One of the most important aspects of dance/movement therapy (DMT) is remembering that all that happens in the therapeutic process is valid. All of which happens in group is for us, as facilitators, to contain. As I’ve learned in my training, whether DMT or through the agency I work for, behavior (the good, the bad, and the ugly) is a form of expression. I’m a true believer that group members will lead the group to where it needs to go if I am able to create a container in which clients feel safe. Everything happens for a reason, right?
On Wednesday afternoon I lead an Authentic Movement group where I adapt Janet Adler’s approach to dance/movement therapy (DMT) to fit the needs of my clients. In this group we sit in a tight circle of chairs usually with the studio lights off. I verbally explain the roles of the mover and the witness to my clients, and then invite individuals to move authentically in the center of the circle. I’ve borrowed a resonator bell from the music therapist I work with to act as chimes to indicate when the mover has begun and when the mover is finished moving. Then the group verbally processes the movement that comes forth. The movement that manifests is oftentimes different than what usually happens in Authentic Movement, but the premise and values of the experience are the same.
On one particular Wednesday I was having difficulty creating the container for the group. As I was trying to get the group settled, one group member continued to use a cell phone despite that this is against group rules. I attempted to redirect the client and ask the client to put the cell phone away. The client would comply, yet the cell phone would reappear in a matter of minutes while other group members were attempting to explore authentic, creative movement. I tried to avoid a power struggle, as it seemed clear to me this what was happening between the group member and me.
The group as a whole became restless and unfocused while I tried to manage the group container. My inner voice was becoming frustrated because the interaction between the group member and me was becoming the sole focus of the group. As group progressed, another group member stood up from his chair and moved to the center of the circle. He simply stood there while the power struggle raged on. Within a few minutes he sat back down. Upon noticing this, I apologized to the group member and took responsibility that I nor the group gave him the support he needed since it takes a lot of courage to attempt Authentic Movement. In response he said, “Yeah, you ignored me. Its okay, everyone ignores me anyway.” At that moment I knew that group went exactly the way it was supposed to.
Instead of turning away from his comment or blanketing it with, “Oh that’s not true!” I embraced what he had said in hopes of holding the space for his truth. Based upon my rapport with this client, I know that he does not speak often and when he does he is usually quiet or mumbles. I could imagine how that could lead to not being heard and thus feeling like he is being ignored by his peers or even staff. I asked him about his feelings of being ignored and reminded him the importance of being seen. Then I opened the discussion to the rest of the group about feeling ignored or unheard in attempts to engage members in Yalom’s therapeutic factor of change universality. This was also an opportunity for the cell phone user to understand her own personal blind spot (think Johari Window); to understand the implications of her behavior and how it impacts her peers. All in all, it was important moment that lead to a beautiful group discussion.
Despite my initial feelings of despair about this particular Authentic Movement group, it actually turned out just the way it needed to. The one member may have needed to be ignored in group, in a safe space, to be able to verbally process what this experience was/is like. He was able to recapitulate and process his experience with the support of group members. This particular group reminded me that all of which happens in group, whether it’s good, bad, or ugly, is supposed to happen. All of which occurs in DMT groups is valid and is an expression of our clients’ needs. We must address it, in the here and now, to facilitate therapeutic growth in our clients.