Cultivating a Lasting Sense of Play: Reflections from the 2016 NADTA Conference

By Danielle Levanas, MA, RDT, LCAT

When I moved to the Central Valley of California, I knew that I’d be leaving my progressive, liberal community in New York City. But California is a “blue state”, right? My new county – Stanislaus County – voted 48% for Donald Trump, 47% for Hillary Clinton in the recent 2016 elections. Having been here for almost a year, I’m not surprised by that election data, but I don’t feel like I live in the California most people imagine when they think of the state.

Living here, my worldview has expanded, and my assumptions are being questioned every day. I struggle to find a voice for dialogue in the midst of so much hurt and reactionary divisiveness – including my own. Each day I wake up and work in a county that feels like a swing state. It is a new experience for me. I am open to it, but I am deeply daunted by inner and outer challenges. The work is here and now, yet in my new community, my liberal activist orientation tends to push people away, shut people down, or elicit eye rolling or shrugs. I don’t have an internalized map for a new type of engagement, but I am finding breadcrumbs along the way.

I work in an environment devoid of play and the playful concept of magic. Situated in the heartland of California and surrounded by almond orchards, this might seem surprising. However, my facility is a locked adult Mental Health Rehabilitation Center with 98 beds in a rural town of 10,755 people where the impact of poverty, economic stress, institutionalization, and small town ideals is striking. As with other facilities I’ve worked in, I feel myself shut down physically when I walk into the locked gates every morning. I foster a daily practice to keep my physical orientation to the environment open, spontaneous and creative. This is something I have come to recognize as part of my process, something that weekly arts-oriented clinical supervision helps me maintain (Hodermarska, et al, 2014).

In my adult life, I struggle to maintain an ongoing sense of play in my view of the world. I was not a very playful child; I was outgoing and vivacious, but serious. Maybe this is one of the reasons I am so drawn to the field of drama therapy.

At the 2016 NADTA Conference in Seattle, this concept of “play” was explored in multifaceted and rejuvenating ways. I returned home with pressing questions. Among them was: “How do I cultivate an internal sense of play in my community and work environment in the midst of an overwhelming sense of hopelessness? How do I bring this concept of play into areas of my life that feel violent – at work and in my community?”

Lately, my work facility has experienced a number of violent outbursts by patients toward peers or staff, resulting in black eyes, concussions, and a heightened sense of panic. In the minds of many of my coworkers and the administration, the concern of maintaining an environment where staff can protect vulnerable patients and themselves from violence supersedes any commitment to play. In fact, play – especially playfulness around the concept of violence – is often met with deep distrust and judgment.  

My drama therapeutic orientation of Landy’s (2009) Role Theory and Johnson’s (2014) Developmental Transformations support me in playing with themes of contradiction in role and power dynamics. However, when working within systems of control and fear, I discover a deep resistance to play arises within me. Does this stem from my childhood attachment issues, my fear of losing control? Or might this also be a result of the shame-laden voice inside that tells me to fight playfulness in order to be taken seriously as a Creative Arts Therapist, as a woman, as an outsider? Who planted this voice hissing inside me, “I must represent a role that others find palatable? I catch myself over-thinking and second-guessing my own presence in the work environment at the exact moments I am asking my patients to open up.

Outside the facility, the world does not feel playful right now, either. I feel the need to armor up to protect myself. I drive by a Confederate flag on my way to work, one of the many daily reminders of how deep the white supremacist violence runs  in our country. The political outcomes of the 2016 U.S. election have shattered parts of me and focused others. I struggle with the question: How do I sustain engagement in a dialogue that is fulfilling and aligned with the activism which feeds and expresses my spirit without creating more polarization in my home community?

Of course, the answer is related to play.

Play, that tickle of taunting joy that activates inside at “inappropriate” times. Play, the desire to fart in the middle of a room and watch the people scatter. Play, the moments when the group room breaks out into ecstatic dancing, so loud, so joyous, so uncontained, that staff members set aside their self-consciousness and join in.

Salvo Pitruzzella (2016), in his keynote speech at the NADTA Conference stated,  “Play can exist only if it is free.” Play, then, is a practice of personal liberation. As Friere (1970) wrote, “Liberation is a praxis: the action and reflection of men and women upon their world in order to transform it” (p. 79). Brunner and Hix (2014) explored the concept of engagement with violent play in therapeutic theatre in their thesis for the NYU Drama Therapy Program:

“Clearly, attempts to move into dangerous, uncomfortable, quasi-ethical borderlands are not only met with fear and resistance from individuals, but from institutions as well. If it is the drama therapist’s responsibility to lead the charge, so to speak, in venturing into these spaces, then perhaps the drama therapist’s greatest asset is in her ability to ease entry through the use of aesthetic distance” (p. 103).

