By Craig Haen, Ph.D., RDT, CGP, LCAT, FAGPA
In a recent TEDx talk (which you can watch here), Ash Beckham discusses the current tendency toward polarization in this country, despite the fact that most people are full of contradictions, and subsequently asks the audience to consider how much duality they can hold. Her talk was firmly on my mind throughout the weekend at this year’s NADTA conference. As we engaged in thoughtful and nuanced conversations about sameness and difference, the inevitable started to happen—intersections began to surface and play out. As facilitator Autumn Brown reminded us in the all-conference event (both in her planned content and in the spontaneous way she modeled how to approach and hold one of these moments), it is in these intersections where trauma can exist.
I am grateful to the many people who worked tirelessly to bring this event to fruition and to focus our attention on social justice, marginalization, and oppression. It has been a long time coming. But this is clearly just a beginning. If we want to strive for and become a socially just professional community, we are all required to consider the question: how much can we hold?
As someone who exists both comfortably and uncomfortably in the space of the NADTA conference, I was particularly attuned to people who expressed a similar sentiment. And I was reminded of a workshop Laura Cone and I had the privilege to hold a space for at the last conference in White Plains. At that event, which had the admittedly rabble-rousing title “I Hate Drama Therapy,” a small but very passionate group explored the ways in which (as one attendee so presciently put it) Drama Therapy has been an uncomfortable home. The participants in this workshop didn’t hate drama therapy; by contrast, it was a deeply important part of their professional identities. Yet, there were things about our professional community that didn’t always leave them feeling securely held.
How much can we hold? Can we hold both the people who attend the conference religiously and those who, for a variety of reasons, don’t come? Can we hold the aging founders of our field and the young lifeblood who are calling out for mentorship? Can we hold those who feel emboldened to lead a workshop or step on a stage and those who would never dream of it? Can we hold the member who speaks for vulnerability and the member who speaks for anger, and their shared incredulity about how reductive those labels are? Can we hold the leader who feels that serious research is the domain of those with a doctorate and the new professional who would like to see a system in which research is accessible to everyone? Can we hold those members who were grateful for an apology about cultural appropriation from leadership and those members who wondered what the fuss was about? Can we hold the members whose feet are firmly planted in the performance space and the members whose feet are firmly planted in the clinical one? Can we hold those who benefitted from coming to our field through one of our established higher education programs, and can we hold those who struggle to make their way to our profession through other avenues?
Can we truly embrace members who do not speak our language (academic, political, or mother tongue)?
Can we balance our quest for autonomy and professional recognition with greater efforts to invite and collaborate with other professional allies?
Can we celebrate both the grand and intimate accomplishments of all members of our field, seeing these as things that only benefit all of us, while still engaging in debate?
Can we hold onto and honor our personal truths during moments in which we are offended or triggered, while still having curiosity about the personal truths of those who might have caused us to feel that way?
Can we allow our members the opportunities to stumble, to err, to offend, to apologize, and to grapple with complex issues while still requiring more of all of us?
Theories of non-linear systems suggest that group development is marked by an increasing ability to hold greater complexity. And as drama therapists, we know that health is characterized by a balance between corresponding dualities (role and counter-role). As we approach the next U.S. presidential election and the inevitable polarization of the country, it is my fervent hope that our professional community continues to move in the opposite direction, toward creating a space where our membership can be and express itself, in all its multidimensional humanity.
So I ask again: how much can we hold?
Craig Haen, Ph.D., RDT, CGP, LCAT, FAGPA, has a full-time private practice in White Plains, NY. He serves on faculty at New York University in both the graduate drama therapy program and the department of applied psychology, and at Lesley University in the doctoral expressive therapies program. He is the editor of three books, including the forthcoming Handbook of Child and Adolescent Group Therapy with Seth Aronson.