MARCH  2019

for the Australian and Aotearoa New Zealand Psychodrama Association (AANZPA)

 I have no adequate words for our people in Canterbury-Westland, and all of Aotearoa New Zealand.  Words are not enough.

Welcome to this Edition of Socio

Kia ora

Ngahuru, kura kai, kura taangata
Harvest time, wealth of food, wealth of people
Source – Te Papa


  • Eels are fat and ready to harvest
  • Binap (Manna gum) is flowering
  • Days and nights are equal
  • Lo-an Tuka, the Hunter (Canopus) is almost due south at sunset

Source – Museum Victoria


Many thanks to contributors Peter Howie, Richard Hall,  Yvonne Shaw and Chris Hosking.

Another successful conference in Brisbane.  
As usual Exec and the various Boards and Committees that meet before and during the Conference are very busy.
Hamish Brown taking a break from business at the Conference.

January, 2019. Brisbane was hot and lush and I had not imagined that I would be so charmed by noisy parrots. In preparing for encounters with others at the conference I didn’t dwell on the potential encounter with a new environment. Yet that is what lingers with me even now; the social chatter of birds, their dramatic flights across the university lake at dusk, and later – the swooping of bats, graceful and mysterious. 

The Brisbane conference was a joyful encounter with people and ideas – what I had hoped for and more. Since returning to Auckland I find myself recalling particular moments from the sessions. They are framed like artworks in my mind. The power and beauty of psychodrama! Becoming a trainee in 2019 feels very congruent with my art practice and my teaching practice. I am thankful to the Brisbane team for all their work in hosting such a profound meeting. I felt very welcomed. 

And I miss those gorgeous, gregarious birds.

Yvonne Shaw

Here are some photos from the Chalkboard Concert – only a fraction of the possible …
Our hard working Concert Master Kate Cooke and Jo Dewar; Willi Boettcher reciting a very funny poem; Cissy Rock embodying a character, Jenny Hutt, Ali Begg and Hilde Knottenbelt singing it out; and Andrew singing his song.


JAN 18, 2019

There are a number of taboo areas in any large culture such as those of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. A taboo is defined as: ‘a custom prohibiting or restricting a particular practice’. There are specific taboos in more local cultures such as those of the capital cities and rural townships, as well as in professional cultures such as AANZPA. And these various cultures will have overlapping and reinforcing taboos. For example, a taboo in Australia might overlap with one in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as in our psychodrama association. I thought that openly discussing the subject of ‘fat’ might well be a valuable thing, as I had often noticed that it is very difficult to discuss the area without becoming mired in an array of ideas and popular issues such as: gender and identity politics, health fads and needs, feminism and anti-feminism, original social atom practices,  poor self and body image, shame,  various systems that promote or denigrate ‘fat’, will power, self-development, exercise, cultural norms, and so on. This makes ‘fat’ a prime candidate for exploration using sociodrama and a group of friendly-intentioned action ready and practiced explorers. With such a group we might be better able to think about ‘fat’ without being narrowed down to only one or two perspectives or some mindless dichotomy such as, ‘it’s ok’ or ‘its not-ok’.  In this group, we might develop our own capacity for spontaneity and playfulness and contribute to removing the taboo around discussing ‘fat’ in AANZPA. Removing a taboo makes it possible to approach an area of life with love, care, wisdom, and relational support rather than shame, denigration, exclusion, or punishment. 

So, I sat with 24 intrepid explorers in a room, arranged in the usual form, and noted various degrees of edginess present in the group. Edginess is often present when a taboo is being messed about with or is being broken. Edginess is a type of fear/anxiety/worry/excitement, and breaking taboos means stopping doing something or doing something that is generally prohibited by custom. Edginess about breaking customs can be expected. I asked for a readout using hands as to how edgy people felt being in the room with this subject. It ranged from very little edginess (close to the floor) to moderate edginess (waist height) to high edginess (above the head). Naming edginess as alive in the group helped provide a warm-up to ourselves, one another, and the group. It also alerted us that others were having different experiences from the ones we might be having.

