Dance and Expressive Arts Therapy as a cure for emotional burnout.

Updated: Sep 4, 2019

Caregivers, mothers, teachers, social workers, therapists and many other helping professionals genuinely and gratuitously share their care, love, compassion, and talents with the world.


Unfortunately, many caregivers often find themselves in a place of emptiness. The balance of giving and receiving is frequently absent; as a result, caregivers often suffer from a lack of vitality and motivation, low interest in life, chronic pain, anxiety, and depression.


Luckily, the idea of self-care as a crucial recovery tool to care professionals are getting more and more widespread - trivial things healthy food, regular sleep, spending time in nature, thinking positively, having a hobby and a supportive environment.


Based on my own experience and many years of practicing arts and somatic-based psychotherapy, I want to emphasize the essential role that Dance Movement and Expressive Arts Therapy may play in the self-care practices for care professionals.


Our emotional life is rooted in our bodies. Worries, anxiety, depression are not just thoughts in our minds. When we are under stress, our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are actively involved preparing us for certain actions - fight, flight or freeze – depending on the strategy that seems more reasonable for our limbic system at a particular moment. It changes our breathing, heart rate, hormone level, blood flow, internal organs’ state and other aspects of our physiology. Our conscious mind is not that much involved in resolving dangerous situations.


Ideally, the body should be allowed to resolve the threatening situation and deactivate the physiological responses by itself. This is the best-case scenario. However, in modern life, stress does not necessarily mean confronting a bear or facing another physical threat. When we are under pressure in the workplace, when we are giving care non-stop without an opportunity to recharge and receive some care, when we are dealing with challenging clients or a stubborn boss, when we are being bombarded by a constant stream of information – it does not always seem appropriate to fight, run or play dead. Even if our body would appreciate it.


Without having the physical closure to a stressful situation, our ancient part of the brain, the limbic system, automatically keeps sending warning signals to our body to be alert, be ready because, from the brain's perspective, the danger is still there. How long could a car run non-stop? A washing machine? A light bulb? Our nervous and immune systems can't do it either...


In order to get back on track, emotionally, physically and cognitively, we can listen to our body and integrate self-awareness into our everyday life. We have to pay attention to what's going on in the body and find a meaningful way to bring it to our consciousness – by listening carefully to our body sensations, welcoming images that may arrive as we are having a break from our busy mind.


When we are focusing on the body sensations we may sink into "active imagination" state of mind. Some people may call it "daydreaming" or "sensory experience". The main idea is when we concentrate on something like a body sensation and go deeper to explore it, we activate what was on a periphery before - unconscious images, memories, associations. It helps to see a whole picture, not only our rational conceptualizations, and adopt our lost hidden parts becoming a more integrated person.


Some images may be nice and vibrant, some ugly and unbearable. With the professional support of arts-based psychotherapists, we may find our own unique way to express all these images artistically – which means to make them visible, appreciated and create a distance and more control over them. Some images can be expressed with a small gesture or movement, others - through painting or sculpture or even transformed into a story or poetry.


There is no clear line between somatic and artistic aspects of this work. The body if full of memories, images, dreams, and resources. Our responsibility is to let it speak and listen. Then it becomes a source of vitality, energy, and joy. Then we can move on.

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ayana spivak arts based psychotherapy, 2019