Jacob Moreno (1889-1974)

Jacob Moreno

Jacob Levy Moreno was a 20th century psychiatrist who developed a therapy called psychodrama

Professional Life

Jacob Moreno was born on May 18, 1889 in Bucharest, Romania. A few years later, Moreno’s family moved to Vienna. He studied medicine at the University of Vienna, earning his degree in 1917. He was a practicing psychiatrist near Vienna between 1918 and 1925. Moreno employed many approaches in his therapy, including psychodrama, sociatry, sociometry, and group psychotherapy.

In 1925, Moreno moved to New York City, where he worked as a psychiatrist and continued experimenting with psychodramatics. He introduced group therapy into schools and prisons, such as Sing Sing, and he compiled the results of his research there into a book titled Who Shall Survive?: Foundations of Sociometry, Group Psychotherapy, and Sociodrama, published in 1934. He established the Beacon Hill Sanitarium, renamed the Moreno Sanitarium and later, the Moreno Institute, where he was the physician in charge between 1936 and 1968.

Moreno started several journals, including Impromptu, Sociometry, Group Psychotherapy, and the International Journal of Sociometry and Sociatry. He was an adjunct professor of sociology at New York University from 1952–1966, and a guest lecturer at a number of universities, including the New School for Social Research, from 1937–1938, and Columbia University, from 1939–1940. Moreno also founded the Impromptu Theatre at Carnegie Hall and the Psychodramatic Institute in Beacon. He was directly responsible for the American Psychiatric Association’s recognition of group psychotherapy as a credible and viable form of treatment. 

Contribution to Psychology

While in school, Moreno began to develop his own theories for therapeutic practice that were distinctly different from those of Sigmund Freud’s. Rather than analyzing clients’ pasts, Moreno preferred to focus on the present and future through the use of interpersonal relations. Moreno’s interest in theater led him to develop his psychodrama technique. A psychodrama session focuses primarily on one person, called the protagonist. Techniques such as mirroring the behavior of the protagonist and role reversal are used to help participants better understand their own behavior and feelings, as well as the behavior and feelings of others. There are still psychodrama centers across the United States, and the approach remains relatively popular in group therapy settings.

During a psychodrama scene, participants act out their emotions by reacting to others. Moreno emphasized spontaneity and feedback within a psychodrama scene. Moreno believed that spontaneity and creativity propelled human progress forward; he argued that love and mutuality are key elements of life in a group and that trust in one's group members play a seminal role in cultural life. Moreno argued that a community that embraced principles of spontaneity and creativity was possible and a goal worth working toward.

Moreno coined the terms sociatry and sociometry. He used sociatry to refer to healthy social relationships, and sociometry to refer to the scientific study of relationships between individuals. Within the field of sociology, Moreno helped develop social network analysis. SNA is the process of evaluating a person's role within a group by mapping his or her relationships and networks.


  1. Amar, Nadine. (2005). Jacob L. Moreno. International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Retrieved from http://www.gale.cengage.com/InContext/bio.htm
  2. Marineau, R. F. (2007). The birth and development of sociometry: The work and legacy of jacob moreno (1889-1974). Social Psychology Quarterly, 70(4), 322-325. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/212706756?accountid=1229
  3. Moreno, Jacob L. (n.d.). American National Biography Online. Retrieved from http://www.anb.org/articles/12/12-02119-print.html

Last Update: 07-03-2015

Advanced Search
Subscribe to GoodTherapy.org's Email Newsletter

Free Student Membership

Are you a college or university student? Sign up here for a free student membership with GoodTherapy.org