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Dissertation Diary Part 4: Healing Sexual Trauma through the Body

Part 4 of Project Dissertation (For more context- please refer to Dissertation Diary Part 1)

<Please note that this “Dissertation Diary” 5 part blog post series is formatted very differently than the rest of my articles– much longer and more academic than the others…For other articles, please refer the right navigation panel of the site.>

A Case for the Body

The notion of a body and soul or mind dichotomy has its origins in the teachings of Aristotle and Plato and has been long established in Western thought (Bertrando & Gilli, 2008). The prevalent notion was that body and mind were to be treated separately. The body doesn’t impact the mind, the mind doesn’t impact the body.

However, it was Rene Descartes that first introduced the notion that the body and mind are interrelated–that all affective and emotional conditions are primarily somatic in nature (Scaer, 2005). Instead of treating the body and mind as separate, they should be treated together.

Within the field of somatic psychology, various schools have taken different sides in the philosophical debate between body and mind (Aposhyan, 2004) (Chaiklin & Wengrower, 2009). Krantz, in her research on dance movement therapy for women, note that predominantly, most traditional psychotherapeutic approaches still lack any attention to the body or embodied features of clients’ psychosocial  experiences (Krantz, 1994).  Neurobiologists like Damasio and recent developments in affective and physiological neuroscience have suggested that the influence and causality of the mind affecting the body goes both ways (Krueger, 2002).

Mind body connectivity is characterized by analyzing the relationship among experiences, emotions, behaviors, and physical health (Hass-Cohen & Carr, 2008). The idea across experts in this field (including Aposhyan on Body-mind psychotherapy, Leseho and Maxwell on Creative movement, Ambra on dance/movement therapy with adult women incest survivors, and Scaer on trauma) base their work on is that–The body reflects the mind and the mind reflects the body and this cycle of mutual feedback must be integrated in the therapeutic context to target the whole, integrated person (Aposhyan, 2004) (Leseho & Maxwell, 2010) (Ambra, 1995) (Scaer, 2005).

Dayton points out that biologically, this connection center is via the brain’s vagus nerve, which serves as a multifaceted communication system between the brain and the body (Dayton, 2010). Malciodi, in his work on trauma informed art therapy and sexual abuse in children, explained that the implication for trauma is that trauma reactions are both psychological and physiological occurrences (Malchiodi, 2012). Along those lines, Krantz concur that brain turmoil and defense mechanisms such as repression and dissociation leads to emotional suppression that can birth somatic issues, not just pathological symptoms and behaviors (Krantz, 1994).

Because the original violation is at first engaging the body, there is a premise that the body is required to access, heal, and release the trauma. Movement therapy uniquely addresses the constellation of symptoms by first accessing the body.


Talk therapy

Beyond creative interventions for sex trafficking victims such as movement arts that integrate the body, there are four prevalent psychotherapies to note that have been employed for sexual abuse and trauma: cognitive processing therapy (CPT), prolonged exposure (PE), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR,)  and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT).

Aimed at decreasing PTSD symptoms and confronting faulty beliefs and interpretations that hinder trauma survivors, Cognitive Processing therapy (CPT) is an exposure-based protocol that has originally developed by Resick and Schnicke in 1992 as a treatment for rape victims with PTSD and depression (Zappert & Westrup, 2008) (Resick & Schnicke, 1992). Similarly to CBT, CPT is based on an information processing model of traumatic stress based on the foundational notion that symptoms develop when traumatic experiences cannot be cognitively assimilated into one’s existing schemas (Resick & Schnicke, 1992). Conducted over 12 sessions, CPT is categorized into four core stages—psychoeducation, exposure, CBT techniques and closure (Zappert & Westrup, 2008). In research studies, CPT has been shown to be efficient in reducing symptoms of PTSD and depression in both group and individual therapy formats (Resick & Schnicke, 1992). According to one of the research study by Resick and Schnike examining the treatment of PTSD symptoms in rape victims, 19 sexual assault survivors receiving CPT improved significantly from pre- to post treatment on both PTSD and depression measures, and maintained their improvement for 6 months, in comparison with a 20-subject comparison sample, drawn from the same pool (Resick & Schnicke, 1992).