Landy (2009) defined aesthetic distance as “a balance of feeling and thought” that drama therapists can help create in encounters with clients (p. 72). This “point of liberation, marks the moment when the client is at his most spontaeous” (Landy, 1994, p. 118). Often play can seem “magical” or as ephemeral as “catching smoke”, but the use of aesthetic distance concretizes threatening themes in forms of play that can be more easily accessed for all involved – clinical staff, patients, family and community members. For play to exist, basic fundamental human needs must be satisfied momentarily, such as “good-enough” safety, security, and sustenance. With this awareness, drama therapists can help create the building blocks that allow for play to flourish in even the most broken systems.

Still, more questions remain:

In a climate that currently feels unknown, unpredictable, dangerous, threatening, frightening, how can we keep our own sense of play, and bring that sense of play to the individuals, groups, communities, and nation that needs it so desperately right now? How do we bring play to what is so that we may continually seek the flexibility and spontaneity that empowers us and others to survive, thrive, and revolutionize?” (Margaret Powell, personal communication, December 20, 2016)

I don’t have clear answers to offer at this point, but I will respond with an experience I had at the 2016 NADTA Conference that has stuck with me and bolstered me through a few dark moments in the past couple months. In the Diversity Forum on the final day, I took part in a deeply meaningful community experience through Boal’s Forum Theatre. Led by Jessica Bleuer, MA, MEd, CCC, Psychotherapy Permit, Ordre des Psychologues du Québec, RDT, and Idalid Diaz, MA, the group explored a recent difficult exchange I had with a co-worker at work.

I described my experience in the conference workshop:

The day after the murder of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man shot by police in Oklahoma, I was sitting at the facility break room scrolling through a news feed on my phone. Feeling deep grief and anger about the ongoing murders of black men and women at the hands of U.S. law enforcement, I sighed aloud and said to a coworker sitting near me, “I am so overwhelmed by the news today. So many innocent people are getting killed.” She turned to me, and said, “I know. So many of those people coming here are terrorists. I am honestly afraid to go to the airport.”

In the moment of that exchange, I experienced a dissociation. Initially, my heart delighted in thinking that she was agreeing with me, that we would be able to engage in a meaningful dialogue. Once I began to process her words, however, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. How could we miss each other so completely? We were sitting two feet from each other, but the divide felt vast. I felt exposed, angry, judgmental, and self-righteous. I could not have felt less playful. I mumbled something about how I was referring to police brutality and systemic racism. She looked confused and defensive. I didn’t know how to start to address her microaggressive, xenophobic statement at that moment. Lunch break was almost over. The conversation – and opportunity for dialogue with it  – died.

In exploring this experience at the conference, I was asked to title the story, and I named it “Violence at Home.” Next, audience spec-actors had the opportunity to try out different suggestions for continuing the the scene differently. Interestingly, and perhaps fittingly, we ran out of time at the end of the workshop, with a few opportunities for spec-actors to jump in but without real resolution. True to the nature of both Forum Theatre and difficult dialogue, we ended at an impasse. And yet I felt changed.

california_presidential_election_results_2016-svg

CA Presidential Voting Results 2016 

For the first time since moving away from New York City, I felt like my experience of straddling worlds in my work environment was fully validated. I wasn’t looking for answers; I was looking for a different way to sit with the realities I was confronting. Through the NADTA community’s willingness to engage my dissociation, I left with a sense of possibility and movement, if not resolution to the impasse. I left this year’s conference with a realigned sense of aesthetic distance. Nothing was fixed in the specific scene from my real life at work, but I felt more empowered to play in the dangerous spaces I was occupying. I felt less alone.

I end this reflection with beginnings, with two calls to action. The first is my commitment of action to you, the drama therapy community, toward the cultivation of a daily sense of play – in myself, in my work, and in my community. Over the past three months since the conference, I have started building a Playback Theatre company with patients in my facility. We have been exploring how empathy, dialogue, and personal stories can be processed in a playful and new way. The patients have found a sense of empowerment and fun as actors, and as I anticipated, most staff have been hesitantly supportive of the endeavor. We held a holiday show recently, allowing some of the deep and rich stories evoked by the holiday season to be processed through this form. For 45 minutes, the suppressed culture of the environment was suspended, power dynamics slightly shifted, and the patient-actors were able to emerge as “experts” of their craft and “in service” of the community. In spite of ongoing resistance to change in my work culture, I commit to continue this practice of playful dialogue within the walls of my facility.

