There are multiple reasons for the onset of chronic pain with triggers ranging from injury, inflammation, nerve damage, to underlying medical conditions. A professional could help identify the causes and find relief from the physiological factors causing the pain. However, the psychological components related to the pain – stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, and maladaptive coping mechanisms – can still cause a flare up even after the physiological aspect has been treated or resolved. So, it is important to address both the aspects of pain for a holistic resolution. Dance and movement therapy is an innovative approach that harnesses the expressive power of movement to alleviate chronic pain by addressing the psychological component of the pain as well.
How dance and movement heal chronic pain?
Dance and movement therapy’s approach to chronic pain begins by examining how the pain affects various aspects of your life. It also investigates the connection between the body and the psyche when it comes to specific pain, especially chronic pain.
“Unlike many other therapies, which focus solely on a single area or function, we examine a person’s thoughts, emotions, and beliefs around their pain system,” says Devika Mehta Kadam, a dance movement psychotherapist and clinical psychologist from Mumbai. “We examine how pain affects a person’s social, professional, and personal lives as well as how these things are related to one another.”
Through various movement patterns, dance and movement therapy assesses how people relate to their bodies, added Kadam
“They may have very distinct memories associated with specific instances of pain,” says Kadam. “We try to reduce the influence of those memories. By rationalizing and developing movements that refocus on the positive aspects of those memories, we can reduce the impact of an experience of pain. For example, if someone is suffering from persistent body pain after giving birth, we attempt to focus on the positive moments and how the body felt at that precise moment rather than allowing them to dwell more on the painful procedure they went through. For instance, the moments when your child smiled at you for the first time or when you made eye contact with the child.
Healing approach of dance and movement therapy
Different people express their emotions differently. When one person moves their feet and legs to express their anger, another person will be comfortable expressing anger through the gesticulation of the hand or by manifesting anger as tension in the shoulders.
“We try to identify the distinctive ways in which your body expresses a given emotion,” says Anshuma Kshetrapal, psychotherapist, and drama and movement therapist from Delhi.
There is no one dance style or set of moves that are used for everyone in dance and movement therapy. Anything can count as a movement.
“There have been instances when I have sat with my clients and let them practice breathing. Because that individual wants to spend the day making little breathing movements,” adds Kshetrapal. “It could be as simple as that, or it could be overly complex dance movements with a lot of metaphors and interpretive movements. The common aspect is that there should be catharsis when you move, and you should be able to express or exhibit your emotions through your movements.”
Each person requires a different number of sessions to experience pain relief. The total sessions required will vary depending on the severity of the issue too.
“If someone has been in pain for 10 years and is now seeking help from me, it indicates that they have looked in many different places and did not find a solution. Meanwhile, the problem is becoming worse and is getting more entrenched in their system,” adds Kshetrapal.
However, every session follows a particular pattern which starts with a client check-in (looking at how the person feels and knowing their energy level of the day), then moves to the main experiential (looking at how they manifest their emotions) and ends with words of closure.
Who can benefit from dance and movement therapy?
People of all ages and backgrounds suffering from chronic pain can benefit from dance therapy as a comprehensive approach. Kadam lists out three distinct sets of people who have found pain relief through dance and movement therapy.
“One set includes those who are experiencing pain because of ailments like fibromyalgia and associated pains,” adds Kadam. “After prolonged periods of treatment and hospitalisation, it can sometimes drain their energy and hope. Those who suffered abuse make up the other category. Regardless of whether there has been physical or sexual assault, they retain this pain in their bodies very differently. Adolescent women and adults who suffer hormonal changes those who go through strong period pain and extreme mood swings have also seen positive impacts through dance and movement.”
- Dance and movement therapy aims to reduce chronic pain by addressing the psychological component of pain. Effective pain management should address both the physiological and psychological elements.
- Dance and movement therapy looks at how a person’s social, professional, and personal lives are affected by pain and how these aspects of their lives are connected.
- By enabling people to express or exhibit their feelings through movements, it promotes catharsis.