Authentic movement and mirroring as two important techniques in dance and movement therapy
Every individual that comes to therapy is unique and has a different style of communication. Although using verbal language sounds natural and is usually seen as the main form of self-expression, spoken language often may not be enough to convey feelings, especially those deeply buried, that lay in the unconsciousness or are too painful to be vocalised out loud. One of the aims of therapy is to assist the client in their self-expression and provide a space where healing can happen. It is important to have the right therapeutic tools, especially when language fails, and when there is a sense of feeling stuck. The therapist may use a number of other techniques, including nonverbal, to “more fully enhance each person’s abilities to communicate effectively and authentically.” (Malchiodi, 2013 p:1)
The authentic movement also called “movement in depth” and “active imagination in movement”, invites one to enter the inner world of the psyche through natural movement and can be practised in individual and group settings (Stromsted, 2009). “The mover/ client closes (their) eyes, waits, and then, witnessed by her therapist/witness, moves in response to body-felt sensations, emotions, memories, movement impulses, and/or images. The witness provides a safe, contained, and receptive presence, maintaining an awareness of her mover’s bodily expression as well as her own embodied experience” (Stromsted, 2009, p:2). The analysis happens after the process, the mover and therapist give each other feedback on the experience, bringing awareness of symbolic expression.
Another significant approach in DMT (dance & movement therapy) is mirroring. This requires the active engagement of the therapist and the mover. A shared understanding and empathy deepen the relationship by encouraging the opening up of emotions. Mirroring in DMT is an “active interaction” (Karkou, 2004) between the two. Mcgarry et al. describe mirroring as an exercise that deepens the level of empathy, it enhances “understanding of others’ emotional intentions through enhanced use of mirror neurons circuitry”. The therapist mirrors the qualities of the patient's movement, by echoing or responding to the emotional aspect of the movement, in order to relate and open up an emphatic dialogue.
Karkou, V., (2004) Forming therapeutic relationships in Dance Movement Psychotherapy: The Role of Mirroring, Interdisciplinary Panel 2: Kinaesthetic Experience and Embodied Practices.
Malchiodi, C. A. (Ed.). (2013). Expressive therapies. Guilford Publications.
McGarry, L. M., & Russo, F. A. (2011). Mirroring in dance/movement therapy: Potential mechanisms behind empathy enhancement. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 38(3), 178-184
Stromsted, T. (2009). Authentic Movement: A dance with the divine. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 4(3), 201-213,
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About Justyna Isobel Matejek
Justyna Isobel Matejek BA(Hons) MBACP, Counsellor and Body-Mind Therapist. Working with mind and the body holistically. Specialised in depression and anxiety-related psychosomatic conditions.
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