Dealing with an addiction or a mental health issue means accessing painful memories from the past, and thinking about how to move forward in the future. Some of those conversations flow easily, as the memories are sharp and the path ahead seems relatively clear. There are times, however, when memories seem trapped within the wrinkles and folds of the mind, buried beneath layers and layers of other memories. They’re not easy to access, and healing from them can seem difficult or impossible. Sessions that involve talking can stutter or just halt, as the words just don’t seem to come easily.
Concentrative movement therapy might be helpful, in situations like this. Sessions do involve talking and sharing, but they also involve movement. Involving the entire body in the therapy can free trapped words, and sometimes, it can allow people to envision a different way of living.
The idea behind concentrative movement therapy involves the way in which memories are stored inside the cells of the body. It’s a complicated theory that can take ages to understand, but put simply, experts believe that some memories are easier to access when the body is put in a position it held during a specific time. The images, scents and sounds that flittered by during a moment can be easier to access on a visceral level when the body is holding the position it held during the original act.
Researchers writing in The Arts in Psychotherapy suggest that these issues are often in play when a person has endured an event that is associated with both trauma and shame. People like this are encouraged to bury their memories and forget their pain, slapping a smiling face on top of their true emotions. In time, people like this may even forget about their trauma on the surface, and they may be unable to remember what’s happened, but the muscles, bones and connective tissues remember. The issue is processed by images and senses, rather than in words and memories.
In addition, followers of concentrative movement therapy suggest that movement can be used as a metaphor for emotional states. People can sometimes feel emotionally stuck, unable to pull their minds away from a specific train of thought, but they might not be able to express their feelings with words. They might be able to act out, or dance out, their feelings and demonstrate their emotional state, however, and in acting out the emotion, they might conceive of a solution.
People with histories of trauma can also become somewhat stuck in their own minds, listening to whispered thoughts that others can’t access and living at least part of their lives in the past. Moving the body in time to music or under the direction of a therapist involves concentration, and it can be used as a way to orient the person to the here and now. The past might always be present, but movements can allow people to focus on what they’re doing right now, in this very moment, and that might also be an important part of the healing process.
Concentrative movement therapy is typically provided in concert with other forms of psychotherapy. People need to discuss the issues that come clear during their therapy sessions, and sometimes, it’s hard to talk about those memories in the midst of a movement session. As a result, most movement therapies take place a few hours or a few days before a talk therapy session is scheduled to take place. If two different therapists provide the movement therapy and the talk therapy (and this is often the case), they’re certain to trade notes and discuss progress frequently, so the client has a comprehensive form of care that utilizes the best of both types of therapy.
Movement therapies like this can be provided in a variety of settings, including:
- Group classes in a mental health facility
- Private classes in an addiction treatment facility
- Private sessions in a private home
- Group courses in a hospital
The way that sessions look and progress can also be quite individualized, depending on the needs of the people in the course. Those who have advanced backgrounds in movement or dance and who have no physical limitations might need one type of course, while those who just aren’t comfortable in their skin and who have pain when they move might need a different type of therapy. Courses can also vary depending on the educational background and preferences of the person providing care, according to an article in Dance Teacher Magazine. There’s so much going on in a concentrative movement therapy, and the issues the therapist might stress and the techniques that professional might use are, quite reasonably, infused by that person’s background.
The Right Audience
Anyone struggling with memories that won’t come to the surface, or emotional states that seem difficult to overcome or to explain, might benefit from concentrative movement therapy. But researchers have spent a significant amount of time studying how the treatment works and who it might help, and parsing those studies might help people to develop a more reasonable understanding of whether or not the therapy should be part of their treatment protocol.
In one study in the journal Psychotherapy Research, the authors attempted to determine whether or not people who have a good connection with their bodies do better in therapy than people who don’t have a good connection. Essentially, they wanted to see if people who like to get moving do better than those who might not consider themselves dancers. They didn’t find any difference in effectiveness between the two groups. This seems to suggest that even people who don’t think of themselves as dancers could benefit from this therapy.
In a second study, in a German journal, researchers attempted to determine if the therapy worked better for women, rather than men. It’s a good question, as many women seem more comfortable with the idea of moving their bodies in the company of others. They may have taken dance classes when they were young, so the format isn’t frightening, or they may just like to dance. Thankfully, in this study, researchers didn’t find that gender made a big difference in the efficacy of the treatment, as men seemed to get better at rates equitable to women. Men might like classes that include only other men, or they might like classes that are designed for novices, but they can still benefit from the therapy.
Measuring the Benefits
Those who have physical pain might find that the treatments aren’t always comfortable at first. Stretching and pulling on muscles that are tight with tension can be awkward, and it can be hard to keep participating when physical pain is in the way of true success. However, moving those sore muscles might be an excellent way in which to heal. Concentrative movement therapy isn’t physical therapy, of course, so it can’t help people to recover from specific injuries that might be impacting their bones, tendons and joints, but some soreness might fade as the therapy progresses. Sore muscles are sometimes holding back repressed memories, working as a shield against future pain. When people process those memories and really work through their issues, the brain might release its hold on those muscle fibers and allow the soreness to fade into nothingness. When used in conjunction with medical care, it could provide healing to people with severe pain issues.
People who have concentrative movement therapy might also find it easier to participate in their traditional psychotherapy programs. They’re digging up issues that need to be carefully explored, thinking about the pain they’ve endured and the way in which they might get better. Their talk therapy sessions might be much more productive, when they’ve done some homework in their concentrative movement therapy sessions.
A separate German study suggests that people who go through concentrative movement therapy also feel a boost of self-confidence. This effect is most pronounced in people who had low feelings of confidence about their bodies when treatment began.
It could be that people like this felt a disconnect from the physical due to:
- Physical abuse
- Substance abuse
- Eating disorders
- Mental illness
The physicality of concentrative movement therapy allows people to really stay in the moment with their bodies, and experience the things that their bodies can do, and this might allow them to feel better about their whole lives as a result.
Finding a Provider
People who hold concentrative movement therapy sessions might have advanced degrees in both dance and psychotherapy. They might be able to outline how the program works in great detail, and they might also be willing to discuss their training in this specific type of movement therapy. They might also be members of the European Association for Concentrative Movement Therapy, particularly if they obtained their training in the practice in an overseas school, but this isn’t a hard-and-fast requirement.
In general, however, it’s best to meet the therapist in advance of attending a class. This person plays a vital role in the healing process, and as a result, it’s wise to take time to understand how that person tends to work and how the therapy might progress. It’s also an excellent idea to ask the provider how communication with the primary therapist might be handled. Professionals would be willing to answer these questions as well.
If you’re interested in ensuring that concentrative movement therapy will be a part of your healing program from addictions or mental illness, let us help. We have a detailed database of providers, and we can quickly search through our files and find a facility that offers this kind of care. We can also help you to schedule an intake appointment with one of these facilities, so you won’t be required to handle the details of enrolling in a treatment program for your conditions. We can even walk you through the insurance preauthorization process, so you can get assistance in paying for your care. Just call us to find out more or to get started on your personalized research.
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David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton