Sajnani, N et al

Imagining utopias: critical pedagogy in the arts therapies

Nisha Sajnani, Savneet Talwar, Leah Gipson, Yasmine Awais, Britton WilliamsLizzie McAdam, Sue Hadley, Sangeeta Swamy, Marisol Norris


This panel presents insights from a movement toward critical pedagogy that has involved educators from seven university programs in the arts therapies over the past two years. Critical pedagogy is an approach to teaching and learning that asserts that the central purpose of education is to address inequality and oppression by identifying and working to transform relationships of power. The arts therapies, with their potential to elicit, contain, and direct emotion and insight in relationship offer pathways to addressing internalized and systemic violence.  Educators from participating programs will examine how we might better contribute to equity and social justice by examining our issues related to access, recruitment and retention, curriculum development, supervision, and research. In a global context marked by increasingly polarized perspectives, these panellists offer a vision of the arts therapiesS that honors multiple truths without sacrificing the trust of the communities in which they practice.



Dr. Nisha Sajnani is the Director of the Drama Therapy Program and the Theatre & Health Lab at New York University, and Editor of Drama Therapy Review. She is a member of the Critical Pedagogy in the Arts Therapies Think Tank and founding member of the World Alliance of Dramatherapy. She is visiting faculty with the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma and research fellow with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Her artistic and written scholarship reflects an interest in the role of improvisation and performance in stimulating discovery and addressing concerns related to identity, difference, migration, and place. Dr. Sajnani is the recipient of the Corann Okorodudu Global Women's Advocacy Award from the American Psychological Association, the Gertrud Schattner Award from the North American Drama Therapy Association, and the first Diversity award from the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama.

Recent Publications or Presentations

Sajnani, N., Mayor, C., Burch, D., Davis, C., Feldman, D., Kelly, J., Landis, H., McAdam, E. (in press). Collaborative discourse analysis on the use of drama therapy to treat trauma in schools. Drama Therapy Review.

Sajnani, N., Cho, A., Landis, H., Raucher, G., Trytan, N. (2018) Collaborative discourse analysis on the use of drama therapy to treat depression in adults. In: Zubala, A. & Karkou, V. Arts therapies in the treatment of depression. London, UK: Routledge.

Sajnani, N. & Dokter, D. (2017). An experiential framework and approach to teaching cultural response/ability. In: Houghham, R., Pitruzella, S. and Scoble, S. (Eds.) Cultural landscapes in the arts therapies. UK: University of Plymouth Press.

Sajnani, N. (2017). Relational aesthetics in the performance of personal story. In: Pendzik, S.  Emunah, R. and Johnson, D.R. (Eds.). The self in performance: Autobiographical, self-revelatory, and auto-ethnographic forms of therapeutic theatre. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

Sajnani, N. (2016). Toward a critical aesthetic paradigm in drama therapy. In: Holmwood, C. and Jennings, S. (Eds.). International handbook of dramatherapy. London: Routledge.


Yasmine Awais is Assistant Clinical Professor at Drexel University’s Creative Arts Therapies Department and a Ph.D. candidate in the Social Welfare program at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is dually licensed as a creative arts therapist and professional counselor and maintains art therapy credentials of registration, board certification (ATR-BC) and clinical supervision (ATCS). Her research interests surround diversity: the practice of and the people who engage in this project - educators, students, and therapists. Awais’ clinical and supervisory experience includes working with and for a wide range of individuals, families, and communities. She is a member of the Critical Pedagogy in the Arts Therapies Think Tank, serves on the editorial review board of Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, and is the Chair of the Board for Artistic Noise.

Recent Publications or Presentations

Keselman, M., & Awais, Y.J. (2018). Exploration of cultural humility in medical art therapy. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 35(2), 77-87.

Ottemiller, D.O., & Awais, Y.J. (2016). A model for art therapists in community-based practice, Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 33(3), 144-150.

Awais, Y.J., & Yali, A.M. (2015). Efforts in increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the field of art therapy. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 33(3), 112-119.

Awais, Y.J., & Yali, A.M. (2013). A call for diversity: The need to recruit and retain ethnic minority art therapy students in art therapy. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, (30)3, 130-134.

Awais, Y.J. (2013). Reframing identity: Art therapy in Saudi Arabia (pp. 267-276). In:  Howie, P., Prasad, S. & Kristel, J. (Eds.), Using Art Therapy with Diverse Populations: Crossing Cultures and Abilities. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.


