One of the main components of dance/movement therapy (DMT) is the emphasis on the connection between the mind and the body. The aim of DMT is often to increase the awareness of our mind and our body through movement, dance, and the creative process. Dance/movement therapy and it’s practitioners, dance/movement therapists, also emphasize the importance of embodiment. We as practitioners aim to practice therapy in an embodied way, as well as increase this particular skill in the clients we work with daily. The word or term “embodied” is certainly a catchphrase within the DMT literature and our culture. Yet what does it really mean and what does it look like to be an embodied mental health professional?
Like many things in the DMT culture, the phenomenon of embodiment is a hard thing to talk and write about. We may not be able to explain what it means to be an embodied person, but we know it when we see it or we feel it when we do it. The DMT culture certainly puts a lot of emphasis on it, and as dance/movement therapists we champion ourselves as being embodied practitioners even though other mental health professionals can certainly practice in an embodied way.
As I was mulling over this concept, drafting the blog post in my head, I felt the urge to look up the word in the DMT literature to see how other dance/movement therapists explain it. Then I thought differently. So let me try to explain what this term means to me in my own practice as a dance/movement therapist. To be an embodied dance/movement therapist (and person in general) is to have an increased awareness of the mind and body connection. I am aware and knowledgeable about how my mental state and thought processes influence my body. I am cognizant that the condition of my body and the movement I engage in impacts my mind and my brain. Further, as an embodied individual I have a sense of grounded-ness and safety within the core of myself and my identity. This sense of grounded-ness does not necessarily relate to the physical state of stability, but rather a sense of trust in myself that travels with me. My mind-body connection is a tool I use in my DMT groups. I am able to interpret the events of group by mentally interpreting them or by tuning in to what’s happening my body. As in example, embodiment might manifest as an awareness of suddenly feeling anxious, with the knowledge that prior to group I did not feel this way, so this might suggest that someone in the group is feeling anxious. I am informed about my group and I can tailor my DMT interventions to suit the needs of the group by using an embodied approach.
To be embodied also relates to the idea of transparency and honesty. This might be my own bias that these two concepts relate, and I want to honor that not everyone may agree with me. Since I interpret embodiment as a sense of grounded-ness and higher consciousness (or in other words, mindfullness), I feel as though it also means that I live in my own personal truth. As a dance/movement therapist I choose to be transparent with my clients on a daily basis. I am open with them about how I feel and my own process in group. I do not share about my process to direct the groups’ attention on me, but rather to model what it looks like to be a self-reflective person. I try to model what it looks like to be an embodied person. I am, after all, in the room and a part of the groups’ process so it would seem dishonest to NOT share about thoughts about my own experience in group. I feel as though my sharing may also give a group member permission to share too, as in maybe he/she felt similarly to me but did not have the courage to name it. It’s important to note that I feel as though I am able to do this BECAUSE I am an embodied person and I know that my sharing comes from a safe place. My sharing comes with clear boundaries, is focused on the present moment during DMT group, and is NOT about what is happening in my personal life. The transparency of my process both models embodiment for my clients and allows me to practice my embodiment skills. I am embodied so I am able to be transparent. They are not interchangeable but they certainly relate.
Being an embodied practitioner (an embodied dance/movement therapist) can sometimes have its drawbacks. There are days when I am flooded by all of the stimulation and energy of my work with my clients. Sometimes I go home feeling upset or I have a sense of tightness in my chest that I know is not my own, but rather the feelings that I absorbed during the day. Personally, I take dance classes to literally wring myself of this energy in a means to take care of my body and mind.
Despite the fact that the term embodiment is important in the DMT culture and our practice as dance/movement therapists, it is still hard to put into words. It’s hard to define embodiment. In some ways it’s like the elephant in the room, or there is an assumption that if we are dance/movement therapists than we must be embodied individuals. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and our theoretical studies of DMT are not necessarily discussing what it actually means to be embodied. I am not suggesting that we need to necessarily define it, but we do need to continue to talk about embodiment in attempts to make it more tangible and easier to practice in our DMT groups.