I will also try to engage more meaningfully and fearlessly with my co-workers and community around the topic of white supremacy and racial microaggressions. I will choose daily to make space for the challenging conversations. I will speak up about the necessity of being an ally in this time. I will try to be more curious about those whose points of view I do not understand, and through playfulness, I will invite people to be curious with me.

The second call to action is an invitation, here on Dramascope, for you to share what the cultivation of play will look like for you in 2017 – in your work, in your communities, and in your inner and outer dangerous spaces. My conference experience highlights for me how we need each other more now, when so many spaces feel more dangerous for some than ever before. Others have never felt safe or allied. Share with us what you are doing to make space in your worlds for beauty, imagination, movement through the impasses, and possibilities for inclusive engagement. According to Leonard Cohen’s (1992) creative engagement, now is the time: “Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in.” We and our systems are imperfect and broken, even as we are making the cracks. Through play, we can help make spaces for the light.

14962752_10105553922576439_2534211307348275254_nDanielle Levanas, MA, RDT, LCAT is a graduate of the NYU master’s
program in Drama Therapy and holds an advanced certification from the International Trauma Studies Program. As the first registered drama therapist at California Psychiatric Transitions, she is currently collaborating to build an expressive therapies program focused on how creative expression can be used to work with severe trauma, issues of privilege and oppression, and institutionalization in order to facilitate empowerment and greater flexibility. Danielle was a member of the Big Apple Playback Theatre Company from 2008-2016, and she has studied at the DvT Institute in New York City.

References

Brunner, N. and Hix, L. (2014). Threshold of safety in therapeutic theatre (Unpublished master’s thesis.) New York University, NY.

Cohen, L. (1992) Anthem. On The Future [CD]. Columbia Records.

Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Herder and Herder.

Hodermarska, M., Haen, C., & McLellan, L. (2014). Exquisite corpse: On dissociation and intersubjectivity – Implications for trauma-informed drama therapy. In N. Sajnani & D. R. Johnson (Eds.), Trauma-informed drama therapy: Transforming clinics, classrooms, and communities (pp. 179-205). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Johnson, D. R. (2014). Trauma-centered developmental transformations. In N. Sajnani & D. R. Johnson (Eds.), Trauma-informed drama therapy: Transforming clinics, classrooms, and communities (pp. 68-92). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Landy, R. (1994). Drama therapy: Concepts, theories, and practice (2nd ed.). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Landy, R. J. (2009). Role theory and the role method of drama therapy. In D. R. Johnson & R. Emunah (Eds.), Current approaches in drama therapy (pp. 65-88). Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Pitruzzella, S. (2016, October 29). The lost treasure of Paidia: Creativity and intersubjectivity in the dramatic process. Keynote speech presented at NADTA Conference 2016 in Seattle, WA.

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Seeping Within: A View of Shame Dynamics

By Darci Burch, MA, LCAT-P

“I’m a drama therapist… and a real therapist” the woman said to me with large eyes and over-pronunciation to emphasize her point. I was at a meet-and-greet for mental health professionals working in the arts and education. After making an initial lap of the room, I had managed to find one other drama therapist soul with whom to connect. The introduction drew me up short. “A real therapist.” I wondered what that made me. Me with my newly minted Licensed Creative Arts Therapist permit—me with an empty frame waiting for a stiff diploma in the mail—me with new business cards announcing my educational achievement and representing all my hopes for my new career. “A real therapist?” I asked tentatively. She simply responded, “Well, you know.”

No, I did not know.

That is not true. I knew exactly what she was saying. She was informing me that she was also an MFT, LMHC, LCSW, or LPC perhaps. What I did not know was why she was presenting herself in that way, especially to me, a sister-in-arms. Were we not just as “real” as these other professionals? Was my education not just as academically rigorous? My sessions with clients just as meaningful? My work just as important? I had only recently started my new job working with put-at-risk youth in public school settings. So far my day-to-day interactions with the children, the trauma stories I was hearing, and the interventions I was crafting along the way certainly felt real. Nothing felt fake about the connections I was making nor the role I was playing for these kids. And yet, here I was, being told by a new colleague that she was only a real therapist because she held a second licensure. In effect then, I was an imposter.

My mind rolled back to the first time I read drama therapist David Read Johnson’s (1994) article on shame dynamics in relation to the creative arts therapies. Johnson explored internalized shame, suggesting a number of defenses that creative arts therapists employ to combat their experience of inferiority. He identified overcompensation, redirecting shame on others, increased rigidity, and need for control as ways that we potentially “shame-prone individual[s]” (p. 176) defend against the impact of our experiences. Johnson suggested that these defenses are seen in drama therapists’ relationships with each other, with other creative arts therapy modalities, and with professionals in the larger mental health field.

