Associate Professor and Director, Drama Therapy Program
Music and Performing Arts Professions
Dr. Nisha Sajnani, RDT-BCT, is the Director of the Program in Drama Therapy and Theatre & Health Lab; founding Co-Director of the Arts & Health @NYU. She is a founding co-director of the Jameel Arts & Health Lab established in collaboration with the WHO to measurably improve health and wellbeing through the arts. An award winning author, educator, and advocate, her body of work explores the unique ways in which aesthetic experience can inspire equity, care, and collective human flourishing across the lifespan. Read an interview with Dr. Nisha Sajnani and her editorial for a co-edited special research topic for Frontiers in Psychology on the physiological and psychological benefits of the arts.
Dr. Sajnani is also on faculty with NYU Abu Dhabi where she developed a trans-disciplinary course entitled Can Art Save Lives? which unites current evidence for the health benefits of the arts with practice and policy. She is a faculty advisor in the Rehabilitation Sciences Ph.D., Educational Theatre Ed.D and Ph.D. program and co-teaches Improvisation and Leadership in the Management Communication Program in NYU Stern. She is also on faculty with the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma where she lectures on the role of the arts with people who are forcibly displaced. Through the Arts + Health @ NYU, she collaborated with WHO Europe, Culture Action Europe, University of Oxford, and University College London on the first WHO policy concerning the role of the arts with forcibly displaced persons.
Dr, Sajnani co-produced the launch of Healing Arts New York and symposium in partnership with the Culturunners, the MET Museum, and the World Health Organization Arts & Health initiative and facilitated the first strategic meeting of charter collaborating centers in partnership with the Museum of Modern Art. In her capacity as Chair of the NYU Creative Arts Therapies Consortium, she leads a WHO commission to map the evidence for the physical, mental, and social health benefits of the arts and arts therapies. She is the Principal Editor of Drama Therapy Review, and a founding member of the World Alliance of Drama Therapy, and the Critical Pedagogies in the Arts Therapies think tank which she co-founded and co-led from 2018-2021. Dr. Sajnani is affiliated with KenVak (Dutch Arts Therapies Research Consortium), and the Interdisciplinary Research-Based Theatre collective (University of British Columbia). She was a past research fellow with the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (UK), a faculty research fellow with the NYU Aging Incubator.
Dr. Sajnani is the co-author of two books, including Intercultural Dramatherapy: Imagination and Action at the Intersections of Difference (Routledge, 2023), and an Introductory Guide to Research Methods for Drama Therapists (under contract). She is the co-editor of Trauma-Informed Drama Therapy: Transforming Clinics, Classrooms, and Communities (second edition forthcoming 2023). She has been published in Frontiers in Psychology, The Arts in Psychotherapy, The Journal of the Applied Arts and Health, Canadian Theatre Review, Europe Now, and Canadian Women's Studies and has been featured in the Boston Globe and on NPR. She is the series creator of Drama Therapy as Performance, a series of films documenting drama therapy theory and practice. She co-produced the documentary film Fostering Democracy Through Theater and curated Assemblage, an online exhibit on the arts and displacement as well as Visions and Voices for a Healthy Planet, the first WHO panel on the role of the arts in addressing climate change for the 2022 World Health Day Campaign.
Dr. Sajnani was awarded the Gertrud Schattner Award from the North American Drama Therapy Association (NADTA) for distinguished contributions to the field of drama therapy in education, publication, practice, and service and her efforts to promote research and diversity in the field. She was awarded the Corann Okorodudu Global Women's Advocacy Award from the American Psychological Association (Div. 35) and the first Diversity award from the American Society for Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama. Professor Sajnani has served as part of the official Canadian delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Before joining NYU, Dr. Sajnani held professorial positions at Lesley University and was Director of Community Health at the Post Traumatic Stress Center in New Haven and a past president of the NADTA. Dr. Sajnani received her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies uniting graduate training in Drama Therapy and Community Economic Development from the School of Community and Public Affairs from Concordia University in Montreal.
- Sajnani, N, Mayor, C., Armstrong, C. (under contract). An introductory guide to research methods for drama therapists. Intellect.
- Sajnani, N., & Johnson, D.R. (Eds.) (2014, 2nd Edition under contract 2023). Trauma-informed drama therapy: Transforming clinics, classrooms, and communities. Charles C. Thomas.
- Dokter, D., & Sajnani, N. (2023) Intercultural dramatherapy: Imagination and action at the intersections of difference. Routledge.
