Heidi Landis, CANY’s Associate Executive Director, recently talked with me about the organization’s mission and story. Landis was a professional actor in New York who fell in love with drama therapy and became certified as a drama therapist. After starting as an intern, she has now been with CANY for 10 years.
It began more than 40 years ago, at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York, when a group of actors were welcomed onto the psychiatric units to work with patients. Philanthropist Janet Levy, who started the organization, first brought the artists in, and the program was so successful it was expanded to all inpatient units. Eventually, drama therapists, who had more theory training, took over for the actors.
Ten years ago, CANY started expanding to work with more people – from 5 year old children to veterans and new refugees. Many of the groups they serve are women/domestic violence survivors, and 65% are children who’ve experienced complex trauma (pervasive abuse and violence over time, at a developmental stage). All have underlying trauma in their lives.
CANY now offers its drama therapy programs at more than 15 facilities serving traumatized, mentally ill and underserved populations.
What is drama therapy?
CANY is all about empowering people who have endured trauma to rebuild their lives.
Through the use of drama therapy and creative expression in a group setting, CANY helps children and adults expand their self-concept, imagine new life possibilities, and build the social and emotional tools they need in order to live meaningful lives.
All staff are licensed creative arts therapists, highly trained in trauma therapy. CANY’s treatment program is a strength-based model, and it’s also relational. Since trauma happens in relationship, CANY’s philosophy is that people must heal in relationship.
CANY partners with hospitals, schools, community centers and treatment centers for biweekly sessions, and CANY therapists visit 2 or 3 sites a day to guide groups. While their offices are in New York City, group sessions are held throughout New York and Connecticut.
In addition to CANY’s therapy groups, the organization trains therapists, clinicians, teachers and artists about 6 times a year, and conducts a seminar series for mental health and social justice experts. Two years ago, CANY sent a group to Uganda, where they trained a group of clinicians in their methods to work with former child soldiers.
CANY’s guiding principles
Creativity is health. The more creative and spontaneous you are in your life, the healthier you are. Drama therapy is a training ground for that.
Metaphor is a healing tool. Roles in drama provide a safe container for trauma processing. Through story and fictional characters, poetry, art and music, trauma survivors can try on different roles and learn something about themselves.
Group is the therapeutic agent. All CANY’s services are based in group work that helps participants make connections and create moments that heal.
A research study was recently conducted with CANY partner agencies CARES High School and St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospitals. It measured teens’ emotional, behavioral and academic performance changes as a result of CANY’s trauma-informed drama therapy and found:
- 85% demonstrated gains in regulating their emotions
- 72% showed improvement in regulating their behavior
- 63% showed improved peer relationships over time
- 47% increased their GPA an average of 3%
- 77% demonstrated improved self-concept
- 72% had a reduced negative self-image and improved sense of identify
Giving practices and experience
CANY has customized its JustGive Donation page, sharing its mission, describing how drama therapy helps, and telling donors exactly what their gifts can do.
Maria Eleni, Finance & Operations Manager says, “JustGive has enabled us to give our donors a clear and effortless way to contribute to CANY, in addition to our mail and fundraising campaigns (we find some donors prefer making an anonymous gift). JustGive is straightforward and intuitive to use. We’ve never had a problem to even necessitate a support call.”
If you’d like to support CANY and help make a difference today for adults and kids through drama therapy.
– Alex Mechanic
Service Team Manager
P.S. If you’d like to be featured in the JustGive Blog, submit your nonprofit!