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Beyond Talk Therapy

This article is courtesy our guest writer, Niharica Shah! (M.Sc. Clinical Psychology, Certified Therapeutic Arts Facilitator)

Have you ever danced to your favourite song and suddenly felt your whole mood change? Have you ever zoned out and doodled while listening to someone/thing, and found yourself able to focus better? Have you ever gone for a run angry and come back feeling less tense? Have you ever looked at a piece of art or photograph and felt an unexpected rush of emotions? If your response to any of these questions is yes, congratulations! You’re already familiar with the therapeutic value of art and movement. You’ve experienced that engaging with these, and other art forms, can create a shift within your mind and body in some way. And at times, words can fail to capture what has truly transpired.

Read More: Managing Expectations And The Circle Of Control Art and Movement Therapists/Facilitators (Therapist = Masters’ degree, Facilitator = certification/diploma) are trained to assist you in exploring and expressing yourself in non-verbal ways like Dance/Movement and Visual Art. With these evidence-based and psychotherapeutic modalities, the key language becomes one of the body, or of art. While in our everyday lives, we often use the arts as a means of escape or distraction from the uncomfortable realities of the world, Art and Movement Therapies invite you to lean into the feelings – pleasant or unpleasant – and allow them to be felt, conveyed, and released in very unfiltered and tangible ways.

In Movement Therapy, the fundamental belief is that the body and mind are interconnected, and the experiences of one cannot be separated from the experiences of the other. We carry our stories – personal and collective – within our bodies. Movement, rather than verbal language is seen as being universal, and therefore can be used to access these stories from the body. Both these forms of therapy allow you to make unconscious material conscious, thereby expanding your understanding of your Self. Visual Art Therapy believes that an externalized representation (the art/craft piece created) of our internal affairs can allow you to further process difficult experiences from a safe distance, and increase your self-awareness. One of the first concerns that comes up for people around Dance/Movement or Art Therapy is that they aren’t skilled at either art form. I’d like to just say – that’s perfectly okay! I’m neither an artist nor a dancer myself. When Movement and Art are being used in a therapy setting, the focus is not at all on the talent or artistic ability showcased, but rather on the experience of creating that movement or art piece. Your Art/Movement therapist likely wants to know more about what you felt, thought about, sensed in your body, when you were in the creative process. What images came to you? Did this remind you of a particular memory or past happening? They are much less likely to be concerned about how neat your lines are, or how precisely you were able to do the movement/art. Their questions may be more on the lines of ‘How did you feel when you were doing this exercise? What comes to mind when you do this movement or look at that part of your art? What response do you notice in your body when you do that?’ Remember – a good therapist will come from a space of curiosity to learn more about you from you, rather than from a place of judgement or analysis.

Read More: Unprecedented: Times And Rejections And that brings me to the second concern people tend to feel with Art or Movement Therapy – will my therapist be analyzing and interpreting my Art or Movement? Will they know more about me than I want to share? This is a perfectly natural question. People’s art and body-language have often been used to deduce things about their personality or behaviour that may be revealed to others quite unconsciously. And don’t get me wrong – there is value to that perspective as well. But that is not the purpose of Art or Movement Therapy. The evaluation and interpretation come in when you are doing clinical tests, rather than therapy. Some art-based tests you may have heard of include Rorschach Inkblot, House Tree Person (HTP), Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), etc. The purpose of these tests is very different from the purpose of Art in therapy. In therapy, your therapist is most likely to share observations or highlight a movement or part of your art piece, instead of evaluating them. The meaning-making is a collaborative process, rather than a one-way street of your therapist telling you what it means. When I’m doing therapeutic art or movement with a client and I notice something that strikes me as important, I’m likely to say something like ‘Can you tell me a bit more about that? That seemed different from everything else you were doing. What happened there? It feels to me like this may represent…. What do you think?’ Oh yes! Just because these therapies are non-verbal does not mean we don’t talk at all during sessions! Once the creative process is complete, there may be a verbal processing of the exercise. How much you want to share is always your choice.

As humans, life often brings to us painful or uncomfortable experiences (after this year, I’m sure most of you will agree with me on that!). Art and Movement Therapies, along with other Expressive Arts/Creative Arts Therapies, allow us safe spaces to explore and make meaning of these experiences in non-verbal ways, with trained mental health professionals. Spaces where we are held and are not alone in either our sufferings or joys. Both these therapies are used widely in a range of settings and can help individuals integrate their mental, emotional, physical, and social selves. Art and Movement therapies give us opportunities for:

• Authentic self-expression,

• Leaning into our vulnerabilities,

• Finding compassion for exiled parts of ourselves,

• Increasing our tolerance for uncertainty and discomfort,

• Making meaning of various life experiences,

• Building our internal resources,

• Gaining new perspectives on situations,

• Deepening our understanding of our needs and values,

• Welcoming creativity, spontaneity and fun,

• Developing resilience, and

• Mending our relationship with ourselves/others.

A final note before I conclude – although we can experience the therapeutic effects of engaging with the arts by ourselves, the terms of ‘Art Therapy’ and ‘Dance Therapy’ are reserved for what takes place within a specific psychotherapeutic framework, in the presence of a trained professional. If you do get a chance to experience this form of therapy, I do hope you take it and learn something new about yourself!

If you have any questions or comments about Dance/Movement Therapy, drop a comment below or on our Instagram!

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