Expressive Therapy, the Brain and Eating Disorder Recovery, Part 2

by Caroline Leibman, MA, BC-DMT, NCC

Three types of expressive therapy we utilize for treating eating disorders include Dance/Movement Therapy, Authentic Movement, and Psychodrama groups. As we discussed in the last blog post, these offer unique benefits to the brain which are essential to recovery from an eating disorder. What follows is description of each expressive therapy as used in a group setting as well as the benefits these groups currently offer our patients in their recovery process.

Dance/Movement Therapy
Dance/Movement Therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process, which furthers the cognitive, emotional, physical, and social development of the individual. It is founded on the notion that the body and the mind are united, and that by exploring a more varied vocabulary of movement, a patient can become more securely balanced, yet increasingly spontaneous and adaptable. Through movement and dance, a patient’s inner world may be expressed symbolically, and therefore made more tangible. Changes in movement behaviors can lead to changes in the mind, thus promoting health, growth, and recovery. Helping patients to regain a sense of wholeness by experiencing the fundamental unity of the body, mind and spirit is a paramount benefit of Dance/Movement Therapy.

Dance/Movement therapy groups foster an increase in body awareness which includes body parts, body sensations, breath, and a more accurate body image, which is so often thwarted by the eating disorder. A patient engaging in dance/movement therapy can also experience anger, sadness/loss, shame, rage, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, fear, and joy found in the body, previously numbed through eating disordered behaviors.

Dance/Movement therapy invites the re-experiencing of the body as a source of wisdom, joy, and pleasure. This expressive arts therapy offers an opportunity for creative action and response through body action, improvisation, and imagination, so unlike the narrow eating disorder dictates and rules. Dance/Movement therapy facilitates both an enhanced sense of grounding, safety, and strength in the body as well as the experience of relaxation, stress-reduction, and self-care.

Dealing with overwhelming emotions, uncoupling or separating the physical sensations of the affect, (all emotions are rooted in sensations ) and processing those through body sequencing, (which is allowing the sensations to move naturally through and out of the body) allows the patient to experience and integrate them. Utilizing movement so that the physiological arousal can return to a tolerable level will bring about a safer and deeper integration and healing of the emotions. This process occurs very naturally in dance/movement therapy.

In Part 3 of this blog we will look at the role of Authentic Movement and Psychodrama in the treatment of eating disorders and healing the brain.

Caroline Leibman is a board certified dance/movement therapist and a nationally certified counselor who holds an MA in Education from Washington University in St. Louis. She completed her graduate work in Dance/Movement Therapy as well as a Professional Diploma in Dance and Movement Studies at the Laban Centre, London, England. She trained in Authentic Movement at the Authentic Movement Institute in Berkeley California, and with Janet Adler, PhD. Caroline offers a blend of verbal and body-oriented therapies integrating Jungian thought, creative arts therapies, mindfulness, and spiritual practices to promote healing. She has a background in working with issues of trauma, eating disorders, depression/loss, and anxiety.