Leah Gipson is an Assistant Professor in the art therapy department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She is a licensed clinical professional counselor, a registered and board-certified art therapist, and has a master’s degree in theological studies. Her current research interests include womanism, black feminism, black church, and the use of cultural spaces to explore the politics of individual and social change. Gipson is a board member for A Long Walk Home, Inc., an organization that uses the arts to empower young people and end violence against women and girls, and a member of the Critical Pedagogy in the Arts Therapies Think Tank. Her recent and past projects include: DIVISIVE, a radio show that explores the intersections and interactivity between politics and cultural work, The Rectory, a neighborhood arts incubator space in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago; and Care Sessions, a partnership through the SAIC Office of Engagement at Homan Square.


Recent Publications or Presentations

Gipson, L.R., (2018). Envisioning black women’s consciousness in art therapy. In: Talwar, S.K. (Ed.), (2018). Art therapy for social justice: Radical intersections (p.96-120). New York: Routledge.­

Gipson, L.R., (2017). Challenging Neoliberalism and Multicultural Love in Art Therapy. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 34(3), 112-117.

Gipson, L.R., (January 01, 2015). Is Cultural Competence Enough? Deepening Social Justice Pedagogy in Art Therapy. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 32, (3), 142-145.

Gipson, L.R., Tillet, S.B., Tillet, S. (January 2011). A Culture of Safety: The Development of a Youth-based Sexual Violence Prevention Program. Chicago Taskforce on Violence Against Girls and Young Women: Occasional Papers Series (Online)


Dr. Savneet Talwar is a Professor in the graduate art therapy program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is a member of the Critical Pedagogy in the Arts Therapies think tank. Her current research examines feminist politics, critical theories of difference, social justice and questions of resistance.  Using an interdisciplinary approach, she is interested in community-based art practices; cultural trauma; performance art and public cultures as they relate to art therapy theory, practice and pedagogy. She is the author of Art Therapy for Social Justice: Radical Intersection and has published in Arts in Psychotherapy, Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, and Gender Issues in Art Therapy.  She is also the founder of the CEW (Creatively Empowered Women) Design Studio, a craft, sewing, and fabrication enterprise for Bosnian and South Asian women at the Hamdard Center in Chicago. She is the past Associate Editor of Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association.

Recent Publications or presentations

Talwar, S. (2018). Art therapy for social justice: Radical intersections. New York, NY: Routledge.

Yi, S. & Talwar, S. (forthcoming). Disability, art, and art therapy. In: Sandahl, C., Heller, T., Harris, S.P., Gill, C. & Gould, R. (Eds.) Disability in American life: An encyclopedia of concepts, policies, and controversies.

Guest Editor: Talwar, S. (2017). Law, ethics, and cultural competence in art therapy.  Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 34 (3).

Guest Editor: Talwar, S. (2016). Is there a need to redefine art therapy? Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 33(3), 116-118.

Guest Editor: Talwar, S. (2015). Culture, diversity and identity: From margins to center. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, 32(3), 100-103.


Britton Williams is a registered drama therapist and Licensed Creative Arts Therapist. She currently works in private practice in New York City and is an adjunct faculty member at New York University in the Program in Drama Therapy. Britton’s work extends to non-clinical settings. In this capacity, she uses drama therapeutic techniques with organizations, companies, schools, and universities to help guide and facilitate discussions and creative processes in support of socially just practices. Britton has published and presented on: the impact of assumptions, biases, and stereotypes on individuals, relationships and communities; creative and embodied approaches to clinicians’ self-assessment; and developing a relational-role theory framework and protocol. She is interested in processes that allow students and clinicians to use drama therapeutic tools and other creative interventions to illuminate and challenge their implicit assumptions in support of just practice. Britton is currently pursuing her doctorate in Social Welfare at the CUNY Graduate Center.


Recent Publications or Presentations

Trottier, D., Williams, B., (forthcoming) Exploring Social Justice and Dismantling Heterosexism through Creative Arts Peer Supervision. In: MacWilliam, B., Trottier, D., Long, K., Harris, B. (Eds.) Creative Arts Therapies and the LGBTQ Community.             

