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Enhancing Your Therapy with Gestalt Approaches
Gestalt Therapy continuing education counselor CEUs

Section 25
Gestalt Techniques in Dance Therapy

CEU Question 25 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Gestalt
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Theories in psychology that have been most influential in the field of dance therapy include Reichian, psychoanalytic, Gestalt, object relations, humanistic, family systems, and Adlerian. Levy (1988) noted a trend toward increasing theoretical eclecticism and integration in the field of dance therapy. However, there are some key conceptual themes that are common to most dance therapy approaches. Human beings are assumed to have unconscious memories, feelings, and motivations that need to be introduced and integrated into individuals' conscious awareness (P. L. Bernstein, 1986). Furthermore, it is assumed that some unconscious material, especially memories formed during preverbal stages of development and bodily trauma, are stored in the body and are more easily accessed through physical expression (Levy, 1988). Within the holistic conception of the individual conscious intellect, the emotions, the unconscious, and the body are considered interconnected, with the experiencing and processing of physical experiences believed to positively affect emotional and cognitive growth and functioning (P. L. Bernstein, 1986; Espenak, 1981).

We undertook this qualitative study in an attempt to begin to understand how dance therapy effects change in clients' lives. The purpose of this phenomenological exploration was to explore the lived experience and meaning of dance therapy for women who found that this form of therapy contributed to their personal growth and healing. The question that guided this research was, "What is the lived experience and meaning of dance therapy for individuals who found it to be facilitative of their personal growth and healing?"

Participants were required to have been involved in individual or group dance therapy that was facilitated by a certified dance therapist. Individuals were screened through telephone conversations, and the first 6 women who met the inclusion criteria were included in the study. However, when it became apparent during the data collection that 5 of the 6 participants had histories of child sexual abuse, we decided to limit our analysis to the 5 abuse survivors.

Six themes that were common to the participants emerged from the data analysis. The words of the participants are used in the following descriptions of the themes and subthemes to more accurately capture the essence and meaning of their dance therapy experiences. To enhance reporting, each subtheme is italicized within the thematic descriptions.

Theme 1: Reconnection to Their Bodies
All of the women in this study mentioned having felt disconnected to varying degrees from their bodies. Some spoke about a rejecting attitude they had toward their bodies, either because it seemed fragile or because it had attracted a child abuser. As one participant put it, "I thought of my body as this unfortunate accessory … it has just caused me trouble … it always felt like the enemy." Others talked about a general sense of not having been present in their bodies. At the extreme were various descriptions of dissociation, which seemed to be related to experiences of childhood sexual abuse. For example, one participant reflected on her sense of having been a collection of pieces: "I always felt sort of fractured, fragmented, like parts of my body are on different planes and they're not connected to me personally." In fact, having experienced various other forms of more traditional "talk" therapies, these women specifically sought dance therapy as a means to help them reconnect to their bodies. It is not surprising, then, that a sense of bodily reconnection was an extremely prominent theme running through the transcriptions of each of the participants. All of the women talked about how dance therapy involved a process of getting back into their bodies. By becoming more connected to their bodies, the women were able to become more "present" in and more comfortable with the range of energetic and emotional sensations in their bodies. In reestablishing a connection with their bodies, the participants reported feeling an increased sense of acceptance and care of their bodies.

The participants also talked about their previous tendencies to cope with physical and psychological discomfort by "going into their heads" through intellectualizing, minimizing, and denying. The participants reported that, unlike traditional talk therapies, dance therapy offered them a way to bypass this defensive reaction to discomfort, because this therapeutic process was rooted in bodily expression. As one participant observed, "I think the moving repeatedly helps you to stay in your body, and not go back into your head."

