Trauma Research

A Journey to Israel: Stories and Identity Formation

From October 2012 to August 2013, Lizzie McAdam, who was at the time holding a scholarship by the Humboldt Foundation, researched on drama therapy and trauma at the ITT together with her mentor, Ingird Lutz. This research included a trip to Israel in February 2013, which will be reported on in the following.

Stepping off the plane in Tel Aviv and into the world of drama therapists, I was immediately struck by the warmth of the people. I had finally reached the land of milk and honey; a place of promise, of fertility, and of possibility. I was immediately met with welcoming images. Bright candles, boisterous chatter and good food on Shabbat. Invitations to visit with colleagues at their places of work, as well as in their homes. Long conversations about what it means to be a creative arts therapist working across cultures. The work was lived and breathed into every moment.

There was also an urgency to the therapeutic work. The hyper-vigilance that comes from living in a place with so much conflict often meant that many therapists worked with one eye on the client and one eye on the horizon, ready for when the next attack would come. Or perhaps the dual focus comes not only from the present-day, regular attacks and threats of violence, but also from the fact that the therapists have a strong connection to the historical past, to the collective narratives that the people who call Israel home are constantly aware of. The personal is also political, and vice versa. Not everyone knows all of the stories of others or understands the different conflicts and complexities at play; but what is true is that therapists working in Israel never forget that everyone has a story, and it may not be what you expect. You always have to ask.

Israel is a place where bodies, locations, and cultural relationships are questioned, policed and disputed daily. In this environment, identity is always a topic of conversation; the here and now always starts and ends with who is in the room. In this place, Landy’s (2009) question of “who am I?” is not taken lightly. In traveling to Israel, I faced not only the question of “who am I?” but also the question of “who am I in relation to Israel?”

This was a good question. As a new therapist, an American currently based in Berlin but doing research in Israel, I was certainly uprooted. I knew two things: One, that I had needed to get outside of North America and see a larger picture of drama therapy communities abroad—in other words, I wanted to get a bit lost; and two, that I was drawn to the narratives of how trauma treatment evolves across place/culture/time. Just before coming to Israel, I had traveled to Athens for a conference. There, I spoke with Dr. Susana Pendzik, an Israeli drama therapist who pinpointed my . “But what do you want to do in Israel, and why? I’m not getting a clear picture.” Here I was, so far away from home, and Susana had hit the nail on the head. I had successful managed to get myself lost, but now I was unsure of which path to go down next. And what was my role in all of this? Again, Robert Landy’s voice was in my head, asking “Who am I?”

Asking this first important question about a person’s story, then, is the opening ritual; it is the way that the therapist invites the client into a healing safe space. While visiting Mooli Lahad’s Community Center for Stress Prevention, we learned about several methods which all center around dealing directly with the trauma narrative. One in particular, called SEE FAR CBT, combines Cognitive Behavioral Psychology, Somatic Experiencing and Drama Therapy (specifically, storytelling) as a means of engaging with the client’s trauma narrative (Lahad, Farhi, Leykin, & Kaplansky, 2010). The method uses storytelling cards as a projective technique that allows the clients to maintain the appropriate “aesthetic distance” needed for therapeutic change (Landy, 1994). What is important, though, is that the client is given many opportunities to tell his or her story. This verbal telling—and retelling, and retelling again—is what Lahad et al. (2010) has found allows clients to heal from post-trauma. This technique is one of “desensitization,” where the somatic experience involved in post-trauma decreases over time from the exposure. Clients tell their traumatic story repeatedly, and in this retelling, they gain more control over their story.

We also learned, however, that asking about trauma cannot always be through direct, spoken language. One of our first clinical visits in Israel was at a small hospital & nursing home in Jerusalem which serves many people, across many different cultures. The languages spoken there perhaps provide one picture of the diversity: They include but are not limited to Hebrew, Arabic, Yiddish, German, French, English, and Spanish. One of the only rules in the space is that politics are not to be discussed. Our host, Dr. Tammy Einstein, works as an expressive arts therapist and introduced us to several of her clients telling their stories through artwork. Sometimes, a story needs to come out, and that may need to happen in a variety of forms. We heard the story of one woman, who never considered herself an artist, and yet at the age of sixty has begun creating visual art to express her thoughts on life and humanity. Her art pieces depict a wide variety of patterns, symmetry and situations, but in them are almost always people. People coming together, forming relationships. For this client, spoken language could happen only after visual expression of her experience.

One of my most profound moments of realization about identity formation came during one of the workshops that Ingrid Lutz, my mentor in Berlin, gave with a group of Israeli drama therapists. Ingrid’s workshop examined family constellations through physical and (mostly) nonverbal work. Although I was introduced to her methods of body-based work before coming to Israel, I was struck by the new knowledge that came up in examining these family relationships, as evidenced by the following example.

As is common in her way of working, Ingrid asked participants to start from frozen sculptures, and to begin to follow their impulses physically and, when appropriate, through sound. In one family constellation from a story about incest, the family constellation was able to discover the connection between the incest and the way it smothered healthy sexual development in the family through this physical, nonverbal work. It occurred organically, simply as part of the sound and movement in the room, and as it occurred, you could see the look of realization dawning on the face of the therapist who had brought this story of her clients to the workshop. The body has ways of knowing that the mind cannot fully speak about. Furthermore, identity cannot be unhooked from your ties to family relationships—whether this be your biological family, chosen family or otherwise. From this I remembered that sometimes, in order to understand where you are going, you need to look behind you and see not just what, but who is there. Again it was a moment of dual focus—not just the present moment in the here-and-now, but the constantly changing and shifting relationship between the present moment and the past that had shaped it, which is not at all static but instead constantly in motion.

So in the end, I come back to this question of who am I? Who am I, to describe the work being done in a culture so different from my own? I am an outsider, a shape-shifter, a wanderer on a journey to find her own identity by learning from the work of her fellow therapists. I have no answers, only my process.

Getting lost has been an integral part of questioning my own views and intersections—as a white, female therapist trained in mostly European-centered models of creative arts therapy—which are always in the room as I do my own work. I am building my own house, taking strength from my community as I do my own work. Please remember to take everything I write with a grain of salt; better yet, sprinkle your salt on a piece of Challah as a wish that our professional homes always be this full. May we always examine the house we live in. May we always stay connected to our roots, and ask ourselves daily not just where we come from, but where we are going. May we always take pleasure in the journey, regardless of our destination.


Lahad, M., Farhi, M., Leykin, D., Kaplansky, N. (2010). Preliminary study of a new
integrative approach in treating post-traumatic stress disorder: SEE FAR CBT. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 37, 391-399.
Landy, R. (1994). Drama therapy: Concepts, theories and practices (2nd ed.). Springfield,
Illinois: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.
Landy, R. (2009). Role theory and the role method of drama therapy. In R. Emunah
and D. Johnson (Eds.), Current approaches in drama therapy (2nd ed.) (65-88). Springfield: Charles C. Thomas, Publisher, LTD.
Landy, R. (2012 September 12). Destination Israel: Drama therapy part 4. Psychology
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