I remember being deeply impacted by this article in my first semester of internship class and relating to the shame I had already begun to feel but could not name. It amazed me that 20 years after the article was originally published, the main tenets still felt so familiar, so present, as if Johnson (1994) had just written this article as a guide for me and my cohort. As I stepped into my clinical internships, I faced not only my own shame about who I was as a drama therapist, but also the shame passed on to me from my mentors and supervisors. This is not to discount the wisdom, professionalism, and countless benefits I gained from my supervisors. Still, I quickly learned my place not only as intern, but more specifically as an intern to a creative arts therapist. I learned when I was allowed to speak to the psychologists and psychiatrists at my sites and when I was expected to stay quiet because it was not my place to speak up. Add this to culturally defined gender roles and systemic oppression and I was caught in a storm from which it felt there was no shelter. Even with exceptional skill and best intentions, my supervisors could not shield me from the shame seeping within and out of our profession.

Drama therapist Eleanor Irwin (1986) wrote about her belief in the importance of the supervisor’s role in a budding therapist’s development. Irwin suggested that the supervisor is integral in the creation of the supervisee’s professional identity. It is through the relationship with the supervisor that we learn to hone our intuition, ask questions, speak up, and “most important, to listen—to [our]self as well as others” (p. 191). In my experience, these lessons are learned just as much outside the therapy room as within. It was confusing when I was taught to trust my clinical intuition with clients, yet asked to silence myself with my mental health colleagues; when I was reminded to hold boundaries for and with my clients while at the same time watching my supervisors—overloaded with work—take on tasks outside their job scope simply because they were the only creative arts therapists on their teams. Johnson (1994) proposed that shame dynamics might be at play in the lack of consistent mentoring within the field. Just as we can be influenced by our client’s affect, if our supervisors and mentors are affected by an underlying professional shame, might those of us new to the field absorb some of those feelings?

I find myself nervous asking that question, that it might be published in this very blog. In fact, writing this post in general has brought up some anxiety. I wonder: How do I ask these questions without fear of hurting or betraying any mentor I have had in this field? I know that some of those who have helped me along the way will support this line of questioning but I fear that I may be seen as ungrateful or out of place. I only just graduated and am finally understanding what others meant about the safety of being a student. I recently attended my first NADTA conference as a “professional” and I often felt unsure of where I fit. I was not back as a student, where my questioning was encouraged and my status was a safety net for exploration, nor was I a seasoned (or even licensed) therapist with a career. I was in no man’s land. How does someone new to our small field challenge and ask these questions when we are not sure how or when we will even get hired?

The shame I carry personally and the shame passed down to me in school became especially evident in the job search. Initially, I continued to utilize the spiel I learned as a student, explaining to everyone I met what a drama therapist does. I was applying for jobs titled “Activity Therapist,” “Recreation Specialist,” and “Waiver Service Provider.” My peers and I were constantly shifting the description of our skills in an attempt to fit preconceived notions of “therapist” for positions with supervisors who would not accept that we had earned a Master’s in psychotherapy with academically rigorous standards of theory and research. We were defeated by our “creative arts” title before we could even interview and prove our skills and knowledge. One job opportunity I found claimed to be enthusiastic about bringing a creative arts therapist on board but then listed “current driver’s license” as more vital to the job than “ability to serve as a positive role model to children.” Both requests seemed odd for a therapist position.

I finally landed a job with a company that employs and was founded by creative arts therapists. The job posting was explicitly for “Drama Therapist.” Seeing that title in and of itself felt supportive. This spring there will be two drama therapy interns working under two different RDTs in the organization. While I will not be their direct supervisor, I know that they will be shadowing some of my groups, watching how I work with clients, and potentially comparing their professional identity to mine. It is what I did when I was an intern. It is what I still do as I find my footing in this new career. It has me wondering: What kind of impressions will I leave on them? Will they inherit any of my professional shame?

Johnson (1994) called for creative arts therapists to collaborate and join together. Irwin (1986) spoke of the value of a guide who has journeyed upon a similar road as the traveler they lead. In reflection, I think my mentors not only imparted pieces of professional shame, but also gave me the tools to investigate it. The reason I question it now is because of the strength of those who came before me and fought their own battles in this field. I ask myself: How can I ensure that I am a part of drama therapy’s strength—not fear—and empowerment—not shame? I hunger for continued mentorship and hope to mentor others as I grow and learn. I worry that the farther away from school I get the shorter my mentor list will become and the easier it will be to slip into rigid and paranoid patterns of professional shame.