Theme 2: Permission to Play
The women in the study had experienced talk-based therapies as sometimes serious and hard work and were surprised that play was encouraged as an integral part of the dance therapy process. One woman found that, contrary to her expectations, she really enjoyed the dance therapy sessions. She remarked, "I thought, aren't we supposed to be crying and upset and angry?" The women described the playful element of this therapy as "delightful" and "exciting." They experienced it as a means of recapturing a sense of carefree youth that had been lost to them over the years. This aspect was particularly significant for some women who remembered childhood years in which play and fun were lacking or forbidden. Through dance therapy, these women were able to experience, as adults, a sense of the type of playfulness that is characteristic of childhood. The participants noted especially, how the playfulness of dance therapy provided a balance to and a relief from some of the emotionally heavier aspects of therapeutic work. As one participant said, "There was at least one moment every time I went where I just had a good time. And that was a neat thing to learn, that I could do some healing work and it didn't have to be totally serious and really hard all the time." Indeed, that play and work could coexist and, in fact, that both together could lead to healing and growth was considered a significant new insight by the women in this study.

Theme 3: Sense of Spontaneity
Spontaneous movement was mentioned as an important aspect of the dance therapy experience by the women in the study. When they spoke about spontaneous body movement, the participants described movement that was free, self-determined, natural, and uncontrived. They spoke about a progression during their dance therapy experiences toward increased spontaneity in their body movements and toward overcoming the various obstacles they encountered along the way. One obstacle that emerged from the women's stories of their group dance therapy experiences was what one participant referred to as having an "outer focus." They reflected on how, at times, their concern with "what others might think" about they way they moved led to self-conscious and constrained body movement.

Theme 4: Sense of Struggle
All of the women in this study reported that their experience of dance therapy was infused with a sense of struggle. Initially this involved the unfamiliarity of this type of therapy. Many found dance therapy to be new and strange and used words like "challenging," "difficult," and "uncomfortable" to describe their experiences. Some felt inhibited and embarrassed at the idea of dance itself, whereas others felt apprehensive because this approach to therapy was non-traditional and represented uncharted territory. As discussed previously, the women struggled with the discomfort of being seen by others. They felt self-conscious and worried about looking foolish. For some, the experience went beyond embarrassment to a more acute sense of vulnerability and exposure. One woman's metaphor poignantly conveyed this feeling: "Moving is like opening the book … it wasn't just like opening the book, it was like ripping the book open. It was really difficult." Some of the women also reported that they struggled with how to deal with painful memories and feelings that arose during their dance therapy sessions. Many talked about how their bodies contained information about past traumas and about how that powerful and sometimes shameful material surfaced while they were engaged in the therapeutic movements. Anticipating the emergence of new and potentially painful material contributed to the women's sense of apprehension. This was dramatically captured in one woman's metaphor: "Being in my body always feels like walking through a minefield … you know that there's danger out there, you just don't know where … you're waiting for the inevitable." The women also reported their struggle to cope with the fact that particular aspects of the dance therapy process (e.g. music, certain movements, structured activities) could trigger physical and emotional responses associated with past trauma. Certain kinds of music triggered in one woman a deluge of emotion and frightening mental images related to the ritual abuse she had experienced as a child. An exercise that involved holding still reminded another woman of being bound and confined as a small child, and these memories resulted in considerable emotional and physical distress during the session. Although these women struggled to keep from being overwhelmed by body memories and emotional triggers, they were also aware that this material was necessary "grist for the therapy mill," the identification and working through of which was critical to their own growth and healing. As such, these women considered it essential to develop a sense of safety in the group. They reported that the therapist and other group members helped create a safe environment in which they were able to challenge themselves to explore difficult and painful issues.
Despite these struggles, the women said they continued in dance therapy because they saw their hard work actually helping them to grow and heal.

Theme 5: Sense of Intimate Connection
The women in this study reflected on their experience of a unique kind of emotional connection with others while engaging in dance therapy. They remarked on how this intimacy was created without words, simply by moving together and at times, physically connecting with each other. The women talked about how the sense of intimacy they experienced with other participants during dance therapy was uncontrived. It seemed to emerge spontaneously through the wonder of simple gestures, playful moments, and dances that conveyed trust and caring. The women also spoke about factors like music and synchronized movement that contributed to a feeling of unity in the group. The participants believed that this connection and intimacy added greatly to their growth and healing through dance therapy, because they felt supported by others and accepted both physically and emotionally within the group.