Williams, B., Trottier, D., (forthcoming) Queering the Conversation: Facilitating Dialogues on LGBTQ Microaggressions and Systems of Oppression. In: MacWilliam, B., Trottier, D., Long, K., Harris, B. (Eds.) Creative Arts Therapies and the LGBTQ Community.                                                                                                          

Williams, B.M. (forthcoming), ‘Unapologetically black: Seven questions and poems that explore how race performs in clinical practice’, Drama Therapy Review                                                  

Williams, B.M. (2017), ‘Role power: Using role theory in support of ethical practice’, Drama Therapy Review, 3: 1, pp. 131–48, doi: 10.1386/dtr.3.1.131_1                                                         

Williams, B.M. (2016), ‘Minding our own biases: Using drama therapeutic tools to identify and challenge assumptions, biases and stereotypes’, Drama Therapy Review, 2: 1, pp. 9–23, doi: 10.1386/dtr.2.1.9_1


Marisol Norris is an Assistant Professor in the Expressive Therapies Division at Lesley University and a doctoral candidate in the Creative Arts Therapies program at Drexel University. Her clinical and supervisory experience has spanned medical and community health settings and have profoundly contributed to her cultural relational lens.  She is a member of the Critical Pedagogy in the Arts Therapies Think Tank; serves on the editorial team of Voices, a world forum for music therapy; and is the founder of the Black Music Therapy Network, Inc.  Her current research interests include the discursive construction of race in music therapy theory and praxis, the role of cultural memory and aesthetics in mono-racial and cross-racial music therapy meaning-making processes, and pedagogical approaches to music therapy cultural responsiveness training.  She has published in Music Therapy Perspectives and The Journal of Music Therapy and widely lectures and provides workshops on constructive cultural engagement.


Recent Publications or Presentations

Bradt, J., Norris, M., Shim, M., Gracely, E.J., Gerrity, P. (2016). Vocal music therapy for chronic pain management in inner-city African Americans: A mixed methods feasibility study. Journal of Music Therapy, 53(2), 178-206.  doi: 10.1093/jmt/thw004

Crooke, A., Hadley, S., & Norris, M. (forthcoming). (Post)Colonial Music Therapy.

Hadley, S. & Norris, M. (2016). Musical multicultural competency in music therapy: The first step. Music Therapy Perspectives. Advanced online publication. doi:10.1093/mtp/miv045

Norris, M. (forthcoming, 2020, July). Access and Empowerment. Spotlight Session at the 16th World Congress of Music Therapy, Pretoria, South Africa.

Norris, M. & Hadley, S. (forthcoming). Engaging race in music therapy supervision. In: Forinash, M. (Ed.) Music therapy supervision.


Lizzie McAdam, MA, RDT, LCAT (she/her/hers) is a registered drama therapist, educational consultant and adjunct faculty member at New York University. She has worked in a variety of settings, including schools, colleges, inpatient psychiatry, and outpatient treatment. Most recently she was the Associate Director of the ALIVE Program at the Post Traumatic Stress Center in New Haven, CT, providing trauma-centered drama therapy services in both clinical and public school settings. She holds a master’s degree in drama therapy from New York University, as well as a master’s degree in special education from Bank Street College. She is a member of the Critical Pedagogy in the Arts Therapies think tank, a member of the board of directors of the Drama Therapy Review, and a graduate of the Institute for Arts in Psychotherapy. In 2012 she was awarded the German Chancellor Fellowship for Prospective Leaders to research the development of trauma treatment within creative arts therapy practices in Germany, Israel and the United States. Her clinical work and research focus on the impact of trauma and systemic oppression on young people’s lives in public schools and using drama therapy to promote transformation and healing, young adult identity development, and LGBTQ identity work. As a former educator-turned-drama therapist, she works with students to connect their lived experience to their learning process.


Recent Publications or Presentations

McAdam, E. & Davis, C. (forthcoming). Confronting power, privilege and oppression in trauma-informed school-based work: Framing the ALIVE model within critical race theory. Drama Therapy Review.

Sajnani, N., Mayor, C., Burch, D., Davis, C., Feldman, D., Kelly, J., Landis, H., McAdam, E. (forthcoming). Collaborative discourse analysis on the use of drama therapy to treat trauma in schools. Drama Therapy Review.

McAdam, E. & Johnson, D.R. (2018). Reducing depressive symptoms in adolescents with posttraumatic stress disorder using drama therapy. In: Zubala, A. & Karkou, V. (Eds.), Arts Therapies in the Treatment of Depression (pp. 48-67). New York: Routledge.

