The Impact of 2020 on Britton Williams’ Conference Keynote Address
Interview with Britton Williams written by Savannah Couch
In the new world that is 2021 and through the safety of videoconferencing technology, I had the privilege of interviewing ITA’s Integrated Creative Arts Therapy Conference Keynote Speaker Britton Williams. This interview is weeks before her upcoming address at the 2021 conference entitled “Expressing the Unspeakable: Bringing Taboos to the Surface” and in reflection of how 2020 may or may not have changed how she will approach the topic of “Playing with Monsters: Confronting our Shadow Selves”.
Britton, a registered drama therapist, licensed creative arts therapist, and a professor of Drama Therapy at New York University, was generous with her time in this interview. It was clear how passionate she is about her work and how committed she is to her anti-oppressive and anti-racist values. What follows are portions of our interview.
Savannah: Tell us about your Keynote address.
Britton: I like to play with words. I like to kind of take words apart and break them down and take them across contexts. Monsters, we’re often told, are fictional things that live in these stories that we tell children … But of course, if we look at the stories that we adults often consume, monsters are embedded ... so, when I thought about playing with monsters, I’m working in this disrupted way of thinking about playing and monsters … the monsters that I’m talking about are very much the ones that are real, that live within and around us, that surround us, that are part of our daily experiences, that perhaps we don’t even name as monsters but are very much there, very much scary, [and] very much lash out in different ways. And so, that is kind of the disrupted way that I’m thinking about playing with monsters.
And in confronting our shadow selves … What about the parts of our own selves that are monstrous, that we often want to step away from? Parts of ourselves that maybe we do want to exist in the background … Can we confront those? And again, can we as therapists confront them and recognize that we are, none of us, exempt from having these shadow parts of self, and that the truth is that our shadows follow us?
Savannah: What would you like us to be thinking about going into your keynote as it relates to 2020-2021?
Britton: The last year has brought many challenges that we’ve seen on a large, global scale. I would say here that of course none of what has been revealed to us is new. It’s swelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic that impacts the world, but what we see is that everyone is not impacted in the same way. And so, this is this moment where I ask us, as therapists, to think about the disparities that have been now so widely discussed around Covid-19, around the uprising in response to the unrest. Here we are, in 2020 we were hearing the words “I can’t breathe” from George Floyd, but we’ve heard that from Eric Garner. These are repetitions. When someone is murdered in their sleep—the fight for justice for Breonna Taylor—this is history manifested in the present. But again, these are grounded in real people’s lives, blood, bones, body. And so, I ask us as therapists to actually think about how we are not removed from those very systems. How does this show up on the hospital wards that we’re on? What does this look like, how one person is highly punished versus another person? How does care actually serve as an illusion for punishment, a punitive response, for certain people that we find intolerable? And when they leave our hospitals, when they leave our community centers, when they leave our treatment centers, what have we done that has either contributed to the care that they’ve received or perhaps perpetuated a hostility that they see in the world around them?
These are the places where I am thinking about the monsters. Part of what I’ll talk about in my keynote is where I’ve seen this myself and recognizing that complicity being in systems where I see that someone is being treated differently than someone else. These are not small moments of encounter because one, someone’s direct life is being impacted, and two, it is part of a larger swell that has gone across generations. Then it is for us as therapists to think about where we can use our imagination to say, “how can we actually be part of a change? What are the actions that we can take?”
…These are the seeds that I will plant…
You can attend Britton’s live keynote presentation on March 19, 2021 and learn more about how she uses drama therapeutic approaches to help people explore systemic oppression and their own implicit biases.
View the full conference program here and register by February 25th to receive discounted pricing.
Savannah is a drama therapy and clinical mental health counseling intern at Institute for Therapy through the Arts. She is enrolled in Northwestern University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling M.A. program with a focus in child and adolescent counseling. She received a Drama and Movement Therapy M.A. from the University of London in 2019.