The participants in this study remarked that observing another person being vulnerable while dancing was also a meaningful aspect of their dance therapy experience. They called this observation "witnessing" and said it was important for them in several ways. Seeing others taking risks and being vulnerable made them more willing to risk and to open up and share more of themselves and their struggles. The women also felt "honored" to receive the gift of another's dance and said this contributed greatly to their own sense of self-worth. The women also discovered that during group sessions, they gained insights about themselves and were engaged in their own work, even when bearing witness to the struggles of other members or when others were working individually with the therapist. As one participant said, "My experience was that things always came up for me. It never stayed feeling like it was the other person's time; it was always my time as well."

Theme 6: Sense of Freedom
The word freedom appeared repeatedly in all of the women's stories in many different contexts. The participants reflected on how they appreciated the freedom of choice that characterized dance therapy. They talked about having their choice of the activities that were presented and about feeling free to adjust their participation according to their own needs, agendas, and comfort levels. One woman explained, "It was clear to me that I could choose not to do any exercise, which was very important, or I could choose to do it in my own way." For one woman, this freedom of choice and control over the therapeutic process was especially significant and meaningful in light of her past abuse experiences:" For most people that have been sexually abused, that's one thing that was taken away from them, their ability to move, emotionally, physically, mentally, everything. So you've got this freedom that is so important." This woman described the sense of personal freedom as entitlement—reclaiming her right to be in charge of her body and her experience. All of the women told stories of emotional release, which they experienced to some degree in more traditional forms of therapy. What the women believed was unique to dance therapy, however, was the opportunity to discharge some of the physical energy that accompanied these powerful emotions. As one woman put it, "When stuff comes up in dance therapy you've got some way to expend the energy that's involved … to deal with it in terms of your body, and to get the energy out of your body, not just out of your mouth."
- Mills, Letty J.; Daniluk, Judith C.; Her Body Speaks: The Experience of Dance Therapy for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse;  Journal of Counseling & Development, Winter2002, Vol. 80 Issue 1
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

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Personal Reflection Exercise #11
The preceding section contained information about Gestalt techniques in dance therapy.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 25
What were six themes regarding dance therapy discussed by sexual abuse survivors? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Test.

