The many definitions of self-care, part one.

Artwork by Jeannine Salemi

Artwork by Jeannine Salemi

One of the major components of being a dance/movement therapist (a Registered-Dance/Movement Therapist, in my case) is self-care.  The importance of self-care is right up there along with dance/movement therapy theory, movement observation/analysis, and clinical skills.  I have posted about this topic before, soliciting help from my friend Lindsay, but I’d like to touch on it again.  And because the topic of self-care is so huge, I’ll probably write about it again.  Often times when folks think of self-care their mind jumps immediately to activities such as going to the spa, treating yourself to end-of-the day chocolate, or taking a yoga class.  While this may in fact be apart of some dance/movement therapists’ self-care plan, this, to me, seems more of a blanket statement.  Instead, self-care is highly personal and ought to be in order to fit our unique, individual needs.  Here is where I could attempt to dive into what I think self-care means, or write about it in a theoretical stand point.  Instead, I decided to reach out to my dance/movement therapy (DMT) community.

I sent a general message to individuals in my DMT community, asking them to define how they address self-care either in a short paragraph or a simple list of activities.  I messaged DMT students, DMT educators, and dance/movement therapists.  The answers I received were stunning-  I was blown away.   With each response I felt like I was gifted with a beautiful window into a very personal aspect of the responder.  Not only that, but my own personal definition of self-care was widened.  I was reminded that self-care spans a continuum from very basic needs to actualized needs, and that neither is better than the other.  Below are the answers I have received.  I hope to receive more responses, and thus I hope post a part two (and a possible part three and four).  If you would like to contribute, please e-mail me at


“Self-care has meant different things to me at different times in my life/career. Right now, a big part of it is about trusting my instincts and letting go of guilt for saying ‘no’ when something doesn’t feel right. Another important part of my self-care is continuing to cultivate the artist within me in various ways. The more creative I allow myself to be, the easier it is for me to encourage it in others. Also, if I go too long without dancing, I feel I start to lose my center and so I make it a priority to take class at least a couple of times each week.”

“I have found that all self-care must be connected to spirit to rejuvenate me.”

“This is a topic that I address both clinically and in my personal life. Self-care to me is essential in having a higher quality of life and coping with everyday stress. I think of it is as a form of self-management and preventative care. For me, self-care varies depending on my current circumstances. Self-care for me has been more than just engaging in leisurely activities; I also have to be aware of myself, my preferences, and my limitations. Besides listening to music, I also find the need to blog and reflect on my experiences. I like to take advantage of social interactions when possible, since I appreciate the feeling of peer support. Self-care for me can also be something as simple as not skipping lunch to do work. Sometimes I just have to say no due to the promotion of my well-being, because I know I’m the kind of person who can easily over-commit and overwork myself. I also appreciate nature and novelty, things that bring me outside of myself and the humdrum of monotony. So really anything that engages my sense of vitality or gives me a sense of recuperation.”

“I try to consistently take care of myself emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. I often feel off if one of these areas is out of balance. Some of them weave into one another, so I will get multiple benefits. Emotionally: processing things that come up for me that need to be released and giving myself a safe, non-judgmental space to process. It is vital to continue to heal yourself when doing this work as it deepens who you are and deepens your ability to connect to others. Mentally: being mindful and living mindfully. Physically: finding avenues that help me to release all of the energy that I absorb from others on a daily basis. Running and yoga are what I continually come back to. Spiritually: meditation and connecting to something greater helps me to do the work that I do. Meditation helps me to center and ground myself, along with coming back to the intention of who I am and where I want to go.”

“Funny, I just did a group about self-care with my clients (chronic mental illness). I asked them to help define ‘self-care’ and give individual examples. Almost all of them identified grooming and hygiene tasks, ie. taking a shower, brushing teeth, doing hair, etc., which I would have never even thought of, having access to self-care luxuries like yoga, massage, a fancy health club, music venues, art shows, etc., kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, basic survival coming first. So with all the basic grooming stuff taken for granted, I reflected on my regular self-care regimen: Health club 4-5 days a week including yoga and a hip hop class, busy social life filled with friends, lots of time with my partner, healthy food, humor, music, words with friends (to ward off dementia :-/), dancing around the kitchen and living room,  weekly psychotherapy sessions. I’m not a regular mediator but general mindfulness, which I think of as having an observing self (with the added bonus of being able to talk back to the inner-critic), helps me detach from the inner-turmoil. My clients, who help me to keep things in perspective, also shared that their spirituality and faith were an important part of de-stressing, most of them having backgrounds in traditional religion. I can’t relate to organized religion, but somehow through all of the ups and downs, ins and outs, periods of self-destructive behavior, I’ve pulled through and learned to have faith in some higher process, I know not what, but that’s okay.

