Happy new year, readers! As the new year rolls on many of us will formulate new year’s resolutions and will hopefully stick to them. One of my personal resolutions this year, which just so happens to relate to being a dance/movement therapist, is to create a self-care plan. The topic of self-care is a big one amongst the dance/movement therapy community and other mental health professionals (teachers too, perhaps?) Self-care is ultimately very personal and is a word that has many definitions. It’s a topic I find very important and something mental health professionals need to talk about more often.
So, I elicited help from Lindsay Copeland to write a blog post on this topic. I first met Lindsay while at Columbia College Chicago in the Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling program, but we got know each other in the Graduate Laban- Certificate of Movement Analysis (GL-CMA) program. I was able to witness Lindsay in her thesis process, attending her presentation of findings and performance. I was intrigued by Lindsay’s use of video and how this facilitated self-witnessing. Her approach to self-care was a new way of interpreting and understanding this sometimes vague idea. Needless to say, I was honored to witness her explore and talk about something so personal. Lindsay is a certified movement analyst and has applied to become a Registered-Dance/Movement Therapist. And on top of all that awesomeness, she’s a fashion superstar (or at least I think so) and an awesome baker.
Hello, fellow readers! I’m honored that Emily asked me to contribute to her wonderful dance/movement therapy blog. She asked me to write about the relevance of self-care and self-compassion in DMT and how my thesis supports this.
I began my journey into dance/movement therapy four years ago at Columbia College Chicago. Over the course of those years, I learned how to be an effective dance/movement therapist through theory, application, and experience, though a good portion of my time in the program also included learning how to become more self-aware of my emotions, body prejudices, counter-transferences, and more. Over time, I started becoming more interested in the personal and professional development of emerging and working dance/movement therapists. I often wondered, “How do dance/movement therapists maintain their empathy and compassion? We learn how to be self-aware, but how do we maintain this energy in sessions and outside of it?” Therefore, when it came time to choose a thesis topic, I reflected upon my own experiences in an attempt to answer these questions. I decided to commit to researching my own student self-care process by utilizing the concept of self-compassion.
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Siddhartha Gautama
My thesis, “A Butterfly Emerges: A Search for Self-Compassion as a Dance/Movement Therapy Student,” was a heuristic research study using arts-based methods. Using a combination of journal entries, art work, photography, and movement improvisations, I processed my past and current experiences with burnout, self-care, and self-compassion. My initial data uncovered four themes that I believed were my barriers to finding self-compassion: emotional impact, transitions, boundaries, and lack of communication and support. I also found five themes that helped me to access more self-compassion: time, awareness of self-criticism, mindfulness, cognitive growth, and mind-body integration. Engaging in video recorded movement improvisations, artwork, and photography helped me to deepen my experiences with these themes.
While it was a long and difficult journey of processing some uncomfortable emotions and experiences, writing my thesis provided very profound results. I discovered that self-compassion was part of my own unique form of self-care as an emerging dance/movement therapist. Incorporating movement improvisations as part of my data analysis helped me to access self-compassion through kinesthetic empathy. By watching my movement improvisation recordings, I underwent a unique process of witnessing myself moving through each of my nine themes. By doing so, I empathized with my various movements, which led to a deeper sense of self-compassion for myself. I concluded that by practicing this unique form of self-care, this will help me to be more present and empathic with clients.
Video recordings of two of my movement improvisations
My results opened me up to new self-discoveries, as well as the impact of self-care and self-compassion within the dance/movement therapy community. There are many benefits to practicing both self-compassion and healthy forms of self-care. As dance/movement therapists, we often take for granted the value of taking care of ourselves. So much of what we do involves others. We have a tendency to give so much of ourselves to our clients and our loved ones outside of therapy that we sometimes forget about the important relationship we have with just ourselves.
“You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You, yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Unknown
When we lose ourselves in our clients, that is when negative consequences may occur, such as burnout, compassion fatigue, and vicarious trauma. This is why self-care and self-compassion is so important. Self-care is about finding healthy ways to take care of ourselves, while self-compassion involves an active use of love and compassion for ourselves when we are in pain. Self-care is talked about in the dance/movement therapy community, but self-compassion is a fairly new concept that is rarely discussed. After incorporating this concept into my own personal practice, I strongly believe that self-compassion is worth practicing. Self-compassion is a gentle reminder that while the work we do with others is very important, we also need to care for ourselves as well. Self-compassion helps us to accept that we also experience pain and suffering, just as our clients do. When we are able to accept that we are suffering, we are more likely to seek out the help that we need, better able to empathize with our clients, and to have better relationships with our friends and family.
“Self-compassion is the foundation of compassion for others” – Christopher Germer
I encourage everyone to be more intentional in their practices of self-care. Take time to develop your own personal method(s) of self-care by experimenting with what feels best for you. What I personally appreciate about incorporating self-compassion into self-care is that it does remind me that I am practicing self-care for a positive reason. I am not practicing self-care to avoid my own problems; instead, I am turning towards my pain and suffering by acknowledging that it is there. I am taking care of myself so that I can move past my own pain. In the end, this benefits us personally and benefits our interactions with our clients and others. It reduces the likelihood that we will walk into sessions and project our own problems onto them. It also makes us less susceptible to internalizing our clients’ projections.
Self-care and self-compassion continues to fascinate me. Despite spending a year and half immersing myself in the material, I yearn to continue learning and talking about these issues. I believe burnout and self-care are issues that the dance/movement therapy community continues to struggle with, for both students and professionals. I personally experienced student burnout and was initially surprised that students could also experience burnout, after being told otherwise. By writing my thesis, I hoped to open the eyes of others within the community to student experiences, such as mine. Furthermore, I wanted to expand on the importance of self-care by introducing the concept of self-compassion to others. Luckily, as my thesis came to a close, I was approached by my classmates, teachers, and other members of the dance/movement therapy community with interest about these topics. I was happy and moved to find that people took interest. I was also very fortunate to have the opportunity to present a lecture to a group of first-year dance/movement therapy students at Columbia College Chicago on these topics as well.
While I do not consider myself an expert in self-care and self-compassion, I do consider myself to be very passionate about these topics and am open to any questions that anyone may have. I would love to hear about your past or current experiences with self-care. What is currently working for you? What hasn’t been working and why? Feel to comment on here or you may also contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments or questions.
Thank you again, Emily, for allowing me to guest blog and share part of my journey and knowledge with you. It is truly a pleasure to share this space with all of you. I end this entry with a quote from psychotherapist Jeffrey Kottler (2010) on therapist self-care:
“By doing something for yourself, you demonstrate that you take your own growth just as seriously as you do that of your clients.”