Caroline H Leibman, MA Ed, BC-DMT, NCC, SEP
Individual Therapist; Dance & Movement, Expressive & Psychodrama Group Therapist
In my previous blog I shared the important role of the Creative Arts therapies in Eating Disorders treatment. I cited Dance/Movement Therapy, Authentic Movement, Somatic Experiencing, Yoga Therapy and Mindful Walking as specific therapies and/or body-based practices that help a client re-inhabit his/her body in a safe and appropriate, even in creative and vital ways.
Thanks to the abundance of research in the areas of Neuroscience and Mindfulness, caregivers of patients with Eating Disorders are learning more effective/integrative ways for healing the mind/body. Understanding more about the brain and what sets conditions for healthier mind/body functioning is crucial in continuing to offer optimal treatment interventions to our clients with Eating Disorders. In this blog I would like to address some of the reasons why Creative Arts therapies and body-based practices are inherently healing.
To begin, let’s review the basic architecture of the brain. The Triune Brain, sometimes called the brain within the brain within the brain is a term I first learned in Graduate School while studying Dance/Movement Therapy in the 1980’s. In 2006, Pat Ogden, who developed Sensorimotor Therapy calls upon this term when describing the architecture of the brain, its three levels of information processing, and the importance of balancing therapeutic interventions so that all three areas of the brain are addressed. In doing so, conditions are set for coherent and lasting healing to occur.
The sub-cortical or lower brain, sometimes called the reptilian brain is the first area of the brain to develop from an evolutionary perspective. It governs arousal, basic instinctual action tendencies like reflexes, learned or programmed movement impulses, and the more primitive action tendencies such as fight, flight and freeze. It also governs sensations and homeostasis of the body. This oldest area of the brain relates to the sensory level/somatic level of information processing. (Siegel, 2007, p.34)
The next level of the brain to develop, sometimes referred to as the mammalian brain from an evolutionary perspective is the limbic brain. It mediates emotion, subjective feelings, emotional responses to events, and affective knowledge. It also mediates some social behavior and learning. (Siegel, 2007, p.34-35)
The most recent level of the brain to develop is the neocortex. The areas of the cortex enable cognitive informational processing such as self- awareness, conscious thought, and consolidation of information. The cortex also enables abstraction, perception, reasoning, language, and learning. (Siegel, 2007, p.35-37)
Each of these three levels of the brain has its own understanding of the environment and responds accordingly. These three levels are also intertwined and can function as a cohesive whole, though one particular level of the brain can certainly become dominant and override the other.
It is now known that there is greater flexibility of response at the higher cortical level of information processing, the cognitive area of processing, and greater fixity or concreteness of response at the lower brain or sensorimotor level of processing. The limbic brain, where emotional processing occurs seems falls in the middle and seems to be neither as fixed as the sensorimotor level of processing, or as flexible as the cognitive area of processing.
Creative Arts Therapies and body-based practices provide interventions that engage each level of the brain. Additionally, these therapeutic modalities are inherently mindful, which naturally allows for more relationship-interplay among mind (cognition), body (sensation) and emotion. These therapies encourage the areas of the neocortex, the sub-cortical limbic brain, and the lower brainstem to work together in more integrated ways. In addition, therapeutic interventions can also be introduced to address specific levels of the brain that need support.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction states: “Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non- judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience. Additionally, when the mind enters a state of mindfulness in which one’s here and now experiences are sensed directly, accepted for what they are and acknowledged with kindness and respect, one is practicing self-attunement.” (Siegel, 2007, p.10)
Intrapersonal attunement promotes self-love and advances and encourages interpersonal attunement-relationship. Dan Siegel, author of The Mindful Brain asserts that mindfulness also promotes neural integration which enhances resilience, well- being, empathy, relationship, and self- regulation. (Siegel, 2007, p.41-43)
The capacity for a relationship with the self that is more loving and self-accepting is a paramount goal for any individual struggling to overcome an eating disorder. Enhanced capacity to engage socially in sustained relationships with others, versus isolation and shame is another critical area for growth and change for a client overcoming an eating disorder. Reliable ability to naturally self- regulate without the use of eating disordered behaviors is also a crucial treatment target for our clients.
Creative Arts therapies and body-based practices are inherently healing because they address each level of the brain, promote neural integration and are mindful. Increased understanding regarding what sets conditions for overall healthier mind/body functioning and the inclusion of therapies that inherently support all levels of brain functioning is vital in continuing to offer optimal treatment for clients with Eating Disorders.
Ogden, Pat. (2006). Trauma and the Body. New York, New York: WW Norton and Company, Inc.
Levine, Peter. (1997). Waking The Tiger, Healing Trauma. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books.
Siegel, D. (2007). The Mindful Brain. New York, New York: WW Norton and Company, Inc.
Caroline H Leibman, MA Ed, BC-DMT, NCC, SEP
Caroline is a board certified dance/movement therapist, a somatic experiencing practitioner 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 is an adjunct faculty member in the Performing Arts Department at Washington University in St. Louis, teaching in the Somatics Program. Caroline offers a blend of verbal and body-oriented therapies integrating Jungian thought, creative arts therapies, somatic experiencing, and spiritual practices to promote healing and well- being. She has a background in working with issues of trauma, eating disorders, depression/loss, and anxiety. She also works with individuals seeking growth, wellness, and spiritual enrichment.