As for the connection between being a dance/movement therapist and self-care, dance literally saved my life and gave me a purpose when I was deeply depressed as an adolescent and to this day is the most immediate source of joy and inspiration that I can experience. Helping others find their healing process through dance and movement is also healing for me.  I also love it when younger folks look at me when I’m dancing and say, ‘you sure can dance for an older lady'”

Artwork by Jeannine Salemi

Artwork by Jeannine Salemi

“My self-care includes taking hot baths, long walks, and reading murder mysteries.”

“Self-care is fundamental to being effective in everything we do in life. Without it, we are left to dysregulation and an inability to take in information or express ourselves in a healthy manner. Self-care is about living consciously; being mindful of when we need to recuperate, how our work is affecting the way we are in relationship to self and other. Self-care is living meditation.

I believe, and I mention this to my clients, that coming to therapy is the first step to self-care.

What do I do?

I am almost always looking at my life as a creative process. I believe in creativity as the inroad to releasing energies stuck in the body. I choreograph. I hang with friends and laugh. I host a Sunday night dinner party every week so as to bring together a group of people who move me, inspire me, laugh with me. I work out at a gym 2-3 times a week. I try to go out dancing once a week. And I love what I do! My work has always been self-care to me. I am a firm believer that when you love what you do, you will find the means to do it with passion.

I try to live each day with passion of my life and the people in my life.”

“As a graduate student in a DMT program, self-care is frequently addressed. The topic is mostly focused on burnout, compassion fatigue or secondary traumatic stress syndrome from one’s practicum or internship. This is an extremely important part of practicing therapy however, self-care is also of prime importance when one is a graduate student. Especially today, when the output demand is extreme on a graduate student: work, complete a practicum/ internship, and deliver assignments on time that are of graduate level quality. There may even be the expectation (school/self) to participate in like social action events, performances, research and conferences that the institution offers. Practicing self-care is essential in negotiating the life of a graduate student as well. I found this balance extremely difficult to juggle or maintain with a family and a substantial commute. At that time my self-care concerned making it to field hockey and lacrosse games, fitting in a dog walk, keeping food in the house and laundry clean, and allowing my house to be messy. These accomplishments fed my ego as a mother. Therapy, massages, facials, writing poetry, practicing Authentic Movement (even by myself), and as many Nia classes as I could fit in were for my own person benefit.

I can say that my sleep, eating, and exercise patterns became irregular. Self-care is something that you have to make an effort to practice, it’s not going to just happen because you want to take better care of yourself and people are telling you that you will have an easier time in your profession if you do practice self-care. So this is the stuff with which I am personally working on now, getting my rhythms back in, sync with nature and with who I am now in the midst of my transitions.

True to form for me, I have spoken to staff about self-care and have even given an in-service in my place of employment, complete with a Figler’s Compassion Fatigue assessment. Some DMT and goal setting followed. Self-care was something for others to practice. However, I began to notice and then eventually name the subtle choices that I had been making all along. I was practicing and then became a certified Nia instructor that was self-care: I stopped pushing myself at the gym that I pushed myself to go to, I chose joy instead. My time restrictions helped me to naturally weed out things and people that were not serving me anymore (activities I did not enjoy or maintained for others, or people that bred negativity or judgment). I was leading my own life and making my own choices by deeply listening to my body and what I would need next to grow and evolve organically. Slowly I was building a supportive community with people I could begin to trust, learning how to love myself, and continue to live true by shedding whatever layers I grew to protect me from self-doubt and vulnerability. This is the kind of self-care I try to constantly practice to not only help me to thrive in my career, but maintain my physical and emotional health.”

About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The many definitions of self-care, part one.

  1. Pingback: The many definitions of self-care, part two. | Dance.Movement.Therapy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s