Exclusively for Act-!N-Play
Interviewers: Malen Malenov and Maria Koleva

Jorge Burmeister

“Transference” to Psychodrama
Dialogue in Apparently Impossible Circumstances
Group Therapy as Intercultural Catalysis
Bulgaria, Separation and the Image of Moreno
The Pessimist and the Optimist: Fortunetelling about Psychodrama
Four Competences of the Perfect Leader

Jorge Burmeister is a prominent Swiss psychiatrist, psychotherapist and psychodramatist. He is one of the first trainers to introduce Psychodrama to Bulgaria and other Eastern-European countries. At present, he is vice-president of the Littenheid clinic in Switzerland, treasurer and board member of the IAGP. Dr. Burmeister is also the originator of Granada Summer Academy – an international conference dedicated to study and reflect group work on the concepts of identity, values and behaviour in different cultures and times. For those who get to know him he is a person of amazing energy, amiability, patience and capacity to facilitate communication on many levels.

More about the Summer Academy in Granada can be found on the academy’s website

MM: As usual, my first question is related to your personal experience with Psychodrama and it is: Why Psychodrama? How did it happen to you to become involved in Psychodrama and what has it meant to you?

JB: Actually, I became involved in psychodrama movement by accident. I could say the same thing Anne-Ancelin Schutzenberger once has said to me, ìYoung man, I didnít choose Psychodrama, Psychodrama chose meî. And the way Psychodrama chose me was that at the time I wanted to start my Jungian analysis but there was no opportunity available. Then I heard about an approach using theatre and play and as I was interested for many years already in theatre and expressive art, I wanted to learn more. And it happened that just in the very first session I entered, I got to know Gretel Leutz, this wonderful woman I came to appreciate and love very much. In a very curious way she resembles a lot my mother ñ not only because of my transference but because she really looks like her. And she really shares with my real mother a lot of tenderness, a lot of skills I had always loved. So, in the way I loved my mother, I started to love her as well. And in spite of afterwards getting involved in Jungian analysis and other trainings, I always kept alive my relationship with Psychodrama.

For me, the notion of encounter, the notion of spontaneity and the notion of problem-resolving ìcreativeî strategy are the most prominent ideas about Psychodrama. As it uses a lot of representative symbolic techniques it is useful and very strong complement to other forms of therapy like Psychoanalysis or the Behavioral-Cognitive therapy where I am also trained, so I can judge this from my own experience.

Being myself a psychiatrist and vice-director of a private hospital in Switzerland, I am applying Psychodrama in clinical settings but not with everyone and not on every occasion. Taking into account the appropriateness of the technique, of the situation, of the client, is one of the key terms in order to define quality in psychotherapy.

MM: For the five years of its existence, the Summer Academy in Granada has acquired certain individuality: bringing together, in this very romantic place, many people from different backgrounds and different cultures. What was your impetus to do it and how did it develop?

JB: Now that I am organizing this academy for the fifth time I can say it has become a truly international conference. In the beginning the majority of participants came from German-speaking countries and there were only very few from other countries. My dream then was to build a community based on different cultures ñ a group which can realize and promote real encounter. Because of that I am always keen to control the number of participants and the maximum will always be fifty. My dream is to base dialogue and encounter upon the understanding of the meaning of our own cultures. For it will always mean to confront ourselves with other cultures in order to enlighten the meaning of our own culture. But it means also to open our minds on the horizon of other cultures. And for me key competences in that field are basic trust and tolerance towards differences. But also, as far as you cannot overcome all the limitations of our process of encountering, I would like to add also a third competence, which is patience. We need a lot of patience sometimes to stand and to bear these limitations.

Yet, and it is sometimes like a wonder for me, it always happens in the last day of the Academy ñ after a lot of struggles, misunderstandings, conflicts and very aggressive, partly violent, fantasies ñ all groups start to create a kind of shared vision for the future: a vision full of hope and understanding. And for me, personally. it is always a source of new hope for my own work and my own life. So I am very thankful to all those who took the risk and ventured to come. Because it is not always easy to do so.

Another special aspect might be that I am very interested to open this academy not only to experts in the field but also for students because I feel that the exchange between generations is also very meaningful and it is prerequisite for the future development of our society.

MM: I already asked this question to Christer Sandahl and Jose Fonseca but I am interested also in your opinion: when we are whishing to deal with topics of cultural concern ñ letís say intercultural exchange, cultural identity, multicultural society ñ what is our actual role? What is the position of a group therapist asking about culture: of a distant observer, of an individual trying to understand or of a scientist, trying to explainÖ

JB: I would say we have different roles in that process, I could at least imagine several. After all I strongly believe there is an innate potential in each human being to help the others ñ so it is not only the expert who can help. But we could probably catalyze a lot of those innate talents or competences to help people develop their own helping skills. So I would say that our role could become that of a mediator or that of a catalyst in that process. For instance, this particular kind of training will work in itself in other dimensions after the participants will go back to their home countries. (And I am very glad that we have participants from so many different places: somebody from Australia, somebody born in Africa and also from other continents like Latin America, EuropeÖ) I feel this community is representing a real global community and for that reason our role could be to facilitate encounters with other cultures by giving some insight into those innate capacities and catalyze the intercultural processes we need. Telling that in psychodramatic terms, we need to take the role reversal on every level and that is the only way we are able to understand and act in a more appropriate way.

