By Renée Pitre, MA, RDT
I began my drama therapy career as an intern: working for little money in a foreign country, learning an ‘often viewed as marginal’ method of drama therapy, engaging in intensive trauma-informed psychotherapy practice with a full caseload, and running groups in local schools. Fresh out of graduate school, unsure of how to really be a drama therapist and headed to the Post Traumatic Stress Center (PTSC) in New Haven, CT, I was not ready for what lay ahead. How do I diagnose someone accurately? How do I use these various drama therapy tools that I spent two years learning? How? When? Why? How do I speak about my practice – wait – how do I even practice? Let’s just say I had a lot of questions. I am sure (well, I hope!) others can relate.
The beauty of being an intern is just that: you are hired (sometimes for pay, sometimes not) to learn and to gain work experience. Everyone knows you don’t know what you are doing (whew!) and they don’t expect you to get it right. At least for a while. And while you have to do some odd jobs, you have the chance to learn some very valuable things at the same time. If you are open to it, that is.
Which I’d like to say I was. I learned how to do Developmental Transformations (DvT), an intense trauma model of psychotherapy, and I also learned how to throw pottery. Yes, I can make real things too! But most of all, I learned a lot about myself. The catalyst for this was an internship site that welcomed the huge task of training and mentoring me.
This is rare. I know. Trust me, I do. But it has also been the key to unlocking my passion for training new career therapists. During my internship I had the opportunity to learn more intensely about drama therapy (primarily DvT), I had supervision and training not just from drama therapists but also psychologists, psychiatrists, and very talented business administrators, and I was welcomed into the just-forming PTSC drama therapy team.
I feel privileged to now run that very same drama therapy program. It has been a few years for me at the helm since Dr. Nisha Sajnani stepped down. She left very big shoes to fill – and that fancy kind of shoes only Nisha can really pull off! Not my kind of shoes, that’s for sure. What remains strong, despite the style of shoes worn, is that the PTSC is a place that prides itself on the training and supervision of drama therapists.
With the recent growth of the ALIVE school intervention program, the drama therapy program has had to grow as well. Currently, 8 very talented drama therapists make up the team at the PTSC. They run broad-based classroom activities and 15-minute stress reduction sessions in the schools, and hold down caseloads back at the PTSC. These drama therapists, along with an army of volunteers and residents who support the many levels of interventions within the program, have helped ALIVE to grow and include schools and agencies outside of New Haven.
Briefly, for those who may not have heard of the ALIVE program or read any of the great articles within the drama therapy canon, ALIVE stands for Animating Learning by Integrating and Validating Experience. This is a program that has its roots in education, public health, theatre, trauma treatment, and drama therapy. The main objective is to provide tiered services to target the behaviors or cognitions that are interfering with a student’s education. These can be related to trauma, and unfortunately, they usually are.
All the ALIVE clinicians are trained drama therapists who also specialize in DvT and direct trauma treatment. They facilitate group letter writing sessions, theatre games, DvT stress reduction sessions with students (and teachers!) and offer professional development to all the various partners within the school system. Sometimes they even bake cookies for Red Bead Clubs (events at which parents and children share stories of strength)!
We have had the honor of hosting interns from all different points in their careers and have generated a larger ALIVE family throughout the country and the world. The interns have proven to be an integral part of the ALIVE puzzle. The teachers and students in our schools are often more excited to see and play with our interns than with that same old drama therapist Miss Renée (that’s me!) they’ve known for years!
So, why intern? Well, even before becoming a drama therapist, I have always benefited from organizations willing to take a risk on someone who may not have much experience, and I am interested in giving back. Of course it’s a very personal choice, but really I believe the real question should be: why not?
Having made the transition from intern to director of the drama therapy program at the PTSC, I have been fortunate to be continuously surrounded with creative and innovative drama therapists. They have marked my journey thus far with great obstacles to overcome, great joy, and wonderful mentorship and friendship. They make up the community that I value the most as I continue to grow my career. It is my hope that other drama therapists are able to access other like-minded communities, whether through post-graduate training, supervision, or even residencies for their personal enrichment and the further development of the drama therapy field.
For more information about internships and residencies at the PTSC: Contact Renée Pitre at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about ALIVE: See the website at traumainformedschools.org.
Renée Pitre, MA, RDT is the director of the drama therapy program at the Post Traumatic Stress Center in New Haven, CT. She is an avid DvT playor and is very interested in the relational nuances in play. She is a Pisces – and proud of it.