DMT & C Faculty: Interview with Kris Larsen

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Although the biographies of the DMT & C faculty are listed on the DMT & C website, I wanted to give you a more in-depth look at one specific instructor, Kris Larsen. Kris teaches Human Development, Group Dynamics, and Supervision.  I specifically chose to interview Kris based upon his influence on my experience at Columbia College Chicago.  Kris has had a major influence in my growth personally, academically, and as an emerging dance/movement therapist.  He has really pushed me throughout my work at Columbia.

Thanks Kris.

1.  Tell us about your academic and professional background.

I really began teaching as a student at Naropa when I was asked to be Christine Caldwell’s student assistant to the first year class. Each year she (Christine) would invite one second year student to co-teach. It was then that I got the teaching bug, as I saw how being a teacher was very similar to being a therapist in the similarities of self-reflection, internal processing, group dynamics, and all of those yummy things that brought me into the field in the first place.

It was not until much later when I was already a therapist that I received my next invitation to teach at Columbia. It was the Case Studies/Internship class, and I jumped at the chance. From then, whenever a class would open and Susan needed an instructor, I jumped again. In 2006, I received the Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given to two faculty instructors per year. It was really the icing on the cake of a career in which I have found so much passion.

Several years into teaching graduate classes, I was introduced to Bill Hyashi who was starting an undergrad senior class and asked me to be one of the instructors. I taught in the dept. for several years until the class dissolved, and then I was invited to teach another undergrad class (Psychology of Creativity) for which I have been teaching now for three years.

My professional career began in my internship when I worked for the Federal Government at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in D.C. I worked/interned there for 10 months, 40 hours per week with the schizophrenic in-patient and out-patient population. After my 10 months, I came back to Chicago and found a full-time job at an in-patient hospital where I worked for 5 years and advanced from adjunct therapist to out-patient coordinator of two programs.

Four years into my hospital work, I started seeing clients privately and also began a supervision practice. I have maintained this practice now for 16 years.

2. How would you describe your approach as a dance/movement therapist?

I am an existentialist at heart. I believe in the role of responsibility as the means to healing as well as the energy of letting go of attachment. As I trained at a Buddhist institute (Naropa), it was almost impossible not to be influenced by Buddhist principles, one of them being attachment and ego. My work in the field led me to be interested in addictions and the role of shame in mental illness. It almost made sense for me to lean towards an existential approach as I was working with attachment and shame, ego and anger, fear and love, aloneness and escapism. I was interested in how the energy of fear imprisoned the body and created a false sense of self and loneliness based upon fear of giving up who or what one identifies with/as and how existentialism speaks directly to letting go of identity in order to find inner purpose based upon new self and the here and now.

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3. What is it like to be a male in a female dominated profession?

Interesting question. I do not identify as male, although I find myself having “male” responses to my environment. I am uncertain as to whether I am having responses that have been gender stereotyped or if I really am having responses that are testosterone based. Going back to the gender question, I do identify “gender queer” meaning that I am neither male nor female but a combination of the two. As a gay person, I do believe that I lived and still live within a choice of what I call myself and, because of this, I really do not identify in either category.

With that said, I will stereotype: I do not like the more feminine aspects of our work; scarves, pretty music, soft empathetic gestures, light passivity, etc. I also do not appreciate being boxed into an identity merely because I look a particular way. I find that when I am in a group of men, I do not have to think that I am male. When I am in a group of women, I am almost immediately put into a box of how I will be in relationship with members of the group. Perhaps this is based more on transferential issues than male or female identity. I don’t know. And maybe I am also put into the box when in a group of men. I just don’t feel that pressure. And then maybe it is an affinity or aesthetic.

What is also interesting is that I have found myself, almost my entire life, to be drawn more so to groups of women than groups of men. Stereotypically I think more like a woman in the way women process emotionally and rationally. I just get bogged down, in our field, by the round-about way that many women direct their energies. Probably my aesthetic/affinity rather than my gender.

4. What do you like about Columbia’s DMT & C program?

I admire the way we collaborate on ideas. I like that we are from many backgrounds in our approaches and our academia. I admire our attention to creative process and our passion to dance and create within our field.

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5. What is your best advice for an emerging dance/movement therapist?

Find good supervision!!!

Don’t pressure yourself to find the best job out there. If you are interested in private practice– and I do believe that all of us ought to be considering this as the future of mental health is bleak right now– get in your two years of clinical practice in order to be licensed, and then go out on your own.

Always stay creative.

Continue to focus on self-care. Getting burned out too early is therapist suicide.

6. And when you have time, what do you like to do for fun?

I choreograph and perform as much as possible. I am always researching new venues to perform.

I travel whenever I can to Mexico, New York City or Florida.

I play with my two dogs Sophie and Stella Mae.

I have Sunday night dinners every Sunday night with a core of friends that make me laugh and keep me sane.

I love my husband.