Creatives In Conversation: Introducing Dr. Steve Dansiger, one of the masterminds behind the revolution of DropLabs Technology.
One of the most intriguing commonalities between creative-minded people and their individual experiences answering the call of creativity is that the path is far from linear. Being able to lean into your passion and discover what brings your soul the most joy is a deeply personal and intricate experience, one that can also connects us as humans and helps provide inspiration to others. From expressing new ideas to creating art to challenging the way we look at the world, creativity is intertwined in the very fabric of our being and is one of the most important facets of the universal human existence. As such, it is only natural to see how creativity is impacting technological advances as we collectively evolve, as well as how it influences one's own journey to healing and self-betterment.
Dr. Steve Dansiger has spent his life navigating different ways to express himself creatively, with his various endeavors in music and education leading him to identify his true passion for helping others. Throughout the progression of his distinctively multifaceted career, he went from playing legendary rock venues as a touring drummer and musician to now being regarded as a highly respected pioneer of the Buddhist recovery field, a master EMDR therapist and trainer, author, consultant, clinician, international speaker and meditation teacher. Needless to say, Dr. Dansiger greatly exemplifies how unexpected yet fulfilling one’s career trajectory can be, especially when you follow your creative instincts and remain open to the winding path as it unfolds in front of you.
For those who may be unfamiliar, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy was first discovered by Dr. Francine Shapiro in the late 1980s. Today, it is one of the most researched and utilized methods in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other forms of human distress connected to trauma and adverse life experiences. Dr. Dansiger's work in the field of EMDR therapy initially connected him to the CEO of DropLabs, Susan Paley. Around the time of their fated meeting, Susan had begun dedicating her time to exploring ways to further develop the immersive technology that has since, years later, manifested into the company's debut product, EP 01.
Presently, Dr. Dansiger is proudly serving as DropLabs' Health and Wellness Advisor, working to help guide the application of the technology and help further develop ways to harness its revolutionary possibilities as a therapeutic tool. Graciously, Dr. Dansiger recently took some time out from balancing his impassioned life’s work with fatherhood to share an in-depth look into how he became an integral asset to the DropLabs mission, what mantras he turns to in his own life and how creativity is undeniably connected to therapy.
Can you tell me a bit more about how you became connected with the DropLabs team?
The way I got to DropLabs was through meeting Susan Paley probably about seven years ago now. We worked on a project together, a health care technology project that didn't take off. However, the good news about that is that I met Susan. [Laughs] About three years ago, she called me and began explaining that she was working on a new project and wanted to get my opinion as a drummer and a therapist. I remember putting on an early prototype and hearing "Baba O'Riley" by The Who. My brain kind of exploded in a good way. I felt the entire band inside my body and I heard, as a drummer, notes that Keith Moon played that I hadn't heard before. When the song ended, Susan asked me what thought and I immediately said, 'I'm going use this in my therapy practice.' I had one of those experiences that was almost like a fast-cut in a movie where I saw all the possibilities and we've been working together ever since. I started advising the company with all of the health and wellness possibilities, particularly from the framework of my specialty in EMDR therapy and my specialty in mindfulness training, which I’ve been doing for over 30 years now.
How do you tend to describe the experience of DropLabs Technology™ to others?
One of the myths about therapy is that it always has to be esoteric and hard to understand, when in fact, my experiences with the technology is simply that there's this pure joy that happens. I've seen it over and over again [when people first experience DropLabs Technology™] and that's what happened for me as well.
I get the joy in getting completely consumed with the music I love, and when I use it with meditative soundscapes, I get into a certain space. I've been doing mindfulness for a long time, and I personally do it mostly in silence, but there's something about being transported to a place in order to put oneself in this state of mindfulness or whatever it is I'm trying to do, whether its relax or become energized. New meditators find sound is a great bridging tool for them. It's hard to describe because it's one of those things that you hear about and can't fully understand it until you do it. I will say, music is reignited for me. I did my first club date as a musician 40 years ago and can say it is a whole new world of sound.
