The main ingredient in therapy is the relationship of deep affection without which the patient knows, as a child knows (when this is the case) that they are not loved!
As dance movement psychotherapists working with the body as the main medium of communication, connection and communion this is something that can be felt and lived in each session. It is not enough to be a superb dancer (and in fact I don’t think it is absolutely necessary), it is important to have a large vocabulary of movement as well as emotional intelligence to be able to hold, guide and contain patients’ experiences and expressions. But what seems to me more important is the therapist’s big open heart.
For patients with learning disabilities / autism and who are traumatised in some way the person centred psychotherapeutic approach seems to work very well. It seemingly has no rules or boundaries and does not tend to dehumanize the patients in the name of ‘clinical terminology’. Well, at least this is how I have experienced it and how in my private practice I am seeing progress.
Many therapists seem to define and talk about ‘the psychopathology’ in the person seeing them as ill or abnormal in some way. This attitude does not sit right with me, never has and I think I will stop trying to deny this. I’m not sure if this is why working in the NHS is so difficult! These patients are very vulnerable and oftentimes extremely delicate. I find myself having to take a second breathe at how alone they seem to be. It’s as if they open up quickly without any cushioning and so they retreat back into their way of being in the world!
An American person centred psychologist, Margaret warner speaks about a ‘fragile process’ whereby the patient may easily feel threatened and misunderstood or even violated because their experiences are difficult for them to experience. Not because they are ill but because their experience is hard for them. So, rather than seeing them as sick see their humanity as a very difficult experience to be with and hold them here.
Personally I feel that working in these processes through the medium of movement is easier because of the pre / non-verbal world and because playful movement is so contagious and vital. With a client named Misha (pseudonym) we move through set steps to warm up each time and then she guides me through games, dances, stories and there is always a point in the session where the difficulty surfaces. I feel it and I open my heart more by holding her experience and not judging it, just hold it and flow. There has been a theme of ‘taking care of my body’ for this particular patient as she had some pretty bad experiences that have left her organism traumatised. Oftentimes the sessions happen on the floor with slow, fluid, gentle movements with attention to breathe and digestion and the subtle sensations and voices in the body. Sometimes the space becomes a ‘party’ and Misha gets lost in free dance which seems to bring her back to a more vital expression of herself where the heavy effects of drugs and ‘second skin’ holding falls away for a while. It is here that new soft experiences are exercised!
Mother Theresa said that loneliness and isolation in the west was the biggest disease she had encountered in her lifetime and that the only hope for us is to return to the universe of the heart.