As I write this post I am very aware of the differences I feel between my role as student and my role as novice clinician. As a student, I was often encouraged to work and explore in a process—not product—oriented fashion. I was asked to create more questions than answers, to investigate myself, my practice, my clients with a postmodern lens that welcomed varying interpretations and experiences. But as a novice clinician I am asked for product. I am asked to provide solutions, explain behavior, and deliver concrete results as a means to prove my worth and efficacy. This is pressure enough in a career situation, but I find myself worried that it extends into my drama therapy community as well. Will I be accepted if I admit to not knowing the answers? Will I be guided if I acknowledge I don’t always know the way? Will I be answered if I ask questions without providing definite solutions? This is my call to the field: Can we hold each other in the liminal space? Can we admit to not knowing the answers and still commit to exploring them together? That is what I need in mentorship and support. Someone to walk the path with me, to dive into the unknown, and to sit in the muck because answers are not the same as solutions. Solutions are not always available in the difficult work that we do.

This post then, is me heeding the calls of Johnson (1994) and Irwin (1986). I am speaking up. I am seeking mentorship and support. I am asking for more dialogue about shame in our field. I am listening for the response and wondering who can sit in it with me.

 

burchd

Darci Burch, MA, LCAT-P, is a recent graduate of New York University and is currently working in New York City for ENACT, a non-profit organization teaching social emotional skills to young people in public schools. She is interested in continuing her thesis research on dissociation in the therapist/client relationship and looks forward to continuing her work acting and writing.

 

References:

Irwin, E. C. (1986). On being and becoming a therapist. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 13, 191-195.

Johnson, D. R. (1994). Shame dynamics among creative arts therapists. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 21(3), 173-178.

A Letter from the Pre-Education Committee

Dear Drama Therapy Community,

As the Pre-Education Committee wrapped up our 2015 conference-focused programming we reflected on the process and also thought towards the future. We enjoyed  gathering and delivering resources via social media and engaging in the dialogues that emerged. While our work has come to an end for the 2015 conference, we realize that the there is still much to be done.

Martin Luther King told us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Sadly, every day the news is riddled with stories of injustice as the lives of people continue to be strangled by prejudice. Many in the Drama Therapy community work with people facing these injustices and/or face these challenges in their own lives. It is our hope that the dialogue around these issues will continue and the compiling of resources regarding social justice will be ongoing. With the continuing need to stand against oppressive messages and actions, let us again look to Martin Luther King’s wisdom which says, “the ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” Let us as a community continue to raise our voices and seek additional ways to be active participants in the fight for justice.

As a committee, we have started a resource list, which is located here: 2015 NADTA Conference Resource List. We hope this will continue to be a living document to which others will add. Please contribute resources that might benefit our communities, research, dialogue and action around social justice to the comments section of this blog post found below.

As we prepare to sign off, we thank you for your participation in the Pre-Education programming. It has been an honor to serve the community through this platform.

Sincerely,

The 2015 NADTA Pre-Education Committee

britton

Britton Williams, RDT, LCAT, is a drama therapist working full-time at Metropolitan Hospital and in private practice.

danielle

Danielle Levanas, RDT, LCAT-permit, is a drama therapist at California Psychiatric Transitions working in long-term adult mental health care.

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Alexis Powell, RDT, LCAT, works with families in NYC.

 

rachael

Rachel Lee Soon, RDT, LCAT-permit, is a drama therapist working in a trauma-informed model across multiple populations at Creative Alternatives of New York (CANY).

 

 

Black Lives Matter

North American Drama Therapy Association Position Statement
May 2015

Black Lives Matter. Like many around the world, we at the North American Drama Therapy Association share the profound grief, anger, and pain as we grapple with the loss of Mya Hall, 27; Freddie Gray, 25; Trayvon Martin, 17; Rumain Brisbon, 34; Tamir Rice, 12; Yvette Smith, 47; Akai Gurley, 28; Kajieme Powell, 25; Ezell Ford, 25; Oscar Grant, 22, Dante Parker, 36; Michael Brown, 18; John Crawford III, 22; Tyree Woodson, 38; Eric Garner, 43; Victor White, 22; Yvette Smith, 47; McKenzie Cochran, 25; Jordan Baker, 26; Andy Lopez, 13; Miriam Carey, 34; Jonathan Ferrell, 24; Carlos Alcis, 43; Larry Eugene Jackson, Jr., 32; Deion Fludd, 17; Kimani Gray, 16; Johnnie Kamahi Warren, 43; Malissa Williams, 30; Timothy Russell, 43; Reynaldo Cuevas, 20 and countless others. Their deaths have brought international attention to the daily inequities experienced within communities of color at the hands of the police and civilians who are rarely held responsible for their actions.

