I think it’s safe to say that everyone becomes a dance/movement therapist because they want to help others through the medium of movement. My choice to pursue this path was no different. I grew up as a dancer and was very cognizant of the positive impact it had on my life. Of all the things that dance offered me, it was always a way for me to express my internal joy. I became a dance/movement therapist because I wanted to share my joy for movement with others in hopes of bringing about positive change.
I’ve been working full-time as a dance/movement therapist for about eight months now. In those eight months I have been constantly confronted with the fact that not everyone is as enthusiastic about movement as I am. Not everyone is willing to move in the dance/movement therapy room. I am a firm believer, however, that there is an array of levels of involvement in the therapy process. What I mean is, not everyone HAS to be dancing in order to have a positive or helpful experience in the dance room. During group, I allow clients to choose their level of involvement in the group process. This might manifest in full on dancing, or it might manifest as sitting in a chair and observing others’ movement. In this way I hope to honor my clients and their own knowledge of what is best for them. I trust that they know how to meet their own needs.
Although I am a firm believer in this approach, it does sometimes make it hard to gauge what exactly each client is getting from each dance/movement therapy group. This is especially true for the individuals I work with daily, adults with Developmental Disabilities (DD), who may or may not have the ability to verbalize their group experience. Despite the varying ability of my clients, I attempt to integrate the verbal processing component in all of my dance/movement therapy groups because it is, after all, a key component of our work (mind and body are interconnected, right?). Often times I am met with responses such as, “good,” “fine,” and, “happy.” I honor my clients’ responses and hope that their self-reporting is congruent to their actual experience, often reminding them it’s okay to express a negative emotion about the group experience.
I constantly process my work as a dance/movement therapist in supervision, with fellow dance therapist friends, and my newly acquired intern. What motivated me to write about this topic, however, was a story passed along to me by a dance therapist friend. My friend crossed paths with a former client of mine, let’s name her Katy, in a clinical setting. I had met Katy during my practicum, a shortened internship, in the summer of 2011, as this was a requirement of my graduate program. I was fulfilling my practicum at a residential program that offers services to formally incarcerated females. This was my first clinical experience in dance/movement therapy, mind you, and I had no clue what I was doing. Literally.
When my friend met Katy, she explained to her she was a dance/movement therapist. Upon hearing this, Katy asked my friend if she knew me- if she knew a dance/movement therapist named Emily. When my friend related this story to me I was blown away. I had met Katy in the beginning of my dance/movement therapy path, when I was unsure of what dance/movement therapy even was. Despite my own personal strife I somehow had an impact on Katy- at least enough of an impact for her to remember my name.
While it’s good and cheery to say, “Dance/movement therapy is powerful,” or, “Dance/movement therapy is helpful,” how do we really ever know this? How do we ever know how our work influences our clients, whether they can verbally reflect this back to us or not. We may have helped them when we, as dance/movement therapists, thought we hadn’t. Or, we might not have assisted our clients in creating change when we thought we had. Why are we asking this question anyway? If there is no way of truly knowing, I would argue that we ask in order to satisfy our own curiosity, because in some way, this reflects our worth as dance/movement therapists. We’ll never know the impact, whether good or bad, we have on our past, current or future clients as dance/movement therapists. If we trust in our work then it’s okay to not know our impact on those we cross paths with.