I approach my drama therapy practice from a specific lens. It might not work for everyone.
The information provided here is to help you better understand if my approach would benefit you.
What is Therapy?
Our understandings of concepts like “therapy” are culturally bound. As a result, it can help to define terms rather than assuming shared meaning.
The Cultural Context
What I mean by “culture” is a collection of ideas/beliefs, values, behaviors, and customs/rituals within a particular group of people. Culture helps answer questions like, “How does the world work?” or “What does it mean to be a human being?”
People can belong to multiple cultures simultaneously (you probably do!). These can be related to race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, gender/sexuality, nationality, hobbies/interests, etc. Sometimes when we belong to multiple cultures, the messages we receive conflict or contradict each other.
Cultural norms also shape our expectations around human behavior and communication. They tell us what is acceptable/unacceptable and polite/impolite. In the case of Western psychology, what is “normal” vs “abnormal.”
The Western Medical Model
The term “therapy,” broadly speaking, refers to any process which results in a positive or healing benefit.
Within Western models of medicine, “therapy” has evolved to describe a process whereby a “disorder” (or “illness” or “injury”) is “treated” or “cured” by a medical professional. This could include physical therapy, occupational therapy, or psychotherapy (among others).
The medical model says a mental health professional diagnoses an individual with a psychological “disorder” or mental “illness.” Then, that professional creates a treatment plan. This might include medication, psychotherapy, or even hospitalization.
Other Cultural Models
I don’t find the medical model the most useful way to understand what is happening within individuals struggling with emotional or psychological symptoms.
These models encourage us to question why certain ways of being in the world are valued above others. And also how the external environment affects our experience.
White Supremacy and Anti-Racism
The theories Western Psychology has about how human brains work, what is normal/abnormal, and how humans grow and develop are just that: theories. The vast majority of those theories were created by cisgender, White, heterosexual men of Western European descent.
One very specific way of being in the world has been generalized as “what it means to be human.”
I believe there are diverse ways of being human. One possible version of human culture should not be prioritized over another. I think it is important to question our assumptions, and look at how the cultural messages we internalize influence our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Western Psychology cannot be separated from racism and White Supremacy Culture. Black people (and other POC) are disproportionately diagnosed with mental health disorders. This can be traced to a long history of arguing that non-White individuals are biologically inferior. This argument was used to justify slavery and segregation. Our current systems still disproportionately pathologize racialized individuals.
Research indicates mental health conditions are culturally bound. Globalization and colonization have caused Western psychological perspectives to be spread world-wide. Outside of that process, there is little evidence the disorders found in the DSM-V exist in other cultures.
If behavior is influenced by culture, then there cannot be one standard of behavior by which to judge the whole of humanity. Outlining one specific expression of human experience as “normal” inherently erases and pathologizes diversity.
My Lens or Approach
I come from an interdisciplinary background.
Psychotherapy is rooted in Psychology. As a drama therapist, I combine Psychology with Sociology, Anthropology, Philosophy, Communications, and Theatre/Drama. This allows me to have a broader and more complicated understanding of what it means to be human.
When I speak about drama therapy, I am speaking to the inherent therapeutic benefits of artistic expression. I am describing a process whereby we can intentionally amplify those positive benefits.
This can include: exploring your relationship to your environment, your culture(s), and people around you. Or, unpacking messages you have received about who you are, how the world works, and how you are supposed to be.
Why This Distinction Matters
The beliefs, practices, and traditions within any given culture become normalized over time.
Through repetition, we accept the internal logic of whatever culture(s) we belong to. Our cultural understandings come to feel natural. They feel like the Truth about the world.
In reality, there are a lot of things that we just don’t know.
Even the way we experience and process emotions is filtered through culture.
The concepts that feel the most basic and unquestionable are often the result of deep cultural conditioning.
At one point in time, it was believed that the Earth is the center of the Universe. We can see the Sun rise and set. It felt logical to assume the Sun was rotating around the Earth. Now, we understand the opposite.
Not everything that feels true, is true.