We, at the NADTA, do not see these deaths as isolated events but an epidemic that affects the safety and well-being of society, our members, and those with whom we work.  We recognize that what we are experiencing is the systemic failure of our society to address our own history and legacy of colonization and slavery that continues to rationalize the domination of one racial or ethnic group over other group(s) and to maintain psychological and material advantages through the ongoing dehumanization and criminalization of people of color in every social sphere that we choose to acknowledge from our systems of healthcare, education, justice, human services, banking, and housing.  Social acceptance of the myth of a colorblindness, institutionalized racism, and a pervasive fear of the “other” are at the root of these acts of brutality (Mayor, 2012; Sajnani, 2012).

We also recognize that we are an organizational expression of society and therefore implicated in the struggle for social justice and equality. Therefore, we see this statement as a critical part of our commitment to upholding high standards of ethical practice. In the words of art therapist Dan Hockoy (2007), “There is no possibility to end psychological suffering until we work on the social disparities that result in ‘intrapsychic trauma,’ and, no matter how much political activism and community service we do, there is no possibility for social justice  until we come to terms with the forces of marginalization within our own psyches” (p.37).  Racism, implicit bias, and race-based privilege disrupt the mental health and psychological functioning of both victims and perpetrators of racial injustice and this contributes to the maintenance of racist systems and interactions (APA, 2015).

We understand the inclination to respond to this position statement with an assertion that all lives matter and, of course, they do. However, as George Yancy and Judith Butler noted in their recent article in the New York Times (Jan. 12, 2015),

If we jump too quickly to the universal formulation, ‘all lives matter’, then we miss the fact that black people have not yet been included in the idea of ‘all lives.’ That said, it is true that all lives matter…but to make that universal formulation concrete, to make that into a living formulation, one that truly extends to all people, we have to foreground those lives that are not mattering now, to mark that exclusion, and militate against it. Achieving that universal, ‘all lives matter,’ is a struggle, and that is part of what we are seeing on the streets…Only through such an ever-growing cross-racial struggle against racism can we begin to achieve a sense of all the lives that really do matter.

The current climate of violence most directly and negatively impacts people of color and it affects all of us. We condemn police brutality and the US and Canadian systems of racialized, mass incarceration. To our members who have expressed feeling invisible, forgotten, or silenced we are deeply grieved. We stand with our members who have experienced the trauma of racism and intersecting oppressions. We call on our community as a whole to bring your experience, critical thinking, research, and artful approaches to creating spaces where we can extend our understanding of the impact of racism and other forms of social injustice on health and well-being.

Towards this end, the NADTA has been and will continue to engage in a number of initiatives. These include the development of guidelines concerning cultural response/ability in ethical practice. Your input on these guidelines is critical so please click here to read them and provide your comments. These guidelines will be discussed at our next annual conference which is focused on how drama therapists draw on an understanding of dramatic reality, embodiment, improvisation, role, play, narrative, witnessing, and performance amongst other processes to promote empathy, diversity and social justice (Oct. 15-18, 2015).  Please consider participating in the online activities and conversations coordinated by the conference pre-education committee. You also are welcome to share your reflections in a blog post on the official NADTA blog, Dramascope (via email submission to thedramascope@nadta.org) or submit an article or a clinical commentary to Drama Therapy Review, the peer-reviewed journal of the NADTA. Issue 2.1 is a special issue entitled: Borderlands: Diversity and Social Justice in Drama Therapy and the deadline is August 1st, 2015. The NADTA Diversity Committee will also host community conference calls for members to share their reflections on matters of interest pertaining to diversity, mental health, and the practice of drama therapy. The first call will be focused on the impact of racism on mental health and will take place on Monday, June 1st, from 8-9pm EST. Please click here to sign up for this call and to receive call-in details.

We are also aware of the trailblazing work done by colleagues in related fields who have documented the psychological causes and consequences of racism, transphobia, homophobia, ageism, ableism, sexism, sizeism, poverty and other forms of interpersonal and institutionalized bias on mental health and invite you to make use of these resources and to contribute others by contacting Jessica Bleuer, Diversity Chair, at diversity@nadta.org.

We close with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who, in his influential book Why We Can’t Wait, wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (1963, p. 87).

In Solidarity,

NADTA Board of Directors
Nadya Trytan
Jason Butler
Jeremy Segall
Whitney Sullivan
Susan Ward
Jason Frydman
Jennifer Wilson
Karimah Dillard
Kim Cohn
Jessica Bleuer
Alisha Henson
Josiah Stickels
Laura Wood
Angela Wiley

NADTA Advisory Committee (Black Lives Matter)
Nisha Sajnani
Carmen White
Britton Williams
Amber N. Smith

NADTA Diversity Committee
Jessica Bleuer
Carmen White
Diana E Jordan
Daniela Bustamante
Jami Osborne
Shyam Anandampalli
Idalid Diaz

References

American Psychological Association (2015). Guidelines on multicultural education, training, research, practice, and organizational change for psychologists. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/policy/multicultural-guidelines.aspx

Hockoy, D. (2007).  Art therapy as a tool for social change: A conceptual model. In F. Kaplan (Ed.), Art therapy and social action (pp. 21-39). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

King, M.L. (1963). Why we can’t wait. Boston: Beacon Press

Mayor, C. (2012). Playing with race: A theoretical framework and approach for creative arts therapists. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 39 (3), 214-219.

