Bringing Open Floor and Dance Movement Therapy to survivors of sexual trauma
Reviewed By: Edith Avni
Language availability: English
Edith Avni is a Dance Movement Therapist and Open Floor Teacher and Therapy in Motion graduate from Israel. She tells us about her experience of using Open Floor in her group therapy work.
I was excited, curious and a little bit anxious when Hadas Tal-Ragolsky, an Open Floor dancer, Dance Movement Therapist (DMT) and Psychotherapist who works in the Inbal Interdisciplinary Center in the Negev, invited me to co-facilitate the centre’s first DMT group program. It was the first time working with this population, the first time working with Hadas and the first program of this type run at the centre. That was a lot of firsts!
The Inbal Center offers therapy to survivors of sexual trauma in cooperation with Yachdav organization. The invitation was to co-facilitate a DMT group for women who were, or had been, in individual therapy and were referred by their therapists.
Our intention was to establish the body as a resource using the Open Floor Core Movement Resources (CMRs) to teach simple tools the women could use in their everyday lives. We would give participants an opportunity to connect to their bodies and regain a sense of safety, control and trust. We also wanted to practice relational skills and get support from belonging to a group of women with similar experiences. With all that in mind, we also hoped to have some good dances with vitality and playfulness… We wanted to bring in “the whole Open Floor package”.
Grounding turned out to be one of the most essential CMRs we used and was always present in the background even when the focus was on another CMR. Survivors of sexual trauma have difficulty being present. Staying with their sensations, emotions and thoughts can be overwhelming and there is a tendency to dissociate. Learning to get support from the ground and a sense of stability can be an essential tool. We also explored how to take “my ground”, connecting to a feeling of capacity and clarity. Grounding is also helpful for self-regulation: to discharge excess energy into the ground when hyper-activated and in states of hypo-activation using the ground to bring up the energy and induce vitality.
We introduced the CMR Ground through the sense of weight, rooting feet and other body parts into the ground, moving on the ground, getting support and moving at different heights. We encouraged them to notice that when there is solid ground underneath it is possible to release holding, tension and preparedness. We practiced simple exercises they could use to ground themselves at home, at a family gathering or at the office such as bringing attention to the feet on the ground and rooting themselves.
One of the sessions where we worked with ground that was very significant was when we decided we needed to go slower, simpler and drop down to the ground. Sitting on the ground we took a long while to feel our sense of weight, the imprint of our bodies on the ground and of the ground on our bodies, the stability and solidity of the ground beneath, the sensations that arise from that connection, how it shapes the body.
Sitting on the ground, with the help of our hands we planted our limbs, pushing them into the ground, taking it very slow, finding that sense of weight, shifting our weight from side to side. Resting into the ground using breath to support us. Only then we could start pushing ourselves up, pausing at different heights, deepening our roots as we made our way up.
Later in the session, we experienced the group as being more grounded and present than ever before while dancing and exploring. There was a sense of vitality with a well contained activation and a spark in their eyes. That was also the first time we saw some spontaneous interactions happening in the group: when we are supported by the ground beneath us, it is possible to explore and take some risks…
In the verbal processing phase of the session, we shared the experience of being grounded, and each participant shared what grounds them in their lives. We discussed the issues of connection and dissociation, and what can help us stay connected and present. While sharing we were surprised to hear one of the women who was usually very associative, and would start sentences without finishing them, talking with a lot of fluidity. Now that she had found her ground she was able to speak in a clear and coherent way!
In the words of some of our participants…
” There is still some self-judging but now I see my movement much richer and varied. I can look at myself in the mirror and say – This is me and it’s OK”
“This group arrived just in time for me to meet my body. In the beginning I was confused and embarrassed, a whole new dance… later I found this place and I understood that in order to find it I had to find myself..”
“In the first session I was completely disconnected and had trouble being present, gradually I began to notice the places of disconnection”