I recently wrote on the impact that we, as dance/movement therapists, have on our clients. More specifically, I wrote about how it is very difficult to know how we truly impact our clients. Therapy is a subjective experience. As dance/movement therapists, we offer our clients creative movement interventions and provide a therapeutic environment to facilitate change. We can observe change in our clients and sometimes our clients self-report their feelings and experience in groups. At a core level, however, it is still difficult to know the impact we have on our clients as therapists. One thing we do know, however, is the impact our clients have on us.
The impact my clients have on me is profound. I could go on and on and tell you about the things I witness daily that fill me with joy and gratitude. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true. I work for and among a diverse group of people. Every day we celebrate the ability of my clients in dance/movement therapy groups since many of them have differing physical and mental abilities. I’m not trying to make it sound like my workplace is all unicorns and rainbows because it certainly is not. Yet, at its core, my workplace is a pretty positive place. My clients look forward to coming to the day program and want to be here. That makes a heck of a lot of difference in their attitude when it comes to dance/movement therapy groups.
A few months ago there was a specific moment in group that struck me and has stuck with me since then. On Thursday afternoons, my last and fourth group of the day, I lead a group titled, “Mindfulness.” In this group we explore the concept of mindfulness specifically through movement and explorations of the five senses to facilitate an experience in the here and now. Each week we hone in on one specific sense and in this particular group we were exploring the sense of touch. I handed each client a small rock to hold in their hand, prompting them to close their eyes and explore the surface of the rock.
As a group, we explored the surfaces of our prospective rocks for about ten minutes and then verbally processed our exploration. Group members reflected on what they felt, describing the rocks surfaces as rough, smooth, cold or flat. Other group members reflected that it was hard to stay focused on the rock for ten minutes, while others shared movements that reflected the rocks surface. One member shared that the experience brought back memories of summer trips to the lake he used to take with his family while growing up. He told us some details about his trips and feelings it brought up for him. I reflected to him that memories and flashbacks are a common occurrence when attempting to be more present in the moment.
It was then he looked over across the room to this partner who was also a group participant and said, “She helps me with my memories.” When he said this an immense wave of sadness came over me.
The sadness I felt could have been what I was kinesthetically gathering from the group member who said this, or maybe from his partner who received his words. Maybe his comment made other people feel sadness as well. One thing I knew for sure is that his words spoke to my own sadness. It was strange, really, because in some way I felt like my client knew what it was I had been thinking about during the experiential. As a Chicago transplant, I constantly struggle with being away from my family. I have a great support system here and a great dance/movement therapy community, but no one sees you the way your family does. I too had been reminded by family trips to Northern Michigan when exploring the rock I held during the exploration.
His words were poetic and spoke to the idea that other people help hold your memories of your past- the stuff that makes you who you are today. Loved ones might remind you of something, they might help you fill in the gaps, or maybe they were simply there within the memory. This might be what my client meant, or maybe it’s not what he meant at all. In group I didn’t ask him to clarify his statement, and instead decided to let his words resonate with the group in silence. Who knows what he meant by his words? The true meaning is not as important as the personal impact it had on me and the other group participants, and in that way it’s much more meaningful. It was like he gave each of us a private experience in interpreting his words. We got to take his words and make meaning of them in the way we needed to.