Knowing that many people have tried diets as part of living in our culture, I invited participants to tally up how many diets they may have been on so far in their lives. Laying out a spectrogram from none to many, the group managed to form well with many participants at the ‘none’ end and quite a few at the ‘too many to remember end’. I have tried around 20 diets. The next step was hearing from each person beginning with the ‘too many to mention’ end. Many people in the group experienced deep warm-ups, bringing in areas of their lives such as, health, family, longevity, diabetes, repression, humour, disability, pain, exclusion, rejection, as well as themselves and their interest in the area of fat, diet, and their bodies. I realised after the session that many folks may have related to specific and named types of diet such as Jenny Craig, or Herbalife rather than simply trying to not eat certain foods and not other foods: no sugar, no carbs, no combinations, less meat, more meat, more fruit, more veggies, skipping meals, or other self-adjusted forms of eating that, nevertheless, constitute a self-imposed diet. Folks joined into small groups and engaged further. If I’d stayed with this intervention, I might have chosen one or more participants to enact a vignette or two to deepen what individuals had brought forth. I did not do this as the exploration had only just begun and we only had a little more than a couple of hours for the workshop.

Next, I invited folks to consider how, on the one hand they might feel vulnerable discussing these matters and how, on the other hand they might have a wish, need, or habit of getting on with ‘business as usual’ and not allowing themselves to settle into the subject under investigation. These two ways of functioning – remaining vulnerable or moving away, needed to be allowed and welcomed as both old friends and well-worn paths of protection.

I used a kind of sociometric experimental model for examining binary notions in a group setting. This is to set up a large triangle and have one side being a market for a ‘yes’ for whatever is under discussion, another side as a ‘no’, and a third side as an ‘indifferent’ response. I asked for those that would promote ‘everything as OK’ and people are good enough as they are to take up one sire, another side where those people would promote that ‘you are not OK’ and need to change, and the third side as a group that are ‘indifferent’ on the issue. Participants hop into the triangle and take up one of the arguments – like hawkers in a noisy market, they all get going at the same time competing for the customers to whom they are selling their wares/ideas. The rest of the participants wander around the outside and visit the three market stalls and do their best not to appear too susceptible to the various sales pitches. At times I would pause the group and invite reflections and also invite people to try a different position in the system. People in the group generally loved being accepted as they were, hated being told to change even though finding it shockingly familiar, and found indifference tantalisingly peaceful. I invited subsequent small group sharings, and then we had coffee. This process is a great way to get a wide variety of community and cultural memes, tropes, themes, stereotypes out into the group space without the need to immediately focus on only one theme or one person’s response to them. The process can be quite confronting. It also allows participants the opportunity to reverse roles with people who have very different worldviews from their own. If we’d stayed with this intervention I might have encouraged participants to go past the stereotypes that were being enacted and feel into doing it from their own life and worldview either as themselves or someone they knew well who had this perspective. But this would have taken a lot more time than we had.

After the coffee break, I invited the group to consider the area of shame as it pertained to fat, and then had the participants to set out a sociogram of the various groups that contribute to this shame around fat. We gently explored the media, school system, families, the exercise industry, celebrity shapes, and other areas. These were potent concretisations – each one capturing large parts of the group’s consciousness from a particular group like ‘media’, and responses to that group. At one point we encountered school peer groups and here we entered a deeper phase as participants enacted some of the very painful and vicious cultural groups that have grown and developed in school settings. Vulnerability emerged strongly as participants warmed up authentically to their roles. After a number of concretisations and some heated heart interchanges I invited folks to get into groups of 4 ,5, or 6 because time did not allow for me to continue this intervention. We had further work if we were to conclude a satisfactory exploration within the time we had. Continuing this intervention would have led to some very protagonist centred sociodramas and maybe a psychodrama or two.

In their small groups I invited participants to share their experiences of how they felt personally impacted by their own responses in themselves, and their responses to other’s enactments so far in this workshop.  I invited them to craft some titles for psychodrama or sociodrama workshops they might find value in creating or participating in to further explore ‘fat’. This produced a forward looking, mostly integrative response to the work we had undertaken, where participants were able to warm-up to imagining working with the area themselves and what energies, themes, dangers, and delights might be unleashed. Themes about working with the personal, the communal, the socious, the cultural; ways to strengthen or resist negative cultural impacts, bind people together, share the pain and the pleasure of life, acknowledging and doubling, mirroring and holding, exploring and being brave and courageous, exploring and allowing weakness and pain and isolation to be lived with, acceptance of self and others, acknowledging the desire for control through will power, acknowledging the delight of surrender to passion, how food works as comfort food and how much we need comforting, and  so on. I have been unspecific as we could have dreamed even greater dreams and perhaps we should have, but already there had been enough ‘shoulds’ presented and more were not required.

Sharing in the large group was quite brief and involved some participants presenting their own learning about themselves, some about the area of fat and the larger range of responses to it, some to the cultural impact of this group in their lives and hopefully a wider impact as well. 

