As the director of the Wellness and Recovery Division at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, Carlos Rodriguez, 49, uses theater, music, dance and art to help his patients, many struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. Rodriguez came to New York in 1992 to study drama therapy at New York University, and had no intention of making the city his permanent home. Twenty-five years later, he is overseeing three programs at the hospital and using creative art therapy to help those in need.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE WAYS YOU USE ART THERAPY?
The therapist is working with the patients, the patients are creating the work. The patients are creating, in [some] instances, lyrics they may use in music composition. Those lyrics may be … important to whatever struggle they have. It’s a little easier for a patient to engage that way as opposed to simply talking about the challenges. We do a lot of what we call sensory modulation.
WHAT IS SENSORY MODULATION?
Sensory modulation … is based on the idea that we receive information through our senses and we also modulate that … to either increase … or control our arousal. An example is when we are in the subway and we want … to ignore all the information and noises, … we may focus on reading a book, reading our e-mails, … listen to music. So what we’re doing is tuning out too much information and just focusing our attention onto something. …
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I feel that the arts have always been a safe place for me through my entire life. And it occurred to me at some point if I wanted to help people that I … could combine my need, my attraction for the arts … to help people.
I need to feel that what I do is somehow assisting people that need … attention, the people that rarely get it. And that’s what really moves me – the fact that I live quite a privileged life but a lot of people don’t. And I want to do my piece, and I feel strongly about that.
IS THERE ANYONE IN YOUR LIFE WHO HELPED YOU IN THE SAME WAY?
Through my life there’s always someone lending me a hand and pulling me up. Whether it’s my parents … my first art teacher in elementary school who allowed me to spend extra time in the art room as a refuge …
I can look at my life and there’s always been someone extending their hand. They’re pulling me up to the next project or the next experience. And I’m very grateful and aware of that. I’m just sort of standing on the shoulders of other people that have created a space for me and I feel I owe that, that I need to do the same for others.
MOST CHALLENGING PART OF THE JOB?
There never seems to be enough to do everything we want to do for our patients. So, it’s sort of taking these resources, how far you can stretch it so everybody can have access.
WHAT CAN BE IMPROVED?
I think we need a much better interface with our community partners to really build a continuum of care. In general, as a society, we don’t value enough wellness. In supporting the wellness of those that we serve, we actually benefit the entire society, as opposed to just an individual. It is a lot cheaper to keep people healthy than to manage people’s illness and we have to make that evolution.
(Header photo by Jessica Wilson via Flickr)