McAdam, E. (2018). Play in family therapy: Engaging the whole family system. Drama Therapy Review, 4(1), pp. 135-138.


Sangeeta Swamy, PhD, MT-BC, LPC (she/hers/they/them) is Assistant Professor and Director of Music Therapy at Valparaiso University. An award-winning violinist, licensed psychotherapist, and Board-Certified Music Therapist, she has worked with children, teens and adults for over twenty-five years. As a queer, Indian-American, she specializes in socio-culturally responsive music therapy practice, supervision, and pedagogy, with an emphasis on intersectionality, mindfulness and transpersonal approaches. She has taught at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, Lesley University, and Molloy College, and is a trainee in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music. She has also lectured nationally and internationally, and has published in Music Therapy Perspectives, the New Zealand Journal of Music Therapy, and in peer reviewed chapters. Through her research with Indian adults in 2011, she developed Culturally Centered Music and Imagery (CCMI), the first qualitative, music-centered technique for assessing the fluid and intersectional nature of ethnic identity.


Recent Publications or Presentations

Swamy, S. & Kim, S. (In press). Culturally Responsive Academic Supervision in Music Therapy. In: Forinash, M. (Ed.) Music Therapy Supervision. Dallas, TX: Barcelona Publishers.

Bunt, L., Hoskyns, S. & Swamy, S. (Eds.) (In press). The Handbook of Music Therapy 2nd Edition. London: Routledge.

Swamy, S. (2017). Music Therapy in the South Asian American Diaspora. In: Tan, X. & Whitehead- Pleaux, A. (Eds.) Cultural Intersections in Music Therapy: Music, Health, and the Individual. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers

Swamy, S. (2014). Music Therapy in the Global Age: Three Keys to Successful Culturally Centered Practice. The New Zealand Journal of Music Therapy (12), 34-57.

Swamy, S. (2012). “No, she doesn’t know anything about cultural differences!”: Culturally Centered Music Therapy Supervision. Music Therapy Perspectives. 29(2), 133-137.


Susan Hadley, PhD, MT-BC, is professor and director of music therapy at Slippery Rock University, where she coordinates the MMT program which is focused on diversity and social justice. She was awarded the 2016 SRU President’s Award for Excellence in Scholarly and Creative Achievement for her authored book Experiencing Race as a Music Therapist: Personal Narratives (Barcelona, 2013). She is editor of Feminist Perspectives in Music Therapy (Barcelona, 2006), Psychodynamic Music Therapy: Case Studies (Barcelona, 2003), and co-editor of Our Black Sons Matter: Mothers Talk about their Fears, Sorrows, and Hopes ​(Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), Therapeutic Uses of Rap and Hip Hop (Routledge, 2012) and Narrative Identities: Psychologists Engaged in Self-Construction (JKP, 2005). She has published extensively in numerous scholarly journals and books in music therapy and related fields. Dr. Hadley serves on the editorial boards of Qualitative Inquiries in Music Therapy (for which she was the editor for Vol. 4 and Vol. 5), Journal of Music Therapy, Music Therapy Perspectives, and Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, and is co-editor-in-chief of Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy.


Recent Publications or Presentations

Hadley, S. (2018). Teaching Whiteness in Predominantly White Classrooms.  In: Brookfield, S. (Ed.) Teaching Race. Jossey-Bass/Wiley (2018).

Gumble, M. & Hadley, S. (forthcoming) Beyond the Binaries: Negotiating Gender and Sex in Music Therapy.  In: Hogan, S. (Ed) Inscribed on the Body: Gender and Difference in the Arts Therapies. NY: Routledge.

Hadley, S. & Thomas, N. (2018).  Critical Humanism in Music Therapy: Imagining the Possibilities. Music Therapy Perspectives (2018).

Hadley, S. & Rolvsjord, R. (2016). Critical Inquiries: Feminist Perspectives and Transformative Research. In: Wheeler, B. (ed) Music Therapy Research (Third Edition). New Braunfels, TX: Barcelona Publishers (2016)

Hadley, S. (2013).  Dominant Narratives, Complicity, and the Need for Vigilance.  Arts in Psychotherapy, 40(4), 2013. Special Issue on Gender, Health, and the Creative Arts Therapies.