 
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The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Health disparities between genderqueer, transgender, and cisgender individuals: An extension of minority stress theory. - March 21, 2019
Interpersonal, social, and structural stressors have been identified as key elements that explain health disparities between transgender and cisgender individuals. However, most of this research has focused on binary transgender individuals or has not differentiated between binary and nonbinary individuals; little research has examined the experiences of minority stress or health of those identifying outside the gender binary. Guided by intersectionality and drawing on a sample of 3,568 college students from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health’s 2012−2016 database—of whom 892 identified outside the gender binary—we conducted analyses of demographic and outcome measures administered in participants’ 1st counseling appointment, examining differences between cisgender, transgender, and genderqueer individuals. We found that genderqueer individuals were harassed, sexually abused, and subjected to traumatic events at higher rates than were either cisgender or binary transgender individuals, with approximately 50% of genderqueer individuals reporting one of these experiences. We found that genderqueer individuals experienced more anxiety, depression, psychological distress, and eating concerns than did binary transgender and cisgender individuals and more social anxiety than did cisgender individuals. Genderqueer individuals more frequently reported self-harm and suicidality than did any other group, with approximately 2/3 of participants’ having contemplated and nearly 50% making a suicide attempt. We extend current theorizing about minority stress (Hendricks & Testa, 2012; Meyer, 2003) to include genderqueer individuals and delineate several structural aspects of genderqueer experiences that may be responsible for these trends, including others’ lack of knowledge about genderqueer experiences and pronouns, poor access to legal and medical resources, and systemic discrimination. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
A caballo regalao no se le mira el colmillo: Colonial mentality and Puerto Rican depression. - April 18, 2019
Dignifying the colonizer and depreciating the colonized is a reflection of internalized colonial oppression (i.e., colonial mentality). The current study examined the effect of colonial mentality on depression symptoms in a sample of mainland Puerto Ricans (N = 352). A structural equation model was examined, in which colonial mentality was hypothesized to be directly and positively associated with depression symptoms. The proposed model also tested the indirect effect of colonial mentality on depression symptoms via acculturative stress. Results indicated that a full mediation structural equation model (SEM) had a better fit to the data than our hypothesized partial mediation model. Bias-corrected bootstrapping indicated that the effect of colonial mentality on depressive symptoms was mediated by acculturative stress. That is, colonial mentality increased the risk of experiencing depression symptoms in Puerto Ricans when they felt pressured to maintaining a connection with Puerto Rican culture and society and when they experienced rejection by the society they want to emulate (acculturative stress). The current results underscore the need for researchers and clinicians to consider and assess colonial mentality when conceptualizing depression symptoms among mainland Puerto Ricans. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
The development and validation of the Emotional Cultivation Scale: An East Asian cultural perspective. - April 15, 2019
Research on emotion regulation in East Asian children and adolescents is limited. One obstacle hindering the development of emotion regulation for East Asian children and adolescents is the lack of a culturally sensitive measure. To fill this gap, we have developed and validated the Emotional Cultivation Scale using samples of Taiwanese children and adolescents. In Study 1, an exploratory factor analysis (n = 341) identified two factors: Cultivating Emotion Strategies and Understanding Emotion Connotations. A confirmatory factor analysis (n = 358) confirmed this two-factor structure. Coefficient αs were .69 to .88 for Emotional Cultivation. Convergent validity was evidenced by positive associations with cognitive reappraisal and cognitive flexibility. Discriminant validity was supported by a nonsignificant association with suppression. Concurrent validity was revealed by positive associations with positive affect, basic psychological need satisfaction, gratitude, responsiveness from teachers, responsiveness from parents, and academic self-efficacy. Incremental validity was evidenced by the finding that emotional cultivation significantly accounted for an additional 2 to 20% of the variance in predicting cognitive flexibility, positive affect, basic psychological need satisfaction, gratitude, responsiveness from teachers, responsiveness from parents, and academic self-efficacy above and beyond cognitive reappraisal and suppression. Results from the multigroup analysis further indicated factor loading invariance and validity invariance between boys and girls and between elementary and middle schools. The factor structure was cross-validated by a clinical sample of Taiwanese children and adolescents (N = 161) and their parents in Study 2 (N = 159). The counseling implications were discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
Cognitive and affective expectation of stigma, coping efficacy, and psychological distress among sexual minority people of color. - May 30, 2019
There is a paucity of research on the potentially distinctive functions of cognitive and affective expectation of stigma. Moreover, expectation of stigma has received limited research attention with sexual minority people of color who may anticipate interlocking heterosexist and racist stigmatization. In this study, data from 209 sexual minority people of color were analyzed using path analysis and bootstrap procedures to test direct and indirect relations among perceived discrimination, expectation of stigma, coping self-efficacy, and psychological distress. Analyses disaggregated expectation of stigma into its cognitive (i.e., perceived likelihood of stigma) and affective (i.e., worry and anxiety about stigma) components. Results revealed that perceived discrimination had a unique direct link with psychological distress. In addition, perceived discrimination was linked indirectly with greater distress through affective expectation of stigma and problem-focused and emotion-focused coping self-efficacy. These findings suggest the importance of social justice interventions to reduce discrimination. Additionally, the findings suggest that interventions should attend to affective worry and anxiety about stigma and foster problem-focused and emotion-focused coping self-efficacy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
Surviving and thriving: Voices of Latina/o engineering students at a Hispanic serving institution. - April 15, 2019
This study examined factors that played a role in Latina/o undergraduate students’ persistence in engineering at a Hispanic serving institution (HSI; N = 10) using the consensual qualitative research method (CQR; Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997). Data analyses resulted in five domains: institutional conditions, additive intersectional burdens, personal and cultural wealth, coping skills, and engineering identity. Participants described how they persisted in the face of stressors, citing specific coping skills they developed over time as well as general personal and cultural strengths they carried with them into their pursuit of engineering. Although the structures of the students’ institution were generally described as supportive, Latina participants reported experiences with gendered racism that created added barriers to their persistence in engineering. Supportive institutional conditions, personal and cultural assets, and adaptive coping strategies appeared to facilitate the development of a strong engineering identity, which helped to solidify students’ sense of belonging, pride, and commitment to complete their degree. Results highlight the need to address intersecting experiences of privilege and oppression to promote access and equity for Latinas/os in engineering. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

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