By Jason Conover, RDT, LCAT, CASAC
Drama therapists bring their unique set of skills to every employment opportunity, regardless of the actual job title held within the field of human services. I have been a working drama therapist in New York City for over ten years. Not one of my job titles included the words “drama” or “therapist.” However, every interaction I have had within the workplace was filtered through the lens of role theory, role method, psychodrama, and other forms of creative engagement learned in my graduate and postgraduate training as a drama therapist. I have been a direct support professional for individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, recreation supervisor, transition developer on the curriculum team for individuals with intellectual or other developmental disabilities, and certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor (CASAC) working in substance use prevention. In all of these professional roles I have infused creative arts therapy techniques and interventions to enhance and deepen the work done with clients in related fields and disciplines.
I have played many roles in my professional career, and they have all contributed to deepening and expanding my concept of what it means to be a drama therapist. I bring a sense of play to the work environment and to the work culture in which I am a member. I run weekly group supervision with the interdisciplinary treatment team in the substance use disorders outpatient clinic where I am currently employed. In group supervision, I have used Landy’s (2009) role profiles assessment tool to promote clinician wellness through the examination of role, and transference and countertransference issues among clients and clinicians. I share a small office with two other clinicians, one a social worker and the other a fellow drama therapist. There are client-made masks and other works of art on the walls, musical instruments strewn about, and other co-workers often come in to vent, take a breath, or share a laugh. The office is cramped and chaotic: a swirl of activity and a hub of creativity.
The role of drama therapists as holders of space for co-workers to feel safe and validated, and the ability of drama therapists to solve problems creatively, are examples of a skill set that can feel almost intangible and mostly goes unnamed in the human services field. However hard to define, these skills and abilities that drama therapists bring to the table are valuable, marketable, and highly sought-after. Infusing the office environment with a sense of play and connectedness improves the quality of care among treatment teams, clients, and support staff in healthcare settings and in behavioral health.
Power dynamics in interpersonal relationships within the workplace are forces that may or may not be in one’s locus of control. Formal power is based on a person’s position in an organization and the authority associated with that position. Informal power is built from developing relationships and the respect earned from coworkers. Power dynamics have been studied in the workplace in relation to bullying behaviors in an effort to understand how and why bullying continues to persist within workplace culture. A person with formal power might use their position to delegate unpleasant tasks to their target, or deny the person’s requests for time off. Someone with informal power and who is a bully may use their power to influence co-workers to exclude their target from social gatherings, or to spread rumors to undermine their target’s professional credibility (McGrath, 2012).
“Power over” is seen as a win-lose type of situation. It involves taking power from someone else and using it to dominate, and to prevent others from gaining power. This might include resources or financial power over others, the ability to withhold something that others want, and/or formal position power. Legitimate power, otherwise known as positional power, comes from the job position that a person holds, and is related to the person’s job title and their responsibilities, which may include delegating job duties to a supervisee or setting a work schedule (Reyes, 2013).
On the other hand, “power within” refers to a person’s self-worth and self-knowledge. It includes the ability to recognize and respect individual differences. Power within is the capacity to have hope, to use the imagination, and to affirm the right of every human being to live with dignity and pursue a meaningful life (Reyes, 2013). Drama therapists have an abundance of this “power within” and bring these qualities to the work environment via the aforementioned abilities to hold ambiguous space, creatively problem solve, and bring forth a sense of play
Drama therapists can be catalysts for change, and can use their informal power, and “power within” to promote the values of inclusion and cooperation within the workplace, through building relationships and creating space for creativity and collaboration. It is informal power that changes the culture of an organization and builds community; It is in this arena that drama therapists excel.
One example of drama therapists developing community is working within hospitals, acting as facilitators, creatively coaching administrators on how to problem-solve system-wide issues within the behavioral health service system. This systems-wide approach demonstrates how drama therapists use creative methods to affect policy and create change. Drama therapists are also moving into job positions where they have formal power, such as program directors of psycho-social clubs where drama therapists have hired playback theatre practitioners to come in and facilitate a dialogue between community partners and individuals with mental health issues in need of community-based support, to access employment opportunities and permanent housing. In moving to positions of formal power, drama therapists can begin to create a paradigm shift in the ways that positions of formal power are perceived in the field of behavioral health.
It is my hope that newly minted drama therapists will go out into the profession and find job opportunities that are specific to drama therapists. If not, I hope they will look for employment opportunities and places within other disciplines where drama therapy and action-oriented psychotherapy and counseling can be integrated within the existing approach to behavioral health. Whether drama therapists find themselves working for human service agencies in a clinical position under the supervision of a program director, in private practice, or working in an unrelated field, he or she will bring their unique set of skills to the table wielding their informal power to build community and effect change.
Jason Conover, RDT, LCAT, CASAC, is a drama therapist currently working at ACCESS Community Health Center. He manages their drug and alcohol prevention education program, and works with individuals with traumatic brain injury, intellectual or other developmental disabilities, mental health issues and substance use disorders. Jason is serving a second term as recording secretary for the tri-state chapter of the NADTA, and in his spare time likes to write songs, play guitar, and eat anything with bacon in it.
Landy, R. (2009). Role theory and the role method of drama therapy. In D. Johnson & R. Emunah (Eds.), Current approaches in drama therapy (pp. 65-88). Springfield, Illinois: Charles C Thomas Publisher Ltd.
McGrath, D. (2012). The Abuse of Formal and Informal Power: Work Place Bullying as a Dichotomous Construct. International Journal of Health, Wellness, and Society, 1-2. Retrieved April 1, 2015, from https://www.inter-disciplinary.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/DLMcGrathPaper.pdf
Reyes, S. (2013, October 16). Understanding the Power Dynamic at Work. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://tribehr.com/blog/understanding-the-power-dynamic-at-work