that can be – beyond the readily recognized realities. Reality is what we experience and enact in everyday living. On the psychodrama stage it can be enacted true and raw from both subjective and objective viewpoints. Moreno identifies five instruments for psychodrama production: the first instrument is Stage. Stage is then that particular place and setting where things actually happen just the way they do. Stage for psychodrama is that place set out for life experiences to be enacted with reality, truth and endless potential for new and expansive experience. Each construction, whether by our thinking about how things happen as they do, or whether by construction of a theatrical stage with measures taken for staging and production, informs the understanding of the other.

Staging and Reality

Psychodrama happens where a person gathers with others in a half circle around a space that becomes a stage for enactments and with a leader trained in psychodrama production may be the one to bring their story to life. Jacob Moreno created Psychodrama.

Moreno’s saw the “stage” as his first of five instruments, and he saw “reality” as third of four universals. Psychodrama aims to produces the reality of a person’s life – What has been, what is current and what yet may be. The stage can contain it all and dramatize it reveal the essential reality. The creativity of everyone is brought together to be true to what is. Companians as audience are ready to be assistant actors. It is not only the future that is exploratory and open to new possibilities. Past and current life is explored, expanded and there is freedom to experiment with any alternative – nothing is ruled out.

The actor who begins follows their life’s narrative and is the protagonist, the audience member who comes from amongst the audience so that everyone considers in action and interaction how things work in their lives. One story links to all stories. One life has commonalities in theme and dreams to all others. The lead actor is the source of data consciously and unconscious. They are playwright, script writer, producer, as a psychodrama proceeds they play the auxiliary egos of their life story. Their narrative brings forward their subjective and objective reality and their surplus reality.

On the coast

Living on the Sunshie Coast for a couple of months means beach sun some rain cold mornings and mid to low twenties for six hours a day.

The beach at low tide has strands of creamy sand soft smooth and firmed by the waters. these days the result of scouring storms leaves the volcanic rock jumble of twists and jags a slow awkward journey to make along the beach. For three months the beaches were cleaned up and graded to mound new sand dunes and recover the rocks. Three days churning waves whipped up by storms beyond the horizon were enough to set all the work to nought. Since then gentle movements has sand moving back again from beyond the rocky reefs that skirt the beach.

Coaching and Chunking

I havebeen trying to recall a word I used to use in latter stages of role training. I remembered the word today that was eluding me. It’s “chunking”. From NLP I think and behavioural therapy in the seventies may be. I used it to have groups of men to “Harness Anger and Stop Violence”. In role training coaching as they took up the new role (or drew on an old role in a new context) “chunking” was the word that I used to name the irritating process of pausing them and describing in detail how they had enacted that chunk. They were quickly willing to have each chunk, a success story. Going a small piece at a time as the role is being integrated/developed I suppose assisted the role to be well formed and mindfully appreciated. It is a point in the development of role where role taking freedom is moving up to the next level of freedom (spontaneity) to begin to be role played. This level being about easy flow it is strange to break the flow into bits (chunks) which logically interrupts the flow. How it works doesn’t matter. It certainly does. I first witnessed this in Max Clayton’s work he didn’t comment on what or why he did it. The effect was obvious. He didn’t call it chunking. Leaning theorists might say each successful element is being reinforced. Paradoxical therapists could say that the interruptions are resistances that have the CNS work harder to bind the parts into a whole that is seamless maybe.

Not Rehearsal

A prose-poem Not Rehearsal

In 1985 the five day Training Workshop ends. The trainer’s saying that “psychodrama is rehearsal for life” clashed with the vitality and immediacy of my experience. I went home and wrote a prose poem. I knew what it was for me. It was not rehearsal. Knowing what it is not for ourselves can begin our knowing of our own truth – a truth to a “self chosen path”.

A couple of Walter’s articles

I found this in my old notes. Gave it back to Walter who put it on his blog, and gave me a copy of the digital version.

Here it is:

Mirroring and Cybernetics

Here is a more recent one:

Engaging the Muse

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Reciprocity in therapy groups

Thinking further on reciprocity and groups, and reciprocity’s advantages and may be necessity for worthwhile, ethical and powerfully efficacious healthy developments, I have been remembering Jacob Moreno in his “sociometry” based “group psychotherapy”. He was “Doctor”, and “Doctor” was an identity of powerful influence, respect and status in the years of his lifetime (1889 – 1974).  In his groups he had everyone be “Doctor” and address each other that way. He knew they were the therapeutic agents to each other and that reciprocity is a community dynamic for health.

Dissonance and other essential cognitive distortions

Thinking about reciprocity and psychotherapeutic relationships had me recal Cognitive dissonance and Carl Festinger Festenger, who recognized such dissonance as operating when imbalances that discomfort us are in play, and where immediate active reponses are, or appear, not to be able to correct imbalances in the social context. The response that is made is to view the events in such a way that the actual actions taken are logically unexpected. Other distortions are within the syndromes that occur when losses, limitations or changes are experienced. Grief includes processes that distort reality and give rise to creative even magical or superstitious thinking. Some distortions occur in relation to the gaining of identity, as Tajfel discovered. The business of knowing or coming to integrate our beliefs about who we are as a person in the world or with a specific place in the world produces identity. In childhood we sweeten the limitating lemons by magnifying focus on the benefits we have, however mean, while souring or regarding less those advantages other children around us have or appear to have. Such distortions continue as identity is challenged or expanded through adulthood.

Reciprocity and mutuality in relationship

Language teacher on Niue in 1965 tought us to appreciate polynesian reciprocity. So careful for the stranger but taken for granted by the polynesian. What this mirrors to the western European is what it would mirror to Malaysian, Chilean or to be fair to any great ape or lesser ape or in some form all living creatures. Balance of relating and the importance in power management to mutuality, equity and efficacy in relationships and community are essential to self-direction, intimacy and self-esteem. This is not just self protective against being over powered it is societally significant in determining the sharing of power and ensuring the good health of communities and nations. Constitutional law is predicated on reciprocity.

In self-managing work-groups where productivity and quality and adequacy of service are crucial and where consensus decision making requires ensuring the place and influence of all members teams review relationships health and respect individual vulnerabilities and give assistance to each member’s ability to contribute adequately. Where vulnerabilities are owned and shared if the the relative vulnerabilities are not sufficiently balanced then sharing openness will diminish and well-being distress balances will be  hidden. In any such group, which can be seen to include family life, reciprocity is crucial.

In polynesia you give me I must give equal or more. Although come to think of it – it is not quite that simply regulated. Assessment is subtle and mutually appreciated wealth and material assets are precisely transparent through the community and every relationship has both sides able to assess differentials of need and resources and proportionality will be precisely judged by both sides so “more than” could be “less than” but according to resouce differentials “more than” proportionally! In 1967 the building workers as their custom was sat around a banana box and put their fortnights wages down for one man to have all that was available after each of them took out what was absolutely needed for him and his family that week. Needs vary week to week family size differs and each is happy that on their turn they will get what is there for the major expenditure which other wise they’d need to save for in a pot or a Post Office account. This was adjusted reciprocity and trusted community provision. No complaints.

What of reciprocity in psychotherapy or any contracted relationship of helping by one of another – whether entered into freely or under duress. “Differentials of power” are recognised to be crucial as are “transferences”. But, what if we explore this endeavour at base exchange realities of reciprocity and balance. Then cognitive dissonance becomes a key player. The first question is: is there sufficient equity to sustain the health of both parties and what are the leverages towards health where the focus, and the contract, are to one person’s health and not the other.