Fred Landers

Please welcome our July 2015 Member Spotlight: Fred Landers. Fred recently joined the faculty at Antioch University Seattle serving the drama therapy program. He has taught throughout the world and as you will read in his interview, Fred has been strongly involved in the drama therapy community, with a special focus in Developmental Transformations.

-Josiah Stickels, RDT, LMFT
Western Region Representative, NADTA

1. Please tell us what has been your path to drama therapy?

I came to drama therapy because I was excited about play. I had the privilege of growing up in a playful working class family whose immigrant ancestors had struggled economically and emotionally for many generations to make a place for themselves in the world. All of us played--my siblings, my parents, and I--and I think playing gave us freedom, in spite of a family history of being socioeconomic misfits, to create the lives we wanted, no matter the obstacles, social or psychological, that stood in our way.

In the 1980s, I was concerned about how struggles against racism, sexism, classism, and other forms of domination of one group by another group sometimes resulted in the dominated group finding a way to turn the tables, the victim becoming the next bully, leaving the system of domination intact. In spite of my being an extreme introvert, studying literature at San Francisco State while working as a librarian in San Francisco’s Holocaust Center, I dreamed of leading groups in which we would move our bodies and interact imaginatively in order to overcome rigidities installed on us by trauma and thereby interrupt cycles of violence.

Soon after I entered the Drama Therapy Program at California Institute of Integral Studies, I discovered and fell in love with David Johnson’s Developmental Transformations method, which was exactly what I had been looking for. At the time, the only Developmental Transformations training institute was on the east coast. After taking all my courses at CIIS, in 1998 I moved to New York where, interning in a treatment program for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, I played with combat veterans with a history of violence since their return from military service, and I wrote my master’s thesis on this work. As far as I can tell, play in Developmental Transformations prevents harmful behavior. I have been using and teaching Developmental Transformations ever since.

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

I am in my first year of teaching in the Drama Therapy Program at Antioch University Seattle. One of my projects is to develop a mentoring community in the Seattle area like the community of students and practitioners of Developmental Transformations that I joined in New York and New Haven in the late 90s. The main event in that community was our coming together once a month to play together, the new interns playing in the same group session with drama therapists who had been using Developmental Transformations in their work for years. The mentorship I received, not only from David Johnson and others, but from the community as a whole, was crucial to my development as a drama therapist.

Playing in a group session with other practitioners helped me increase the range of content I was capable of playing with in the sessions I led with clients. Playing together helped me and my colleagues live with the tensions that naturally arose among us, due to competition and miscommunication. I learned to teach by co-teaching workshops with members of this community, who became my supervisors and gave me advice about when and how to supervise interns myself, helped me define my interests and supported me in writing about my work, encouraged me to get a doctoral degree, etc. In this mentoring community, I not only learned how to lead sessions, but grew into my own unique way of being a drama therapist.

3. What are your current projects and the path of your work?

Within the Drama Therapy Master’s Degree Program at Antioch University Seattle, I am creating a Concentration in Developmental Transformations that will lead to Level I Certification. In addition to this training within the program, I also run a Developmental Transformations Advanced Training outside of the university that will expand as the group is joined by new Antioch graduates interested in continuing their training.

A path I have recently begun to explore is the question of how to use drama therapy processes, such as embodied play, in conducting research on drama therapy. I appreciate the experiments in art-based research that drama therapists and other creative arts therapists have been doing in recent years, but I’m interested in how to preserve more of the complexity of our work throughout the research process. Using the embodied interactivity in our work to create a reciprocal relationship between practice and theory may increase our understanding of drama therapy while also contributing to research methodologies in other fields.

During my keynote at the Developmental Transformations conference in New York in April of this year, I led the conference attendees in a practice called Mingling in order to generate hypotheses about the initiation of play in our work. Mingling, which involves circulating among roles of mover, active witness, and observing witness, borrows elements from Developmental Transformations, Authentic Movement, and Brad Stoller’s research in Contact Improvisation. Immediately after the conference, I flew to Beijing, where I led over thirty students in the practice of Mingling while teaching the inaugural class in a new Developmental Transformations training program organized by David Johnson in conjunction with the Apollo Institute. I will teach the first class to a second cohort in Beijing at the end of August.

4. How do you see the future of drama therapy evolving?

I think the work of drama therapists in the 60s and 70s in North America and Europe, the work of theatre people going into hospitals, schools, and prisons, and helping the patients, students, and inmates put on plays that represented their experiences, and also the work in the rehearsal room, which increasingly became a clinical room, was incredibly powerful work because it countered the main oppression of the time. People were being molded to fit into a series of boxes--school, workplace, hospital, prison, etc. Each box had its own set of rules, its structure, that people were molded to fit. Drama therapists went into these boxes and helped people make some room for themselves to live by helping them express the parts of their lives that didn’t fit in the box.

For the past few decades, I think the main oppression is no longer the boxes, although the boxes are certainly still here. The new oppression I think drama therapy needs to address is not a molding to conform to the rules of a box, but a modulation that controls us by shaping our desires and the situations in which we might act on our desires. The way to address this new oppression is not to control it, which is impossible, but to modulate it. We need to modulate the modulation. In my opinion, the play in Developmental Transformations, a method of drama therapy first developed in the 80s, is capable of this. In a Developmental Transformations session, we influence the shaping of our desires by playing with our impulses, and we influence the shaping of the situation by transforming the structure of our playing in order to play with impulses that currently interest us. I hope that drama therapists will pursue this and other means of countering the currently dominant form of oppression.

5.What does your NADTA membership mean to you?

There is only a profession of drama therapy because we come together as members of an organization, the NADTA, and continually work at defining and spreading the word about the work we do. To the extent we have differentiated ourselves from other professions, we can gain strength by allying with them in larger coalitions. Teaming up with other creative arts therapists is crucial to our achieving licensure in each state. Only as a community will we succeed.

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Related Information

Fred Landers, Ph.D., RDT-BCT, LCAT, LMHC

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