Afterwards, I worked out that the processes used here could have each been used on their own and the whole thing could have been a long weekend workshop, or even a series of evening events.

Next year might be time for The Fatness Chronicles Part II. When something begins to open up I imagine that mostly it is good to give it enough juice to thrive on its own, but in this case fat is such a charged no-go area it might need more effort with the jack-hammer of sociodrama and group process or perhaps; even better, some of the participants might trial some of their workshop titles at the next conference!

Thanks to all who participated and allowed me to lead and got on with exploring themselves and one another. Thanks to for the camaraderie and friendship displayed between folks when things got tough. When the going gets tough the tough begin to double and move towards one another, thoughtfully.

I ASKED RICHARD TO FINISH THIS SENTENCE : I have attended conferences since …

Since 1986 I have attended most conferences. It was a great pleasure to work with Jo Dewar in running a Pre-Conference Workshop focusing on psychosexual development in relation to becoming a mature human being.

One highlight was early in the morning Jo and I would walk around the lake to the coffee shop and discuss our work. We would look at the people walking past and attempted to make comments about them and imagined what type of person they could be and what spirit was expressing itself regardless of their gender. Can the blind see and recognise who it is before us as we work out of our experience. We were attempting to see a person with new eyes, and image  what their sexuality is regardless of physical features. When Eric Berne ran groups, he would come in and empty himself of everything and see in the moment as if for the first time. It allows us to meet a person afresh, anew and with creativity and originality.

Into the Conference, it was a gentle introduction to attend Simon Gurnsey’s “Being and Meeting” on the first night. It is always surprising where the “tele” comes forward and who you warm up to and who you don’t. Sociometry and the tele is such a mystical dynamic.

As one sails through the several days together we have many encounters. One can touch you on a very deep level. Over breakfast one morning I had an encounter with Phil Carter. We discussed leading groups and when you recognised when you are caught up and not able to be director for someone in a drama. Since half way through last year I have noticed in directing that I have become a lot more still in myself and felt giving a Protagonist a lot of room as they warm up to a scene as we bring out the system that is produced onto the stage. A skilful director gets out of the way and the Protagonist doesn’t even know that they are there.

Phil and I spoke about the YouTube video where Max Clayton speaks about being a child of the universe again. I said to Phil that in the Baptism ceremony in my tradition of the Christian church it recognises and follows the ancient and worthy custom of recognising the child as an entity in itself, with all the rights of a human being. The name is bestowed upon her which she will be recognised, hers to use or discard whenever she wills.

There are many reasons for such an event, yet there is a recognition that another soul has entered into incarnation, and is welcomed into our midst. A name is given to affirm that the child is a spiritual being, with a unique purpose to fulfil. If the parents are sensitive to the inner guidance of the incoming soul, the name bestowed is in some way associated with its individuality and purpose. Secondly, baptism keeps the soul of the child in touch with the heavens. The unformed aura of the child is studded with stars which are visible to the trained clairvoyant. It strengthens the stars in the aura so that they remain longer. This stronger link assists to an awareness of heavenly origins.

Phil commented that in working with the Psychodramatic method it could be said that through enactments a person works with purpose and feels “part of the universe again through further connection, healing and integration.

Refinement and thinking of the hundreds of dramas I have directed, I now notice I have become more still, more relaxed and let the drama emerge. I get out of the way so that the Protagonist can come to know themselves and their place in the system of interactions which makes a person feel connected to themselves and the universe. Be that in the garden, by the sea, looking at the blue sky or at the stars at night. Moreno spoke of the Universe being all creativity and all spontaneity and that we are all responsible and co-creators with the Universe. The stage is the cultural Conserve which can bring fourth life for the Protogonist in the hands of an intuitive wise producer.

I enjoyed a number of moments at our Conference. Watching one of the Melbourne advanced trainees, Jeremy Martin, offering and running a session at the Conference.

Enjoyed a beautiful drama directed by Annie Fisher using all the skills, intuition and wisdom of an experienced psychodramatist at the final session of our day workshop on healing trauma.

Loved the dance that we could talk without the music being too loud.

Enjoyed Charmaine McVea’s workshop on the therapeutic gold in the alliance ruptures and the supervisor as alchemist.

I missed some of my experienced friends running sessions.

I felt refreshed by our Conference and have hit the ground running back home in Melbourne, looking to the year ahead. The more I use action methods, the more it becomes a vehicle and method in revealing the possibilities of people’s lives. It allows purpose and the capacity for us all to be connected within ourselves and also to feel and be a child of the universe again.

Richard Hall