Processing of the Zerka T. Moreno Papers

By , July 12, 2017

Zerka T. Moreno (Zerka Toeman) (1917-2016) was a psychotherapist specializing in psychodrama and an adjunct professor at New York University, New York City, New York in the 1950s. Working with her husband, J. L. Moreno (Jacob Levy) (1889-1974), Zerka Moreno is known for her involvement in developing theories and methods for psychodramatic therapy. Working at the Sociometic Institute and the Pyschodramatic Institute in New York City as well as leading the Moreno Institute in Beacon, New York, Zerka Moreno provided psychodrama therapy to patients, led workshops in the treatment across the United States and internationally, mentored graduate students pursuing psychotherapy as part of their psychology or psychiatry degrees, and was the author of dozens of articles and books on the topic of psychodrama. The Center is pleased to announce that Zerka T. Moreno’s papers, dated 1937-2010, are currently being processed.

Zerka Toeman Moreno was born on June 13, 1917, in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She attended secondary school in the Netherlands before moving to London, England, in 1932 where she attended technical school. She planned to become an artist or fashion designer, with specific interest in designing scenery and costumes for stage productions. Moreno relocated to the United States in 1939, shortly after the beginning of World War II. Her sister suffered from mental illness, and in 1941, Moreno arranged for her to move to Beacon, New York, for treatment with J.L. Moreno at the Beacon Hill Sanatorium. That same year, following her sister’s treatment Zerka Moreno became J.L. Moreno’s student, working as his private secretary in Beacon to earn the scholarship he offered her. When he opened the Sociometric Institute in New York City, she became his research assistant and relocated to New York City; this later became the Moreno Institute. In 1947, the two founded the journal Sociatry, which later became known as Group Psychotherapy, which published research regarding the social sciences of sociatry, psychodrama, group psychotherapy, and sociometry. During the 1950s, both Zerka and J.L. Moreno served as adjunct professors at New York University, teaching courses about psychodrama and sociometry. She was the cofounder of the International Association for Group Psychotherapy and the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama, and spent much of her career traveling for psychotherapy and psychodrama workshops.

After J.L. Moreno’s death in 1974, Zerka T. Moreno continued to work as a psychotherapist, studying psychodrama and exploring new questions regarding surplus reality. With Merlyn S. Pitzele (1911-1995), she continued to attend patients, offer teaching sessions in Beacon and New York City, and led workshops and seminars in countless American and international locations, including Japan, Korea, Brazil, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Greece, Italy, Sweden, and Finland, among others. In 1996, she relocated to Charlottesville, Virginia, closing the Moreno Institute in Beacon, and moved into a nursing home in 2013 in Rockville, Maryland after breaking a hip. She continued to see patients and correspond with students from her bed until shortly before her death.

Zerka T. Moreno was a proponent and student of the area of psychological treatment known as psychodrama. Psychodrama therapy is a form of therapy in which individuals participate in role playing, reenacting real-life experiences either as themselves or as others who have been affected by their behavior. The Morenos believed psychodrama allowed for new expressions of oneself and the integration of the inner and outer realities of a person, which could lead to psychological healing. Zerka Moreno was interested in surplus reality, which is the concept of putting oneself into another person’s reality. Role reversal is a surplus reality technique, which translates into psychodrama and its methods for considering multiple realities.

Zerka T. and J.L. Moreno were married in 1949. They had one son together, Jonathan Moreno (1952-), who was raised with psychodrama throughout his life and later became a bioethicist, philosopher, and historian, working as  the David and Lyn Silfen University Professor and Professor of Medical Ethics and the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Zerka Moreno was also the stepmother to J.L. Moreno’s daughter from a previous marriage, Regina Moreno (1939-).

The papers are the product of Moreno’s personal and professional activities during her career as a psychotherapist leading psychodramatic workshops and mentoring psychotherapy students throughout the work; her activities with organizations such as the International Association of Group Psychotherapy and the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama; as well as her work at the Sociometric, Psychodramatic, and Moreno Institutes and treating patients. Further materials include writings and collected papers used by Moreno in her research, as well as biographical records relating to both Zerka T. and Jacob L. Moreno. The records are expected to be open to research in 2017. For more information on the processing of these papers, contact Elizabeth Coup, Processing Assistant.


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