As the Health and Wellness Advisor for DropLabs, what are some of the things you're focusing on?
A large role that I have with DropLabs is to help to coordinate the health and wellness possibilities within the work of researchers, academic institutions and other people who can help us. The main goal is to understand, research and put into practice all the different possibilities that are in the realm of health and wellness.
So far, I've written a white paper for DropLabs based on a small study that I did in my private practice office where I used the technology to provide the bilateral stimulation that is part of EMDR therapy. Historically, it started with eye movements, and then it went to vibrations, and then audio tones. This is the perfect opportunity to provide that bilateral stimulation. The thing that makes DropLabs unique for me is that I can then also use it for what we call resourcing, which is at the beginning or at the end of a session, or in-between sessions. This takes place when the client is trying to self-soothe, or really install or experience the positive changes that they've had, or when they're still activated and they need something to dial them down. We can use the same technology to provide both resourcing and bilateral stimulation. That's a first in the world that I'm in, the EMDR therapy world. I’ve also been able to successfully integrate it into my MET(T)A Protocol (Mindfulness and EMDR Treatment Template for Agencies) which allows me and my company StartAgain to introduce the technology more widely, expand our research on different uses, and have the technology utilized throughout the continuum of care.
The beauty is that all we are initially doing to provide therapy is by using the technology for what it's already set up to do. By providing people with a music experience, a sound experience and a vibrational experience, it reconnects people to the ground, which is a very important part of any therapy or wellness endeavor. It's been particularly powerful thus far. I've had the opportunity to see more than a couple of times in my practice where people would have a song or a sound organically present itself during the reprocessing part of their work. That sound or song would then become their resource at the end of the session, in order to transition from being in session with me to just going about their day. Utilizing DropLabs has been a game-changer for me and for the clients that I have worked with thus far.
We're really trying to be diligent by working on innovations in a very responsible and mindful way to find all the ways that we can leverage this technology to help people. We've already seen how it helps the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community, and what that emotional response has been like, and how it's helped the clients that I have in my office. My 10-year-old daughter likes to put them on and has similar results as the adults who have tried it out, but with more childlike joy.
Where do you see this technology headed in the future? What happens next?
Hmm, what doesn't happen next? [Laughs] There's a few things. One, I just see an incredible explosion of joy and access to all emotions happening, where people are able to access their joy and maintain their joy and be able to meet life and life's challenges with a bit more resilience and a shift in attitude. I also see this as being helpful to my profession because our work has moved more and more towards somatic based therapy. It has moved towards really bringing in the spirit of the body, the limbic system, [which is the part of the brain that controls emotions] along with the cognitive and thinking mind. Part of that is through creativity.
When I first thought of being a therapist, I didn't want to be one. My therapist had told me I'd be a good therapist. I told him to leave me alone [Laughs] but he told me that being a therapist was a creative occupation. I actually bought that and found it to be incredibly true. And now, we as therapists are becoming much more creative in the application or use of creativity as an intervention or as something to help people to get through difficult times or difficult memories or difficult situations. This technology is built for speed with helping us to do everything from the simplest thing like someone creating a playlist for themselves in order to walk the earth in a better state of mind to people leveraging the technology directly to make particular soundscapes and deliver different kinds of interventions. So, there's the deeper more traditional or professional therapeutic piece and also the general wellness piece.
In what ways has this technology influenced or changed the way you approach your therapy practice, either for yourself or for your clients?
Part of the synergy, and part of what brought Susan and I together as deeply as we have, is that one of my passions is caring for others but also caring for the caregivers. One of the biggest things that has happened since I started doing demos with therapists in particular is that they have seen the value of the technology for themselves.
Similar to creatives not necessarily having all of the resources that they can use or access, therapists often don't have access to this kind of technology that can help them take care of themselves. Otherwise, they can’t take care of other people. Additionally, this kind of technology helps therapists to have a more creative view of how to help people and how to get excited about more embodied approaches to helping others. It has a hugely positive effect even before the technology gets to the client. The technology is already helping therapists to be able to see things and experience things in a different way that allows them to be better therapists.