Sajnani, N. (2012). Response/ability: Towards a critical race feminist paradigm for the creative arts therapies. The Arts in Psychotherapy. 39 (3), 186-191.

Yancy, G. & Butler, J. (January 12, 2015). What’s wrong with all lives matter? Retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/12/whats-wrong-with-all-lives-matter/

Is There a Queer Drama Therapy?

By Patrick Tomczyk, MA

I write this blog entry on the heels of Wear a Pink T-Shirt day, a Canadian initiative that promotes anti-bullying initiatives, celebrated across the country annually on February 25th. This year the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) community looks forward to a conference with the theme of Diversity and Social Justice. As a drama therapist researching homophobic bullying and working in private practice with LGBTQ adolescents and young adults, diversity and social justice concerns are very relevant to my research and practice. The nature of my work is situated within Canada: a country that has a reputation for its politeness, as its people profusely say “sorry”; a leader in LGBTQ rights as one of the first countries to legalize gay marriage; and a country that promotes international human rights. While my point of reference is the Canadian context, I do wish to raise awareness regarding some of the issues for all members within the NADTA community as there are significant similarities in themes and data surrounding bullying research from the UK, Australia, the US, and Canada. My work focuses on “homophobic bullying” (Rivers, 2011), which is an internationally used and defined term, widely accepted by NGOs and governments as: “bullying behaviours that are motivated by prejudice against a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity” (Department for Children, Schools and Families. 2007; Government of Alberta, 2015; NoBullying.com, 2015; Save the Children, 2015).

Bullying is a systemic national issue in Canada. Although our borders may be far and wide, our population is just over 35,000,000 (Statistics Canada, 2014). Consequently, news of deaths from violence or suicide, related to bullying, garner national media attention and make headlines across the country as the names continue growing on an already long list: Reena Virk from British Columbia, Jenna Bowers from Nova Scotia, Mitchell Wilson from Ontario, Jamie Hubley from Ontario, Marjorie Raymond from Quebec, Amanda Todd from British Columbia, Rehtaeh Parsons from Nova Scotia, and Todd Loik from Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, with more than 400 adolescent suicides annually, suicide is the second most common form of premature death among youths aged 15 to 24 in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2008). Bullying is often a key-contributing factor to youth suicides, and LGBTQ youth account for a significant and disproportionate number of these deaths.

Egale is Canada’s national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans (LGBT) human rights organization: advancing equality, diversity, education and justice. In 2011, Egale released the findings from the First National Climate Survey on Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in Canadian Schools Final Report (Taylor et al., 2011). The data illustrates a real cause for concern about homophobic bullying within Canada. The national study found that 70% of all students hear derogatory comments and normalized expressions such as “that’s so gay” or “faggot” every day in school. Moreover, 10% of students report that these pejorative expressions are used directly by their teachers. Alarmingly, more than half of LGBTQ youth feel unsafe at school, compared to 3% of their heterosexual peers. Equally important, 58% of heterosexual youth report finding homophobic comments upsetting. Almost half of sexual minority students are verbally harassed about their gender expression and/or sexual orientation. Lastly, more than 1 in 5 LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed or assaulted because of their sexual orientation and 49% of trans students reported being sexually harassed at school. This data is only a snapshot of the urgency of the situation in Canada.

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Drama Therapy With Latino Populations

Artwork by Luis Nishizawa

By Antonio Ramirez, PsyD

Multicultural counseling requires knowledge, skills, and awareness (Sue & Sue, 2008). Knowledge is the therapist’s basic familiarity with the client’s cultural background. Skills are the intervention strategies that are in line with the client’s background. Awareness is the recognition of the therapist’s background that may interfere with the therapy process, for example: the social factors of privilege and cultural countertransference (Perez-Foster, 1999).

The therapy process requires clients and therapists to look beyond the obvious; to understand the roots of the presenting issues alongside the client’s strengths. Multicultural therapy requires the therapist to understand the client’s world as much as possible in order to assist in self-understanding from within the client’s own worldview. This proposition is extremely complex, because it involves not only the people in the therapy room, but also many other people who are and have been involved in the client’s life. A useful frame for understanding this concept is Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological proposal to recognize environmental influences that place the client and the therapist in a multicultural context.