Sometimes, the more something feels true, the more important it is to question why.
What is the relationship between a therapist and the person seeking care?
The Status Quo
The Western medical model is hierarchical. Healthcare professionals are seen as experts. Doctors, nurses, pharmacists, counselors, social workers, etc. tell you what to do and you comply. We are often told that it isn’t okay to question or contradict them. I disagree!
Our culture in the United States was founded on hierarchical systems based on subjugation, oppression, and enslavement. Both science and medicine have historically been used to reinforce this process. Nazi medical experiments and the Tuskegee Study are but two examples.
Seeing our struggles as individual failings or deficits keeps us from building community and solidarity. It prevents us from recognizing how much both our oppression and liberation are inherently linked to the lives of those around us.
I believe we both have expertise. Your lived experience IS expertise. Working together, we can discover something new.
Therapy as Liberation
Our current system sees care from a hierarchical perspective. Healthcare providers give care, and patients or clients receive care. I believe working with historically marginalized and oppressed individuals requires a different way of thinking. When we speak about healthcare, what does care actually mean? What if we could create mutually beneficial, non-hierarchical care networks?
I don’t think we can use hierarchical relationships as a starting point for healing. Experiencing oppression is traumatic. Reinforcing or recreating hierarchical systems only creates more trauma and oppression.
Audre Lorde said, “Survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
I want to bring about genuine change.
I believe we can co-create a process of mutual benefit. I believe we can collaborate in thinking critically about how systems of oppression keep us trapped in narratives that limit our self-worth and agency. I believe building authentic relationships of care and understanding can help us find true liberation.
Okay, But What Does This Actually Look Like?
The truth is, no one knows!
The willingness to try something new takes a certain amount of courage.
I am asking you to join me in uncharted territory.
I want us both to try to stay aware of when any part of our interactions feels oppressive.
That will allow us to work together to try something new.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with you.
That isn’t to say whatever struggles or symptoms you are experiencing aren’t real.
But locating these symptoms within an individual and understanding them as an “illness” prevents us from considering how social, cultural, and structural influences impact our lived experience.
If you relate to any existing diagnostic labels (or have received a past diagnosis), that’s not a problem.
My hope would be to explore that label as a way to put your experience into a larger framework, access community and connection, and question the beliefs and assumptions tied to that label within a larger cultural discourse.
For better or worse, the medical model has gained a lot of cultural traction. My hope is to question its assumptions, rather than taking them for granted. To explore what aspects of experience the medical model cannot account for, and the ways it can cause harm.
What are the Limitations of this Approach?
It is important to recognize that every approach has its limitations.
I hope to have outlined some of the limitations of the medical model here.
Certainly, the approaches I have outlined have their own unique limitations.
I am by no means arguing that there are no situations where the medical model can be of benefit.
The most holistic approach would be to consider aspects of each available model, to discern what fits where.
There are times when what appear to be mental/emotional/psychological symptoms could indicate an issue outside the scope of what I have described. (ex: vitamin deficiency, thyroid issue, sleep apnea, TBI, etc.)
It is always okay to seek the opinion of a medical professional when that feels relevant.
Some people find psychiatric medication helpful to reduce or alleviate certain symptoms in the short or long term.
It can be beneficial to have a variety of providers in your support team. A diversity of perspectives can help things come to light which might otherwise be missed. I also recognize that requires a certain amount of privilege to access.
Based on my own lived experience (and the lived experience of many other marginalized individuals I know), the medical model also causes a lot of harm.
Working With Me
Those most interested in / well-suited for my approach might:
- have a current relationship with a physician (and/or psychiatrist if that feels relevant)
- want an interdisciplinary healthcare team
- have already ruled out medical conditions
- be experiencing oppression (racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia/transphobia, etc.) and want to better understand how that is contributing to their experience
- have tried traditional psychotherapy models which proved ineffective
- be curious about trying something new
- understand the therapeutic benefits of the arts
If you resonate with anything I have written here, I hope you reach out!
If you have additional questions, contact me to set up a free consultation.