- Sajnani, N., Muhungi, W.M., Yee, J., Mercer, K., Butler, K., Jones, L., Neira, N.L., J, Matining, M. (2012). Decolonizing “social justice” work: Stories to support organizations, facilitators, and youth working against oppression. Girls Action Foundation.
- Selected Articles
Feniger-Schaal, R., Orkibi, H., Keisari, S., Sajnani, N., Butler, J. (2022). Shifting to tele-creative arts therapies during the COVID-19 pandemic: An international survey on helpful and challenging factors. The Arts in Psychotherapy. doi: 10.1016/j.aip.2022.101898
DeWitte, M., Orkibi, H., Zarate, R., Karkou, V., Sajnani, N., Malhotra, B., Ho, Rainbow., Kaimal, G. Baker, F. A., & Koch, S. C. (2021). From therapeutic factors to mechanisms of change in the creative arts therapies: A scoping review. Frontiers in Psychology, 12(2525), 1-27. doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.678397
Keisari, S., Sajnani, N., & Harel, D. (2021). Creative arts therapies to enhance mental health over the course of aging: Research and implications. Innovation in Aging, 5(Supplement_1), 567-567.
Sajnani, N., Mayor, C., & Tillberg-Webb, H. (2020). Aesthetic presence: The role of the arts in the education of creative arts therapists in the classroom and online. Arts in Psychotherapy, 69, doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2020.101668
Sajnani, N., Mayor, C., Burch, D., Davis, C., Feldman, D., Kelly, J., Landis, H., McAdam, E. (2019). Collaborative discourse analysis on the use of drama therapy to treat trauma in schools. Drama Therapy Review, 5 (1). 27-47.
Dunphy, K., Baker, F., Dumaresq, E., Carroll-Haskins, K., Eikholt, J., Ercole, M., Kaimal, G., Meyer, K., Sajnani, N., Shamir, O., Wosch, T (2019). Creative arts interventions to address depression in older adults: a systematic review of outcomes, processes and mechanisms. Frontiers in Psychology. doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02655
- Sajnani, N. & Gopalakrishna, M. (2017). Rasa: Exploring the influence of Indian performance theory and technique in drama therapy, Drama Therapy Review, 3:2, 225-239.
- Sajnani, N., Marxen, E., Zarate, B. (2017). Critical perspectives in the arts therapies: Response/ability across a continuum of practice. The Arts in Psychotherapy. 54. 28-37.
- Selected Chapters
Sajnani, N. (forthcoming). The use of rasaboxes in the training of therapists. In M. Minnick & P. Cole, (Eds.) Rasaboxes.
Sajnani, N. (2021). Drama therapy in the context of psychiatric care. In U.Volpe (Ed.) Arts therapies in psychiatric rehabilitation. Springer.
Sajnani, N; Mayor, C; Boal, J. (2020) Theatre of the Oppressed. In D.R Johnson and R. Emunah (Eds), Current Approaches in Drama Therapy (3rd edition), Charles C. Thomas.
Johnson, D.R., Sajnani, N., Mayor, C., Davis, C. (2020). The Miss Kendra Program: Addressing toxic stress in the school setting. In D.R Johnson and R. Emunah (Eds), Current Approaches in Drama Therapy (3rd edition), Charles C. Thomas.
- Sajnani, N., Beardall, N., Chapin Stephenson, R., Estrella, K., Zarate, R., Socha, D. Butler, J. (2019). Navigating the transition to online education in the arts therapies. In R. Houghham, S. Pitruzella, and S. Scoble (Eds.) Traditions in transition in the arts therapies. University of Plymouth Press.
- Sajnani, N., Salvatore, J., Sallis, R. (2019). Three arts based researchers walk into a forum: A conversation on the opportunities and challenges in embodied and performed research. In P. Duffy, C. Hatton and R. Sallis (Eds.) Drama research methods, provocations of practice. Rotterdam, Sense.
- Sajnani, N. Cho, A., Landis, H., Raucher, G., Trytan, N. (2018) Collaborative discourse analysis on the use of drama therapy to treat depression in adults. In A. Zubala & V. Karkou & A. Arts therapies in the treatment of depression. Routledge.
- Sajnani, N. & Dokter, D. (2017). An experiential framework and approach to teaching cultural response/ability. In R. Houghham, S. Pitruzella, and S. Scoble (Eds.) Cultural landscapes in the arts therapies. University of Plymouth Press.