Verbal therapy is relatively limited because it assumes that clients have the ability to express their experiences in words and that the most powerful way to understand is through intellectual, logical understanding. Drama therapy expands from verbal therapy and includes other types and channels or modes of understanding like somatic, symbolic, interpersonal, and mythical paradigms, among others. This expansion requires the drama therapist to be especially aware of multicultural issues that go beyond verbal expression. Therapists receive training in multicultural issues, but their knowledge, skills, and awareness may still be limited (Sue & Sue, 2008). The fact that drama therapy is an embodied approach makes the potential for misunderstanding and injury of clients greater than verbal therapy because it can occur on several levels. A strength that drama therapists possess is their ability to use their acting backgrounds and/or skills to undertake the analysis of character. The process of embodying characters from another time, place, or culture can allow us to engage in perspective taking, to imagine the experiences of others.

A Drama Therapy Group in Mexico

To demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and awareness when applied using a multicultural frame, I will share the process of preparing and conducting a drama therapy group to explore masculinity from a pro-feminist perspective.

I ran a brief drama therapy series for men in Mexico with the theme of reflecting on their experiences with the masculine role. The workshop was delivered in two eight-hour sessions at a non-profit agency. There were 14 participants and their ages ranged from about 20 to 45. I am from Mexico, so I worked from an emic, or within the culture, approach that generated advantages and disadvantages. These will become clear as we explore the group’s progress.

In preparation for the workshop, I decided to use Emunah’s (1994) Five Phase Model. Due to the collectivistic nature of Mexican culture, people’s identities are based on the idea of interdependence, creating a sense of belonging. On the other hand, collectivism in Mexico can create a sense of vulnerability because of the potential for personal information to be shared outside of the group as gossip, or chisme. The Five Phase Model provides at least two safeguards against this vulnerability. One is the intimacy built in slow increments through the first and second phases: Dramatic Play and Scenework (Emunah, 1994). The other is the way it allows the therapist to move at the group’s pace and recognize when the group is ready to move to the next phase. Notice that this relates to the therapist’s skills, including competent understanding of the culture.

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Drama Therapy, Distance, and Diversity Training

By Gary Raucher, MA, LMFT, RDT/BCT

Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland mark the latest iterations of an unsettling and racially polarized pattern in US police – community relations. Protests in several cities – some marred by violence – have marked the aftermath of grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers whose actions resulted in the deaths of Michael Brown (18) and Eric Garner (43), two unarmed black men.  In Cleveland, a white rookie shot and killed a 12 year old black boy, mistaking the youth’s toy gun as real. These incidents highlight some vital issues concerning all our communities, membership in the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) no less than any other. We all have a role to play in the pursuit of a just society.

The ongoing conversation in the US about these events (as reported in the media) is largely polarized between those who perceive them as an unfortunate series of incidents and those who see them as symptomatic of a pervasive pattern in which unexamined racism in the social zeitgeist is aggravated by militarized policing. One side seeks to examine these incidents for procedural adjustments to policing practices; the other side speaks of a deep-seated need for cultural renewal and structural change. It is hard to foster conversations between parties separated by such a wide perceptual gap, especially when the divide falls largely along racial, cultural, class, and political lines. What potentials does drama therapy hold for healing in such situations, and on what scale?

NADTA bylaws list as the second of its seven purposes and objectives, “to encourage a consciousness of diversity,” and of course, diversity in this context points towards several inter-related concepts, among them an awareness of the impacts of privilege and institutionalized oppression. Our bylaws remind us, as drama therapists, to consider how we can use our skills and resources to promote social justice.

Not that this is easy work!  Most activists I know feel that raising consciousness in the area of institutionalized oppression is an uphill battle, and that social healing requires a long-term commitment. A nation’s collective unconscious, like that of an individual, is prone to denial of its participation and collusion in oppression, and such collective shadows are necessarily dispelled slowly, one individual at a time.

A black colleague of mine recalls hearing Alice Walker say that we can’t indulge in the luxury of expecting that the change we want will occur in our lifetime. While it could – attitudes towards marriage equality have undergone a sea change in the past decade – there are no guarantees, and, how do we compare the relative intractability of racism and homophobia in a culture’s unconscious? The bottom line is that we aspire and work towards social justice and mutual understanding because we know we must, regardless. High expectations may lead to disappointment, but we can learn to take heart from slow and incremental gains.

Back to the question: what can drama therapy (and its cousins such as applied drama) offer the enterprise of social evolution? A lot, I would say, even if on a relatively small scale for now. The following is just one example:

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