But we have to be aware also of the often enough traumatic past between different cultures which will restrict encounter and spontaneity. Because of that another basic challenge in the intercultural process is the trust building process by acknowledging differences and looking out for shared goals/interests and values. Here the psychodramatic approach is only one of many possibilities to organize that process. Because of that I am also very fond that we share the academy with analytic, group dynamic and cognitive behavioural oriented colleagues from whom we can learn a lot as well.

I would like to include maybe as one last point the social aspect and economic aspect. There are, even in the same culture, different subcultures. And I would be very interested to transform the experiences we have had here also into an experience within the community itself; to develop a kind of shared competence and through it communicate with one another in everyday life, between the different subcultures. Because I feel that nowadays exclusion is one of the major conflicts and the rejection of being included is one of the main causes of violence and intercultural aggression.

MM: You have been one of the first trainers to introduce Psychodrama to Bulgaria. With that background in mind, I would like to ask you for a kind of advice: my impression is that even within this small community of people doing Psychodrama in Bulgaria, there is so strong a trend towards separation and fractioning. Having yourself immediate impressions from the process, what is your advice, how should we deal with that?

JB: Of course, one can say this is a natural development because every new project, every new idea by the time tends to become more complex and have more different branches, which can easily become independent one from the other. But my own feeling (and I will give you an example for that) is that if you share a common ground or common goals there is always some mutuality to be found. And if you look at the mutuality, which means on those things you really share and you really benefit from, all of you, this can be a way to overcome at least the total separation between the different groups. And the example I have for that is: I remember being in a group where there was a lot of opposition and a great level of conflict among many of the members. But at certain moment I had the idea to put the image of Moreno in the center of the group. Then suddenly the whole group became quiet and thoughtful and after a while they started to share. And that was really like magic! But I think sometimes we can produce such a magic ourselves if we really focus on what we share and not so much on what does make us different from one another

MM: Was it from your experience in Bulgaria?

JB: No, this was another group from my experience, not in Bulgaria. Sticking to my Bulgarian experience, I have worked there for several years, and I remember, of course what the situation was ñ at that time, at leastÖ I made once an exercise with a lot of people; they had to point what ëthe hardest taboo to overcome’ was for them. And the hardest taboo was generally the taboo of competition, the taboo of rivalry. So I guess what is making cooperation so difficult is exactly that competition and rivalry ñ which, of course, is also existing in other countries and which in a way is a natural phenomenon because you have to work with the same people who were in your training programme and so on.

So I know it is a one thing you cannot easily overcome but if you see for example if you have shared training standards, some shared ideas or a kind of common public space where you could promote yourselves (there are many means you can use), I am quite sure this could be a good way to overcome separation.

MM: Having in mind the historical development of Psychodrama up to date on the one hand and Morenoís legacy that it should spread more and more and eventually heal the whole society on the other, how do you envisage the development of Psychodrama, letís say in the year 2100?

JB: Well, it is an interesting questionÖ I am not a good fortuneteller but I would say I have, as always in life, two fantasies: a good one and a bad one. As you know, psychotherapy as a profession is quite young ñ it has come into existence only with Freud if you take him as a starting point and it came into existence as a successor of spiritual or other rituals of soul help. And I guess it is in danger, in a way, because it is not being considered as a medical, traumatic profession; it is even sometimes doubted to be psychological, or even properly scientific approach. Because of that, one bad fantasy could be that psychotherapy in its present sense will disappear and the need for spiritual or psychological health will be forwarded by other means, like for example internet or learning programmes (because you know that information is one of the key elements in any good psychotherapy).

I do not say it is a very high-percentage probability but we have to be aware that we are endangered or, at least, at risk. And if you ask me about evolution in 100 years I could easily see this as a worst scenario: that it will be no more possible to have any kind of psychotherapy, not only Psychodrama. But it will be certainly replaced by other means of help.

So thatís it for the bad fantasy. And the good fantasy would be that there will be a way to establish a good kind of selection process between the different schools; so that it will be clear which client would benefit from what method in what kind of situation. And I am quite sure that in this case Psychodrama will be one of the key competences as it has some unique, special properties. It will be the case even if its name will be changed, even if it will be integrated into other approaches ñ because I am not so sure if Psychodrama will be strong enough to survive alone as it is: not having a well documented research area nor a well elaborated theory. Maybe you as a younger generation might try and overcome those weak points, I would be very glad if you do.

MM: In your opinion, what should be the most important skill or personal quality of the psychodramatist?

JB: I would say, the most important skill or quality of the Psychodrama therapist should be the good balance between self-confidence and self-criticism on the hand, a good balance between empathy and ability to put limits for himself/herself on the other and, finally, a good balance between the logical or minded approach and the emotional or spiritual approach. I would say that psychotherapy can address the body, it can address the heart, it can address the mind and it can address the soul. If you, as a psychodramatist, are able to work on those four levels, I feel you are a perfect one!

It is also very important to accept criticism and admit our own mistakes in a humble way. Many of us are not being able to do so. I always feel it is a great competence to admit and to show up failures or errors as well as a good work. Thatís my final point on that.

MM: Thank you very much!

This interview was first posted on this website in English on the 24th of May 2005 with the kind consent of Dr. Burmeister.