I currently live in a big city that is home to one of the accredited dance/movement therapy (DMT) graduate programs. A benefit of this is that I am part of a large DMT community and surrounded by a lot of amazing (let me repeat, amazing) dance/movement therapists. Although I am very thankful that I am surrounded by dance/movement therapists that I can talk to about DMT or, you know, just be a normal human being with, I also find it extremely important to have a support group outside of this community. It’s important for me to have friends outside of DMT. This is where my friend Sarah comes in. Sarah is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), or in other words, a social work ninja. I appreciate having Sarah for a friend because she is in a like-minded profession, but offers me a different perspective. We often take walks together, grab a coffee, tell each other about our professional work and bounce ideas off each other. Based on what Sarah tells me about her work I can tell she is an embodied social worker (she’s actually the person who motivated me to write my embodiedment blog post). She’s down to earth, authentic and direct with her clients- straightforward in a loving way. Recently I asked her if she’d be willing to write a guest blog about her thoughts on DMT. I asked to write about her impressions of DMT and what it’s like to be a friend of a dance/movement therapist.
Below are her words.
I’ll be honest; I had no idea what dance/movement therapy was for quite a while until I met a dance/movement therapist while completing my graduate studies at University of Illinois of Chicago (UIC). I feel I had some general concept of dance/movement therapy from the name itself, but I didn’t really understand or appreciate the impact and effect it can have on people. I didn’t realize its usefulness for those who may struggle expressing themselves, not only those who are physically or cognitively less able to verbalize what they are feeling, but also those who just struggle with tapping into their emotions and sorting through the mess that is “feeling the feels.”
I met my first dance/movement therapist while I was completing my graduate school practicum at a children and adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit. My job involved primarily completing intake, assessments and referrals. Every once in a while, I would get to sit-in on or co-lead a group therapy session with kids and teenagers. Most of the groups I participated in were talk therapy groups. You know the type: group members sitting in a circle with the group leader facilitating and the group members (I worked mostly with the teenage girls) all sitting around seeing who could talk the least and looking like they would rather be anywhere else. Once the girls became more comfortable, they would participate and the group would start gathering steam. But my first time sitting in on a dance/movement therapy group, I witnessed something different. Some of the girls who may have had trouble talking or speaking up in group participated more freely in the dance/movement group and (to my shock and surprise) were smiling and laughing. It was nice to see them enjoying themselves and being able to express and move. I started to want to learn more different kinds of therapy.
As life and luck would have it, I met and became friends with Emily three years ago. Through our friendship, I have developed more of an understanding of dance/movement therapy and its applications. I have tagged along to performances, met her colleagues and fellow dancers, and seen her clients use the skills they are developing in creating and performing their own dance pieces.
As a fellow professional in the helping field, I sometimes forget that helping doesn’t necessarily mean “doing for” or “having all the answers.” I constantly feel that I need to fix the problems FOR my clients. My relationship with Emily helps me to keep things in perspective and remember it’s not all about that. My job isn’t necessarily to do FOR my clients (although my clients would sometimes disagree), but to assist, encourage, problem solve WITH, advocate, educate, facilitate and RECOGNIZE change. Celebrate the victories. Encourage and foster expression.
I’m not sure if this thing really comes to a clear conclusion, but all in all, as a social worker, my understanding and appreciation for more expressive forms of therapy has grown through my relationship with Emily. Professionally, it has helped me to recognize and try to be more present with my clients in their process, rather than focusing only on the end goal. Personally, my friendship with Emily has helped me try to remember to be gentle on myself and slow down. Anyone who knows Emily may be extremely confused when I say Emily reminds me to slow down as the woman is constantly in motion. When I say slow down, I mean she also helps me to be present with my own thoughts and feelings, as much as I may not want to at times, and to give attention to them before dismissing them, silencing them or trying to quickly move on. Not an easy or always comfortable feat, but I’m beginning to learn just how necessary this is. Also, being friends with a dance movement therapist equals intuition, empathy, and a lot of stopping mid-walk for an expressive arm wave or leg kick!