Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Reconsidering “Sociatry”

Originally posted on April 29, 2014

Merriam-Webster online:  group psychotherapy through the use of sociometric techniques (as psychodrama or sociodrama)

Urban Dictionary: as psychiatry is healing of the mind (actually, ‘psyche’ means ‘soul’), pediatrics is the branch of medical practice devoted to children, and geriatrics that devoted to the aged, so SOCIATRY is the healing of society

Wikipedia under the topic of psychoanalytic sociology says: sociatry applies psychiatry to society itself

Ed Schreiber on Facebook writes: “Sociatry is Moreno’s tools and practices for healing society. These are the seeds from which the entire method (psychodrama, sociodrama, sociometry) grew and emerged from. To look directly at the seeds transforms the method into sociatry”

There are many other definitions. Here’s mine:

Sociatry is a term Moreno used to suggest that there was an emerging sub-field that integrated not only the best advances of dynamic psychiatry, but also the frontiers of sociology. Both fields were optimistic and growing in the 1940s. Indeed, I agree that we should continue to develop further what we know about people and their relations, interpersonally, in small and large groups, in organizations, in cultures, and between cultures. Some of the components that may fit into this general category include role theory; a philosophy of creativity; the methods of psychodrama and sociodrama (as well as axiodrama and bibliodrama, etc.); and sociometry—in the broadest sense, as philosophy as well as method.

Interestingly, though sociatry is a word associated with medicine, and though Moreno is a physician trained at a medical school (the University of Vienna, in the second decade of the 20th century), many of Moreno’s intuitions transcend any training as a physician or the body of knowledge then associated with the field. Thus, “sociatry” reflected these trends and as a word became an un-intended offshoot of psychoanalysis. Alas, what we know now is that there is little in medicine that knows all that much about social psychology. Moreno did make a thrust in that direction with sociometry, but in fact his intuitions were hardly based on his work as a physician; rather, they were oriented to his background as a philosopher, a creative thinker, a theatrical innovator, a role theorist, a social therapist, etc.  All this by way of saying that the “iatros” part of sociatry is misleading.

However, I want to suggest that although many of these work well together, they don’t have to be integrated all the time. Sociometry, for example, can be explored without doing psychodrama. Of course psychodrama both informs and is informed by sociometry, but then again, one might point out areas of synergy that operate between many fields. My point is to note that many aspects of sociometry can be pursued with no regard to psychodrama, and that we should recognize further that the descendents of sociometry—e.g., social network analysis—are gaining new life quite apart from any association with psychodrama.

Also, there are semantic problems with the word “Sociatry.” First, the suffix “-iatry” refers to the medical profession, which has distanced itself from much in the way of psychotherapy in the last few decades. The “socio” prefix on the other hand is at odds with the fact that most psychodramatists work with individuals or couples in psychotherapy—there not being a lot of income for people working primarily with larger groups.

The term emerged during a time when psychiatry, suffused with enthusiasm in the 1940s, somewhat hoped to address many of the socio-political ills of the world. The United Nations was born of a similar impulse. As a historical aside, the fusion of psychoanalysis with psychiatry happened around 1940s was both a boost to psychodynamics, giving it the professional aura it needed for a while, but was also somewhat misleading. First of all, Freud never wanted psychoanalysis—his baby, so to speak—to be subsumed under the relatively narrow scope of treating mental illness. Freud’s vision was that this could open up our thinking about religion and culture, economics and politics, social life in general. I agree with this vision, although I disagree with much that is associated with orthodox Freudianism. What I mean is that this era also deserves some reflection (i.e., sociatry) as to the actuality of collective, unconsciously-driven thought-forms, memes, cultural patterns, because it is time to bring more awakened attention, more re-thinking, to so many elements that have tended to become fixed or residual in culture. Admittedly, a number of analysts such as Erich Fromm also had a broader vision like this.) (Here again what I like about “sociatry” is that however it is confusing in its meaning, it does imply a call for us to collectively re-think the trajectories of our technical and social trends.)

At another level, although psychoanalysis has fallen into psychiatry, many of its publications addressed wider cultural questions. This is not to say that all these opinions were wise, but it was a heady time. People were hopeful that degrees of non-rationality could be reduced, not only for troubled individuals, but for the society. I must admit that my own turn towards what I call “psychological literacy” arises from this sentiment, even as medical psychology, the field of psychiatry, has for the most part retreated to a more biological stance. There are those though who do reflect counter-currents, a more holistic perspective, and these ideas go beyond medicine.

Another thing I like about the word is that it implies the need to re-unite social psychology with psychiatry—or even social psychology and individual psychology! There is a need to include many elements beside social psychology, too, such as a study of temperament, the inclusion of spirituality, and so forth. The problems of trauma and addiction operate at the edge, being treated now more by non-medical professionals than psychiatrists.

As an example of re-including some elements of social psychology, Moreno’s sociometry has a number of insights that merit further consideration. (I think the method and theory are far from complete, though, and I hope to see further developments continue!)

The idea that sociatry is or should be considered a science is equally misleading. There are too many paradigms in flux, including the primacy of science as a way of understanding our predicament. I’m of the mind that sees science as systematized doubting, and this is a corrective to the tendency to credulity based on pure reason without experimentation—i.e., scholasticism, alchemy, etc. There’s a need to use reason, science, and a critique of both to better cope with the unfolding future in our own time.

So, I share with others some enthusiasm in thinking that there are elements in Moreno’s thought that offer promise. I don’t think that either Moreno or Freud or anyone else can or should claim to be the final word on anything. They were pioneers who opened doors, and it is innate to the philosophy of creativity that we encourage future creativity, even if that requires a critique and modification of earlier theories. We can respect those who have led the way without feeling obliged to follow blindly in every detail of their exploratory efforts.

One Response to “Reconsidering “Sociatry””

  • Kevin Franklin says:

    Hello Adam Blatner
    Sociatry was also the name of a journal: the Journal of Group and Intergroup Therapy. According to my March 1948 copy J L Moreno was the Editor and it was published at Beacon, New York.

    do you know the lifespan (start and finish) of this Journal?
    did it get renamed (date) at some point?
    if renamed, to what?

    regards, Kevin (Perth, Western Australia).

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