Therapy, Democracy and our Communities

Christine LaCerva

I am director of the Social Therapy Group in Fort Greene and a proud Brooklynite. I grew up in Brooklyn—living in East New York until my 18th birthday and I love this borough, and care about what goes on here.

In working with clients and with neighborhood cultural and business leaders, I experience a shared concern with the strain and stress that our Brooklyn communities are experiencing. As a therapist and advocate for a healthier community, I am a strong advocate for people having a say in what is important to them and having the organizational capacity to give voice to those concerns.

There are two new projects I have been working on that I would like to share with you.

Staging a Community Play

The first is a community performance that began on the streets of Brooklyn. Therapists on my staff set up tables at the big street fairs and interviewed dozens of people about the issue of emotional development. Is emotional development a key component of what’s necessary to help our communities grow? The answer we heard was a resounding yes! People told us that they were concerned with increased violence; they were troubled by the diagnostic labels given to their kids; they lacked meaningful forums for community members to gather to express their differences and figure out how to work together.

One response to this outreach was the creation of a community play called, “Does The Community Need Therapy? It was conceived and performed by playwright, Jeff Fader along with my staff. The play debuted to a packed house, drawing a wide array of community members--playwrights, community theater people, clinical social workers, friends and family of the performers and other curious neighbors.

It was a delightful evening as actors improvised performances which explored building an inclusive, community of communities. The actors played with the complexities of gentrification, racial tensions and people just not getting along. The leading character in the play was the therapist, who challenges the community to get some help with their fights and disagreements. The therapist sits at a bus stop, where all kinds of people gather and where many community issues are being considered. She asks a very important question of her “clients”: What are you willing to do? Do you want to complain or do you want to build something where your voice can be heard?

I understand the play as another creative tool and a springboard for important conversation. Many audience members commented on how unusual the dialogue was. It was a strangely different kind of conversation that involved everyone in creating some new emotional experiences by getting to know others who were different. The play and the dialogue that followed was indeed the community shaping and creating its’ therapy together.

Here's a short segment of one of the scenes. Check out some photos too. I would welcome your comments and thoughts. Please feel free to post them on this blog and continue the conversation!


Does the Community Need Democracy?

Being an active participant in shaping one’s life is critical to our well being. This brings me to a second concern --- how badly our local, state and national government is functioning. As a therapist, I experience every day the emotional impact. Decisions made in Washington, Albany and City Hall can significantly impact on our lives and the lives of family and friends. People everywhere are deeply troubled by the extent that they have little say in how their communities run. They are troubled by the extent partisanship makes serious dialogue about important policy issues impossible. They experience an increasing disconnect between government and their lives. So do I.

I have discussed these concerns with my longtime colleagues Lenora Fulani and Fred Newman. They have taught me that partisanship is a structural, not a psychological disorder. They are advocating for an open primary process that could open up the ballot and put the choice of candidates back into the hands of the community. In New York City there are 1,405,626 voters who cannot participate in the Democratic Party primary where our representatives are effectively decided. Brooklyn (and everyone in this country) deserves more. I urge you to learn more. I think radical emotionality and radical democracy go hand in hand.

Does the Community Need Democracy? It certainly sounds therapeutic to me! What do you think? I would love to hear from you.