Aging and the NADTA Conference

A conversation has started. Finally!

This past week, I attended the North American Drama Therapy Association’s annual conference as a presenter. It was a groundbreaking year with an entire afternoon of workshops and discussions revolving around aging. In a profession that has intentionally or unintentionally discriminated against working with this population, this is a massive step forward. For almost three hours we sat down and had a conversation, looking at the past, the present, and the future.

The past can be summed up as bleak, with few individuals working in the area. The work they did, and are continuing to do, however, should not be dismissed. The work is good, needed, supportive, but not nearly enough. When asking for books and research in the area of aging and drama therapy, only one book is ever mentioned. This book, Waiting at the Gate, while a starting point, is decades old, and outdated. I see a field that has become complacent. This profession needs a shakeup. It needs to leave egos behind, and spotlight populations must fall away in order to make way for Drama Therapy to live in the fullness of its ability and purpose.

The present is not much better than the past, but with the work of some visionary people, it is not quite as bleak. There still is great discrimination and academic snubs. The updated media packet was disappointing, to say the least. Much of the work rests in the place of a life enrichment specialist and manager, doing work that anyone else could do. Aging and dementia are not spotlight populations and bring comments such as, “Isn’t that work better suited for music and dance therapy?” Nadya Trytan, Kari Rogenski, and Karen Knappenberger have set out to change this view with their current research, that I hope produces a book. And, with this conference, a conversation has started. Each workshop was well attended and engaging. So, what’s next? There is great hope!

Each individual in the field of drama therapy needs to get behind education, support, and research, if not working directly, becoming indirectly supportive of such work. In the past, I have spoken about this, but we need to continue, recognizing our own fears, and seeing what causes us to push this population away. We need our educators to not discriminate against prospective students because they want to work with this population. And, we need to listen to those we serve. They are seeking the specific support a drama therapist can offer, may we step into that space to answer the call.

We need to continue the current work, but recognize the great skills and knowledge acquired during training, seeing the need for support in mental health and healing, not just in pursuit of joy and comfort. Each creative arts therapist must pick up where LETs leave off, in a way only a creative arts therapist can. Don’t rest in the past, run towards the unknown future.

In the days leading up to the conference, I couldn’t help but think of all that can be done in the area of drama therapy and dementia, as well as the performing arts and dementia. The statement that kept running through my mind that I shared at the conference was this, our current society puts out the message of, “I am repulsed by your weakness! I will medicate you and leave.” But we need to transform this statement in our work practices, in our hiring, in our acceptance of new students and further development of academic programs, and in our hearts to say, “I am NOT repulsed by your weakness and trials. I will stay and help you live the life you were created to live.” Drama Therapists (and all aging and health professionals) can transform our current state, but each person must use the specific talents, skills, and training they have to do so. We can do this if we are bold enough to trek through the storm. The past and present are messy and bleak, the future is filled with trials and unknowns. Hope persists so long as we listen to those we seek to serve, asking them to be our guides, supporting them through our creativity, joy, love, and community.

This conversation must continue, to look at specifics, engage in new ways of thinking about the profession, and to call out any BS in the education and training of new and established drama therapists.

Are you a drama therapist? What are your thoughts?

Published by Kathryne Fassbender

I am a Dementia and Creative Engagement Specialist. I am also the granddaughter of someone who lived with Vascular Dementia.

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