Movement Therapy for Trauma Recovery

Contributor: Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

sunset-320787_640Our body experiences everything we do. Joy. Pain. Trauma. Eating disorders. Still most therapy addresses our minds and how we mentally experience the world. Obviously, talk therapy is proven effective and a vital component to recovery, but it doesn’t always reach the more abstract parts of our psyche, feelings and emotions we sometimes didn’t know existed.

Movement therapy uses language of the body to reach places talking can’t. The technique, using dance-like motions, reconnects people to their physical bodies. This is an important step for many who have mentally dissociated or separated from their physical selves, which is common in people struggling with eating disorders and/or past trauma.

Creating a Physical Memory

Eating disorders and trauma are viscerally physical experiences. When a body is starved, overfed, mistreated, or abused, it creates a physical memory. A common symptom of eating disorders is dissociation from one’s body, whether it body dysmorphia or starvation. Some victims of trauma have a similar tendency.

Eating disorders and trauma are clearly related. Women with eating disorders, especially those who binge and purge, have far higher rates of past trauma than women in general. One study found about 25 percent of women in treatment for a bulimic eating disorder also had PTSD, compared to about 10 percent of the general female population.

Body Dissociation

design-653712_640Not everyone with an eating disorder has experienced trauma and vice versa, however, body dissociation is a common symptom to both. Victims of trauma may mentally, emotionally, and spiritually detach from their bodies because the physical experience was too much to bear, too much to process. This is especially true in those who experience childhood trauma, like verbal or emotional abuse.

Mental separation from body or repression of feelings is the human psyche protecting us, withholding information so as not overload or overwhelm us. It works for only so long. For true recovery, we have to dig up and address what our psyche stuffed down.

The Role of Movement Therapy

Movement therapy helps reintegrate the mind, body, and spirit, aiming to reach and heal suppressed emotions. A touchstone of movement therapy, or dance/movement therapy, is the belief that “movement is a primary language for all human beings, and as such, is a powerful means to access implicit memory and stored history, trauma-related or not.”

Dance/movement therapy is based on the empirically supported premise that the mind-body connection is correlated, as is emotion and movement. The therapy incorporates many dance styles and moves through four progressive stages. First, participants establish safety. And the other steps include goals like: release of conscious control, movements become symbolic, and meanings become apparent.

Choosing the Right Therapist

dance-147673_640Movement and dance therapists must have a Master’s Degree from a graduate program approved by the American Dance Therapy Association. These therapists are trained in specific dance and movement techniques and how to process feelings that may arise.

Movement therapy gives the body a voice. Feelings and memories too difficult to be verbally expressed can be shared, and previously unknown feelings can be identified as they surface through movement.

The therapy aims for individuals to regain control over and confidence in their bodies. This is a milestone for those who have experienced to their bodies.

Trust in Your Body

Trust in your body is also a major step in recovery from an eating disorder. Those struggling tend to see the body as an enemy, something that can’t be trusted. Dance/movement therapy is a safe mechanism to “become aware of feelings that arise from the body’s sensations, and teaches people with eating disorders how to listen to their bodies’ needs.”

Reconnecting the body with feelings allows the client to experience, affect and express his/her inner world, to recognize meaning in behavior and relationships, and to develop healthy psychosocial unity.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you utilized movement therapy in your recovery? What effect has movement therapy had on your recovery from eating disorders?

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 23rd, 2015
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