“This is powerful stuff” a brief case study

So in continuing to keep you updated with my dance movement psychotherapy sessions I thought it might be nice to share some of my most recent supervision experiences as well, because time and time again I sit back and say to myself, or whoever happens to be with me “ this is powerful stuff”. And actually my clinical supervisor said exactly that just last week in response to my material “this is powerful stuff”.

Firstly though the sessions have had body awareness as the focus, always bringing things back to the body in its most simplest form and then working from there; in the here and now – with teaching the ‘body as home’ most especially with those who have learning disabilities and various different psychological conditions.

I work from the belief that our body is our home, it is our earth and those patients who are in states of unwellness, mental and emotional disability; disorganised and disorientated, and who have been damaged can experience wholeness through activating their inner unique potentials for wellness.

Breathing, heartbeat and movement, muscle strength and relaxation through ‘simple’ exercises are the starting point for this awareness. According to Renos Papadopoulos (2002) ‘home’ is the distinctive form of systemic interactions that combine the joining of space, relationships and time (continuity) so, in other words when the patient feels safety within these three dimensions then therapeutic work is on a Tierra Firma!

33 copia

Winnicott’s ideas relate to dance movement psychotherapy through the non-verbal communication and bodily experiences because they both inform the growing of the psychological self. He spoke about the ‘self’ finding itself naturally placed in the body (1972) through the non-verbal dynamics of mother and baby where they observe, attune, feel and mirror each other. The bodily experience is a communication to and about the self.

One particular patient, Jacob (pseudonym) arrived for his session chatting away about how unhappy he was with the ward he is on as he feels bullied but hoping that it was going to get sorted out! He is very hyper in his energy and would just go on and on and on moving and punching out or kicking and suggesting games without resting. My suggestion was a boxing dance in which he would give three punches to the music and then stop, change the flow, hold his energy and then send it out in a contained way. We did this for one whole track. He was less ‘fired up with anger’ as when he arrived and left with a different quality of energy which spoke to me of ‘holding my own’. In working with FLOW I am able to find a different way to connect with him and thus encourage his more felt expression as oppose to his angry, shameful one!

For Jacob the sensing part of our sessions have proven invaluable which won’t be a surprise to any professional working with movement in a therapeutic context. In the grounding phase where we are working with our connection to the earth through, predominantly the lower part of our body Jacob becomes more present and shows his pattern of checking out, disappearing because it is all too much through a kind of hyper vitality. Dissociation is the minds attempt to flee when the body freezes (Loewenstein, 1993); movement can provide a healing pathway for patients who have experienced trauma (Steckler, 2006) and movement work can help patients to engage with flow in effort (Laban and Lawrence, 1974). This can improve their capacity to think and to stay in contact with their emotional experience.

Working to meet him in his over compensated vital energy I wait until I meet him and once a link has been made we then come back to rhythmic movements in whatever we are doing. This expressing phase seems to enable him to get closer to his feelings.

It is exactly in this expressing part of our session that I led him through an exercise recently to bring him closer to releasing some of what feels like chaotic and confused feelings, through movement metaphor as I felt he was ready for this (and this was in direct connection to my supervision session). After this phase we naturally moved into connecting, and it was here that Jacob started to speak of things from his past.

“The use of play and selected movements in the therapy process can help patients look at their behaviours, feelings and bodily experiences to gain understanding of these differing aspects of the self without hurting others. A crucial aspect is the therapist’s role in redirecting impulsive or violent outbursts in order to provide a channel for containing the aggressive impulses”

(B. Manford, 2014 in Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy)

Karen Woodley (RDMP) - Props
Karen Woodley (RDMP) - Props


I let Jacob speak and along with his support worker just kept the movements flowing. His stories led into another dance (again directly connected to the material shared)!

The session time was up and his completion was a resounding positive! The support worker who led him back across the courtyard reported back to me that Jacob was talking to her with a positive vision for his week. Before this he had been in a state of despair.

So, in returning back to my clinical supervision experience I had the chance to explore the countertransference material more. I went full of ‘wanting to help’ and questioning myself. I came away sure that I have the tools and the love to reach as far as I can into his traumatic world and that a big part of ‘wanting to help’ is understanding  that it is not my job to save him. Being a life link is the most important thing I can be! The dots all connect, from the dances to the supervision and back again to the dances that nurture life.

I have learnt two lessons. The first one being that I must take care of myself. As Jonny Matthews, a social worker and expert with troubled youth shares in his new book ‘looking after No.1’:

“People who care for others tend to be neglectful of one thing…themselves”

This resonates with the wounded healer archetype that most psychotherapists understand. Secondly, that this movement therapy is powerful stuff (I knew this anyway)!! It was just so good to have this confirmed from the dance to the supervision and back again!

I would love to hear from other movement therapists so, if you are reading this and are one, what do you think ? Do you have similar stories you would like to share here?

With Love Karen February 2016

Coming in followings months:

The four daughters of movement (Laban)

The power of the caress and working with this in a clinical context

Human Movements of love


Spread the love