I’ve often mentioned the importance of creating a holding environment for dance/movement therapy (DMT) groups. As dance/movement therapists we need to create a safe space that allows clients to feel comfortable and invites exploration, creativity, growth and adaptability. The task of creating a safe therapeutic container is the first step in the DMT process. Without a safe container little therapy and therapeutic growth can happen. Once we have created a physical space that encourages our clients to explore, we must then also provide “energetic space” for our clients. As most things DMT, it’s hard to put words to exactly what I mean when I say that. We often lack the words to describe elements in the DMT process. Let me try to explain.
If establishing a holding environment is the first step to a DMT group, then allowing energetic space for our clients is certainly the second. Before DMT group even begins I attempt to mindfully create the holding environment. I arrange the room in an inviting way, making sure it is safe and accessible. As each client enters the space I attempt to have an open and friendly presence. The first few moments of group is when I attempt to create a sense of allowance. I allow clients to sit where they like, even if this means sitting away from others or from the general circle of chairs. I allow my clients to say hello or make eye contact, respecting them if they choose not to. I am attempting to truly allow the DMT room be their space. I am attempting to truly allow DMT group time to be their time. I find it crucial that as soon as my clients begin entering the therapy room (and some participants are very, very late) the DMT group has started, the therapy process has started.
What I sometimes find difficult is maintaining this sense of allowance for my clients throughout group. After an initial verbal check-in, we’ll choose music for group and engage in movement. On my good days, I allow this movement to organically happen and I encourage my clients to do movement that best fits their personal needs/goals in the moment. On my bad days, as soon as movement occurs I find that my “perfect dance/movement therapist” self arises, or the “agenda of a traditional DMT group” rears its ugly head. In that moment I lose the sense of allowance and my agenda as a dance/movement therapist dominates. No longer am I allowing my clients to be themselves in DMT group, but rather expecting movement to happen and goals to be met.
I’ve had a few moments of difficulty maintaining allowance in my groups in the past few weeks. Trust me, you’ll recognize it as soon as it happens. I always have a strong kinesthetic reaction when I jump the gun on an intervention, so to speak, that informs me that I’m most likely moving too fast. In one example, I was dancing and moving with group as we transitioned from warming-up to more vigorous, full-bodied movement. Like a “good” dance/movement therapist, I energetically verbalized and mirrored one participant’s particular movement. As soon as I did this, though, the participant stopped moving and shrunk away from the movement circle. I knew I had intervened too quickly- I had witnessed the client too early. The client wasn’t ready to be seen in the movement just yet. My agenda of seeing this person was contrary to just allowing that person to be in group. I realized that this moment was more about me being seen as a good dance/movement therapist than about truly seeing my client.
In another example, I literally left the DMT group and my absence allowed space for a client to begin moving. During DMT group, I was talking with one participant while other participants moved and danced. This particular client does not often engage in movement for what she claims are physical ailments, although I would say that emotional components are also factors. As the client was engaging in (beautiful) self-disclosure someone knocked on the DMT studio. I unfortunately had to interrupt the verbal exchange with the participant to help another individual outside of the studio. When I came back into the studio, however, the participant was standing up away from her chair, holding onto the ballet barre stretching. I was stunned. I immediately felt like I should turn around and leave the group alone. It was almost as if I had to leave the room to allow space for my client to tune in to her body and move.
To allow space for my clients in DMT group means to put aside my agenda as a dance/movement therapist and allow the group to happen naturally. I am inviting my clients to truly be themselves in group without any sort of preconceived itinerary getting in the way of an authentic experience. Yes, as a dance/movement therapist, I am equipped with a myriad of DMT interventions. I can lead my clients through a traditional Chacian group, mirror my clients, invite them to explore a different movement repertoire, etc. However, sometimes I notice that while leading group I can become more committed to the intervention than committing to the individuals themselves. I have to find balance between my intervention choices and the sense of allowance because both are necessary for DMT group. I would argue, though, that allowing space for my clients is where interventions flourish and it’s where therapeutic growth happens. When I provide energetic space for my clients I relinquish control and empower my participants to do what they need to do in DMT group putting any sort of agenda aside.