In a lot of ways, the way that I'm thinking about the potential of DropLabs is in the community based health paradigm where it's for everybody. Everybody has a different role to play in wellness and mental health. Everybody gets to benefit in a different way from the technology so that's incredibly exciting to me. That, and the fact that I know there’s a strong commitment at DropLabs to make sure that, in the end, we can make this accessible to as many people as possible.
What are some current areas of focus in the research sense that you’re working on?
At the moment, I am in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh and Emory University, as well as local universities. I'm also currently in the Masters in Health Care Innovation program at the University of Pennsylvania, which has put me in touch with a whole community of potential collaborators and researchers. We are all looking towards anything you can think of, which has included, but is not limited to: how can it help people in the intensive care unit, how can it help people with autism, how can it help people with Alzheimer's. A particular focus of my own is that I think this is going to be a technological game-changer in the world of addiction and recovery. What is it doing for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, and problems stemming from trauma that don’t meet that diagnosis? All of these and more are on the table and some of it is already in process. We're researching and innovating--and when I say we I mean everyone around me--all of us are looking towards how can we help people with this technology. I think it's going to help a lot of people. I think the implications on so many levels due to the sound and vibrational aspects both have the ability to deliver meaningful interventions for people. There are countless ways that this will help people take care of themselves.
Is there an early memory you’d like to share about when you first discovered your creative side, or when you had a moment of recognition regarding what you wanted to do with your life in a grander sense?
At the age of 10 or 11, I had a music teacher who charted Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" for me and I really bonded with the drums. I also bonded with the lyrics and I found myself connecting with the lyrics of everything I was listening to. I knew I wanted to express myself from a very early age. I started forming bands when I was 12 years old and I ended up “The Uncle Floyd Show,” which people my age and on the East coast will understand how important that was. That led to my playing CBGBs and Max's Kansas City at the age of 16 at the end of the '70s. That took it to the next level where it was like, 'I want to do this for the rest of my life.' However, I didn't quite know that this really meant to be creative and to communicate.
The next thing that significantly changed things for me was when I came to the end of my active alcohol and drug problem. I entered recovery at the age of 26, and learned that helping others would help me to help myself. That was the last piece of the package for me. Creativity and communication and helping others. I was then introduced to a Buddhist mindfulness practice shortly thereafter, giving me the hope to end suffering for all beings and for myself. That combination has dictated the rest of my career.
From being a high school teacher to diversity professional to author to therapist, this technology is just the amazing outgrowth of all of that. I feel so lucky to have been able to face my own addiction and be introduced to this world where all of the deep desires I have are made manifest. Not just traditional means or interpersonal means, but technology has a lot of facets to it and it's wonderful to be part of something where technology is going to help people be creative, communicate, heal themselves and help others.
Do you have any important mantras that have stuck with you?
A couple come to mind. Back in New York City, my therapist Simon used to say, 'You can do anything you want except for one thing: you're not allowed to beat yourself up. There's plenty of other people to do that for you, so just don't do that.'
Another is a sort of actual mantra that I would do during the year I spent living in a Zen Buddhist monastery. The loose translation of the mantra is “unconditional gratitude.” In a lot of ways, that reflects a concept that a lot of people have heard by now called radical acceptance. In other words, it means that I don't go in with a spirit of gratitude only when it's good. [Laughs] Instead, it's about finding a way to have gratitude all the time, even in adversity.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. To learn more about Dr. Steve Dansiger's incredible work, please visit drdansiger.com. He can also be found on Instagram at @drdansiger.
As innovators by design, the team behind DropLabs Technology™ is dedicated to supporting and elevating members of the creative community. Together, we aim to serve as a platform highlighting different creators as they work towards achieving visionary excellence and inspiring others along their path. To nominate a creative leader you’d like to see highlighted on our website, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.