Moreno, Jacob Levy (1889-1974)

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MORENO, JACOB LEVY (1889-1974)

Jacob Levy Moreno, a Romanian physician and the creator of the psychodrama technique and sociometry, was born in Bucharest in 1889 and died in Beacon, New York in the United States in 1974.

Opinions vary concerning his exact date of birth: 1889 or 1892? It would seem that when he arrived in the United States he declared himself to be three years younger than he actually was. He was the son of Moreno Levy, who came from an old Sephardic Jewish family of Bulgarian origin (though Turkish by nationality), and his mother was Romanian. Failing business (his father sold funerary objects) forced the family to move repeatedly; they lived in Romania, Germany, Austria, and Hungary during his youth.

Moreno settled in Vienna where he began to study medicine and philosophy. He qualified as a physician in 1917 under the psychiatrist Otto Petzel. His double training, combined with his interest in theatre, very quickly led him to take an interest in the possibilities for expression offered by dramatic art and to seek a new therapeutic method using the cathartic efficacy of improvisation. Starting from this base he created an "experimental theatre" in Vienna in the 1920s, inviting the participants to propose and play scenes in which they would play different roles in turn. The purpose of these "role plays" was to sensitize each person to the different aspects of their own personality and those of their partners, to open the way for creative spontaneity and the expression of their emotional capacities.

He emigrated to the United States in 1925 and settled in Beacon, on the banks of the Hudson. While actively continuing his experiments with psychodrama (particularly family psychodrama), Moreno was increasingly drawn to study interpersonal relations and group dynamics. He particularly tried to introduce group therapy into psychiatry and into prisons (Sing Sing, for example). Research in this area formed the basis of sociometry, which he developed in a book entitled Who Shall Survive? published in 1934. Sociometric techniques aimed to provide an objective description of the interactions operating within groups, and to theorize about the different aspects of group interaction. Anxious to maintain the originality of his research, Moreno adopted a critical attitude to psychoanalysis, without denying its usefullness.

In 1950 he created the International Committee for Group Psychotherapy in Paris, and organized the first World Conference on Psychodrama there in 1964. This opened the way for new exchanges between psychodramatists, psychoanalysts, and specialists in corporal medicine. After that his methods met with increasing success in the United States and in Europe. Child psychoanalysts in France remodeled his psychodrama technique and transformed it into a veritable analytical treatment, which progressively spread to adults also.

Nadine Amar

See also: Analytic psychodrama; Family therapy; Group psychotherapy.


Marineau, René. (1989). J.-L. Moreno et la Troisième Révolution psychanalytique. Paris: Metailié.

Moreno, Jacob Levy. (1934). Who shall survive? Foundations of sociometry, group psychotherapy and sociodrama. New York: Beacon House.

. (1947). The theater of spontaneity: An introduction to psychodrama. New York: Beacon House.

. (1959). Gruppenpsychotherapie und Psychodrama, Einleitung in die Theorie und Praxis. Stuttgart: G. Thieme.

. (1966). The international handbook of group psychotherapy. New York: Philosophical Library.