During this Women’s month we will focus on women who are contributing to the field of arts therapies. Community Art Counselling, and the work that we do, is based in the therapeutic use of the arts so we want to highlight and celebrate its value. Drama therapist, Mmabatho Mogomotsi, answered a few questions for us.
Describe your career path into the arts therapies. What made you choose this career?
I have always been in the arts, an actor for both stage and television. I always treasured moments of self-discovery in the rehearsal process, the process on stage where I got closer to self. It happened that I always finished a project a better person than when I started.
I knew then that there was value in that process that was more than just entertainment – I found it in drama therapy.
What is the most rewarding part of your work as an arts therapist? What is the most difficult/least rewarding part of it?
The most rewarding thing about my work is that I use my craft to help others. This affords me an opportunity to extend my craft from entertainment – a necessary element in leading a balanced life to a clinical offering that is based on taking care of emotional and psychological needs of my clients. Also rewarding to me is the ‘aha moment’ when, figuratively speaking, a client manages to find the puzzle piece to add or delete in the process of building an improved and better life for themselves. The least rewarding for me is the general lack of knowledge about what we do, we are often referred to as, in my case; drama teacher so my sessions automatically called drama class. Although exasperating, I never tire to explain what drama therapy is.
Where do you currently work and what does a typical day look like in the life of an arts therapist?
I am currently in private practice and based in the South of Johannesburg. I work in a medical centre and I am at this site twice a week, every Friday and Saturday, with plans to extend my days as the practice grows. A typical day involves getting to the office an hour or two before my actual appointment to prepare the space and allow myself time to arrive and be in the space so my clients can feel at home. The same applies to the end of the day where I allow myself time to reflect on the sessions, make notes and regroup mentally and emotionally as I naturally adjust to the other life roles I am about to take. Life is a stage, the drama never ends, it just changes as I Interact with different clients in between the beginning and end of my day.
Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work? And why?
She might not know it, but I had an opportunity to have her as my session lecturer, and an outstanding MA supervisor for my research report. She trained as a drama therapist at NYU but wears many hats now. She is the phenomenal Refilwe Lepere. She literally brought drama therapy home for me by contextualising it around South Africa thus paving a way for me to own it and ground it to who I am and what I know, as a result what I offer is truthful and has substance.
What do you wish other people knew about the arts therapies?
That it offers clients ways to express their feelings and emotions without necessarily having to speak about them. So, when a client is in a state where they are confused or cannot for whatever clinical reason express their emotions through talking, their chosen art medium (drama, music, art or movement) becomes their expression and their voice.
In the SA arts therapies field, there seems to be a lack of diversity. How do you think we can create more diversity and representation?
I think there is diversity in terms of race, culture, religion, class, age, sexual orientation and perhaps a few others.
We just have to acknowledge, understand, appreciate and embrace the diverse qualities and attributes of our arts therapies community.
Representation and inclusion are definitely important, and that is the historical thorn in many professions in South Africa. We are a fairly new profession in comparison, and we will overcome our own hurdles and struggles if we can reflect in earnest: From the heart and not head on our weaknesess in this regard.
What global or South African issues do you feel most passionate about? And why?
Mental health. Mental illnes has moved from being a taboo subject to being a non-descript issue, especialy if one is not affected by it. It should be on everyones lips and an issue that everyone is aware of so that they can identify it at its onset and seek help. It is still so stigmatised that those who suffer from it also bear the shame that goes along with it and that should not be the case.
While many people are abreast with many other things that happen around them and most have access to information through their gadgets, mental illnesses are not the first thing anyone looks up unless they have a concern. Thanks to the activists who take their efforts beyond October, the mental health awareness month and make it their mission to educate the public in an effort to reduce stigma and discrimination a few hundred more people are aware. Thanks again to the workplaces that have a mental health programmes for their employees, which in essence should be mandatory.
How do you view the role of the arts therapies in changing this issue for the better?
Arts therapies opened up the available treatment repertoire for mental illnesses. It is a known fact that doing something pleasurable like engaging creatively has positive effect on mood and emotions.
Doing so with an arts therapist affords clients an opportunity to express and process their feelings in a safe space thus alleviating the debilitating symptoms one person at a time.
The more the health system opens up to us and the general public gets to know about us, the bigger the imprint we will have.
As a woman, what is your personal philosophy on what should be done on prevalent issues such as gender-based violence?
In an ideal scenario, I would host a compulsory national role-play with men on the effects of gender-based violence. We would do role reversal so they could walk in the shoes of abused women and experience the effects of what their victims go through at their hands. Not just the offenders but all men so that we also impact and teach possible new offenders to stop them before the act.
That said, I cannot help but wonder how and what brought our male counterparts to this horrible place. I therefore think that men’s forums are ideally suited to work with men on a personal level, but also, they should spread their reach to marginalized communities if they are to cover all men.
As women we must never stop to effect change in the making and implementation of policies to protect women and children and serve justice against the perpetrators. WOMANDLA!!!!
What are you currently working on? And how can our readers learn more about the work you do?
I am working on rebuilding my practice to what it was before Covid-19 albeit within current prescribed regulations and restrictions – safety first. I also just started supervising MA Drama Therapy interns for Wits Drama for Life where I am an alumna. I am available at firstname.lastname@example.org I will definitely respond to those emails.