Sociometry and experiencing ‘Tele’ during COVID-19

The pandemic changed the way I run groups and has called on me for greater spontaneity and resilience.  What I took so much for granted has become a luxury today.  Having large groups in a room, smilling about and shaking hands is a sweet memory from a day I hope will return someday. 

This year in January 2021, we began our first group in Singapore after the number of cases dropped and the situation remained fairly stable. We were allowed a total of eight (8) people in the room, including myself. With two large bottles of sanitizer and a box of disposable masks, we began our first session.  We sat one meter apart (roughly 39 inches), and began with introductions. So how do group members see each other and have connection with faces obscured by masks and social distancing creating further separation? 

With only eyes exposed and body language to read, the power of tele still is at work. 

Tele, a term coined by Jacob Moreno, is referred to by him as the invisible connection that flows between two people.  Ann Hale, in her book, *‘Conducting Clinical Sociometric Explorations’, states Moreno’s definition of it as, ‘insight into’, ‘appreciation of’, and ‘feeling for’, the ‘actual makeup’ of the other person. Most of us have experienced ‘tele’.  That inexplicable feeling that you ‘click’ with someone after talking for a short time.  Often it starts before you meet, when you see each other across a room and know that you would like to meet this person.  It is that intangible element that attracts people to each other and starts the process of communication. These connections between people were observed by Moreno who began to map them out in his studies of social networks.  This study of connections between people he termed as Sociometry from the Latin root words “socius’ for companion and ‘metrum’ for measurement. 

Planning the sessions, I always begin with Sociometry. As Ann Hale says Sociometry’s purpose is to reveal information about group members and to show, “… the connections which exist between group members.” Shared experiences people have are discovered as we do warmups such as ‘Polarities’, Locograms, Spectograms and other sociometric structures.  These exercises get people moving and into their bodies, thereby assisting them to access their spontaneity more easily. 

Sociometry includes having people choose based on certain criterion with a view that the choice will lead to an action. For example, asking the group, “Who would you like to have lunch with later today?”, means that their choices will be followed by them having lunch with the person they chose. Thus tele comes into play as people make choices. The work of a group leader is then to pick warm up exercises that help to reveal more about each individual so that each group member has a higher likelihood of being chosen by others. So the outliers who are shy reveal surprising details about their lives and interests that make them more attractive as choices to others in the group. This has the power to often re-distribute the attention from the most chosen person in the group to others, thereby creating more inclusion and group cohesion.   

During one of our sessions the protagonist chose someone to play her younger self, feeling ashamed that she couldn’t understand the language everyone else was speaking in the pre-school. She felt alone and that nobody was going to help her. After the drama, the auxillary she chose shared a story about how she had also been shamed for not being able to speak the language in pre-school and was still carrying the trauma and shame. The person the protagonist had chosen to play the teacher, shared that he comes from a long line of teachers which was why he could take on the role so easily.  This all came as a surprise to the protagonist who had no idea about the backgrounds of these two group members, but she acted on her sense of connection and insight into the makeup of people in the group. 

In another session, a woman who was doing a drama about her mother chose someone who had a mother with similar issues. This was not known to the protagonist and during the sharing, the auxilary spoke about having a similar mother who was clinically depressed and stayed in her room all the time just like that of the protagonist.  She was able to play the role so well because it was so familiar to her! Many such ‘coincidences’ have led me to consider tele as an almost intuitive knowing that we each have within us.  This knowing seems to be activated by our spontaneity as we go with the flow.  There is almost an existential aspect to it which echoes Moreno’s theory that we are all connected via the universal consciousness of the ‘Godhead’, as he put it. 

As I look back on these sessions, I am once again blown away by the power of the action method of psychodrama and sociometry. Using it to build the group, I see how true Ann Hale’s words are when she says Sociometry is “…a methodological necessity for the conscientious group leader…”.  I echo this sentiment as I lean on sociometry to build connections far beyond what the eye can see!

*Hale, Ann E. (1981). Conducting clinical sociometric explorations. Royal Publishing Company: Roanoke, Virginia.