Barbara McKechnie

1. Please tell us about your path to drama therapy

I grew up in a small town near Detroit, Michigan, where my artistic mother instilled a love of the arts and theatre in her children. I left home to go to college in the tumultuous 1960s as a  theatre major.  Instead of performing in main stage productions, I found myself more involved in the anti-war movement, guerrilla theatre, and “happenings.” I left school to come to NYC and live with my older sister who had left home at a young age to pursue a career on stage. Although I was exposed to a steady diet of theatre, I had become more interested in the human potential movement, the woman’s movement, counter culture,  alternative medicine, and spirituality. After living in NYC several more years, I returned to school part time to finish my BA at Hunter College. As a returning student, my interest in theatre was restored and I paused again from school to study in a non-academic setting with acting teachers, finding myself more interested in the process than the actual performance/product. I soon resumed studies at Hunter College, planning to finish a few remaining credits. I had gotten my Screen Actors Guild card and was eligible for membership in Actor’s Equity Association and planned to commit fully to pursuing work as an actor after graduating. However, while at Hunter I met Pat Sternberg. Her exuberance and commitment to creative drama, sociodrama, and her students, changed the course of my direction once again. She also introduced me to Nina Garcia, who then introduced me to psychodrama. Pat was also the conference chairperson of the NADT conference “Setting the Stage of Social Change” held at Hunter College. Through volunteering for the conference I was introduced to the work of Naida Weisberg and Rose Pavlow doing intergenerational drama in Rhode Island, and Ellen Williams  who worked with battered woman and women in prison. I found this work so life changing that I immediately enrolled in NYU’s Drama Therapy Program. This was what I seemed to have  been  looking for: theatre that could create possibility and change for those that seemed unable to move. NYU was a portal into a whole new universe, which Robert Landy opened my eyes to. I was also in a cohort of extraordinary people that even with the distance of time and geography still feel close and forever a part of me.

2. Who have been your mentors both in the drama therapy community and outside of it?

 I am full of gratitude for more people than there is room to mention. As noted above, Pat Sternberg and Robert Landy were primary in my entrance into drama therapy. Nina Garcia introduced me to psychodrama and continues to inspire me in the parallel journey of psychodrama and drama therapy. While at NYU I had the opportunity to train with Tian Dayton, Darby Moore, and had Gaye Tudanger as one of my internship supervisors.  I shifted my own therapy from psychoanalytic psychotherapy to drama therapy, working with Le Clanche du Rand briefly, and found drama therapy, to my delight, to be more like working with the Muse then “Love’s Executioner” (Yalom,1989). Earlier on I also had exposure to DvT and an opportunity to work with David Johnson, Greta Schnee, and a group with Alice Forrester and Cecilia Dintino. I was also training in psychodrama at the same time. This was at a point of crisis in my life and I found that the place in between these two was rich and comforting for me, increasing my tolerance to begin to play with the unplayable. While I am not a DvT specialist, I have been influenced by this work as well. When serving on the NADTA Board first as Eastern Regional Representative and then as President, I learned so much from EVERYONE, but especially Sherry Diamond, Sally Bailey, David Johnson, and Carlos Rodriguez-Perez (who was then President-elect). 

When I started an internship in graduate school, I sought outside supervision with Fran Levy, a dance/movement therapist. I continued supervision after graduating for several more years. Near and dear to my heart was a supervision group led by Darby Moore that met for many years. Darby and the members of that group, many who remained for the duration of the group, enriched both my professional and personal life. I feel strongly that those beginning in this field should seek supervision outside of the workplace. I also think professional clinicians benefit from supervision; individual, group, or peer-led. I would also like to mention Nancy Sondag, a co-leader of many workshops, whose professionalism and commitment to mentorship and building community continues to inspire me. 

3. Current Projects and Path of Work

I just received certification as a psychodramatist and plan to continue training and working toward getting a TEP.  I served as one of the co-chairs with ASGPP’s 2015 conference. I have been advocating for drama therapists in New Jersey for a while, first as part of a coalition of creative arts therapists (NJCATA) and by serving on the board of the New Jersey Counseling Association representing the division of Creativity in Counseling. More recently I have been on a task force to advocate for licensure for drama therapists and dance/movement therapists. I enjoyed the opportunity to get to work with Mizuho Kanazawa and Brooke Campbell on this issue. Mizuho and I continue to work on this collaborative effort with dance/movement therapists and are planning a meeting for drama therapists in NJ, NY, PA, and anywhere else who is interested in licensure for drama therapists. This has been a rewarding experience, especially because of the camaraderie and leadership of Mizuho.

I have recently reduced my work schedule at New York Presbyterian Hospital to part time and continue to teach Drama Therapy courses at the New School.  I have begun collaborating with a music therapist at the hospital, combining our two groups to create a performance or playback group for the adolescent program. My current fantasy is to write about the importance of play for adults, the canon of creativity and to travel around the world to visit drama therapists and those using theatre for change - for the individual or community.

4. The future of drama therapy

In my opinion the future of drama therapy is very promising - with continued work. To make licensure happen, it will require the effort of many people. The good news is that by joining a task-force, a committee, the NADTA Board, and networking to promote drama therapy, you can make a difference. The better news is that you get so much back. I would bet that most people who have volunteered for related groups and activities would even say that they got back even more than they gave. From my own experience, my professional identify was strengthened; I had a stronger sense of belonging and community. I have learned other approaches in drama therapy and I have established life long and important professional and social relationships as a result of my advocacy. I say all this because we are all the future of drama therapy and I believe that our involvement in NADTA and advocating for drama therapy has a direct impact on the future of this profession and our careers.

I have also been excited and inspired with the publication of  the Drama Therapy Review, the other recent drama therapy publications like Trauma Informed Drama Therapy and  The Heart and Soul of Psychotherapy with many new authors being mentored and published. There also seems to be a dual trend that is important, to become more “brain savvy” as well as strengthen the connection to the art of theatre and how it can heal.

5. My Membership

I think that I may have already answered this, but I will say that membership in NADTA has felt like an investment in myself and my future. I have gained so much in opportunity, camaraderie, education, professional identify, professional, and social networking. If you want to invest more, consider contributing time or money to the Drama Therapy Fund as well. Your investment comes back to you through promoting this profession that you've chosen and NADTA.


Back to news

Related Information

Barbara McKechnie

Want to see your name in lights? Click below to find out how.

Member Spotlight Submissions