Prolonged Exposure is another alternative for treatment of sexual abuse. The historical roots of this therapy dates back to the development of emotional processing theory (EPT) in 1986 when Foa and Kozak expanded exposure therapy to address guilt, symptoms of PTSD, and other anxiety disorders (e.g., obsessive–compulsive disorder). The premise was that as patients became exposed and in contact with the object of their pathological anxiety, their fear and negative reactions would be greatly lessened in the future. There are three primary types of exposure therapy: in vivo (‘‘real life’’), imaginal, and interoceptive (Foa, 2011). Mowrer’s two-factor model provided a foundational notion with the theory that fear originates through classical conditioning, and the preservation of  the conditioned fear avoidance involves operant conditioning.  Extinction of that pathological fear was believed to come through the confrontation and challenging of the core belief that the safe stimuli are dangerous and therefore should be evaded, and that they are powerless to deal with the stress and distress (Foa, 2011). 

A relatively new therapy method developed in 1987 by Shapiro first for PTSD treatment, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an information processing–based treatment technique. EMDR works with clients to focus on a disturbing image or memory with any activated emotions and work back and forth in front of the client’s face after and following the movement with his/her eyes. Bilateral stimulation can also be induced through auditory or tactile stimuli. The primary focus is targeting to combine maladaptive traumatic memories into functional explicit memory networks. Well established in research (van Etten & Taylor, 1998;  Shepherd et al.  2000), EMDR is now a widely used protocol in the treatment of PTSD (Seidler & Wagner, 2006). Seidler and Wagner compared the efficacy of EMDR and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy in the treatment of PTSD and discovered that treatment outcomes of EMDR and CBT are both equally efficacious (Seidler & Wagner, 2006). 

Additionally, Sack et. al examined in their study about psychophysiological changes during EMDR the question of whether EMDR leads to real psychophysiological changes and subjective and objective reduction of PTSD symptoms among 10 patients suffering from single-trauma PTSD. Treatment duration followed each patient’s individual needs and ranged between 1 and 4 sessions, resulting in a total of 24 EMDR treatment sessions from which psychophysiological data were completely recorded. Treatment with EMDR was followed by a significant reduction of trauma-related symptoms, elimination of the PTSD diagnosis in 8 of the 10 participants, as well as by significantly reduced psychophysiological reactivity to an individualized trauma script. The results indicate that if information processing during EMDR is followed by a decrease in during-session psychophysiological activity, there is a reduced subjective disturbance and reduced stress reactivity to traumatic memory (Sack, Hofmann, Wizelman, & Lempa, 2008).

The treatment with the most empirical support for its effectiveness in treating PTSD and other related difficulties with young children is trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)(American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1998). In the literature on Expressive and creative arts methods for trauma survivors by Carey, TF-CBT seems to be more effective in comparison to nondirective, supportive counseling, and community therapy approaches in both individual and group therapy formats (Carey, 2006) and Cohen, in his research on childhood abuse, noted that TF-CBT has really emerged as the standard of care for children and adolescents who have experienced abuse and trauma (Cohen, 2007).

Similarly to CBT, TF-CBT is founded on the notion of Cognitive Processing and the value of challenging maladaptive beliefs that cause negative perspectives that foster anxiety and depression. TF-CBT caters to the needs of the child by first helping the child to share their traumatic memories before challenging any confusing, inaccurate, or dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs they may have developed due to the lack of information or knowledge to make sense of the sexual abuse (Carey, 2006). In their researching understanding the impact of childhood sexual abuse on women’s sexuality, Colangelo and Keefe-Cooperman discuss that methods employed in TF-CBT include stimulus confrontation, induced either imaginatively (as in systematic desensitization) or in vivo, to draw out the trauma narrative of their thought process when encountering the disturbing material, and then subsequent cognitive restructuring (Colangelo & Keefe-Cooperman, 2012).

Beyond the four therapies discussed above, (CPT), (PE), (EMDR),  and (TF-CBT), there is really is an ongoing need for empirically based treatments for child sexual abuse (CSA) that are time-efficient and cost-effective. Various other treatments for PTSD and sexual abuse reported in literature include stress inoculation training, assertiveness training, biofeedback, relaxation training, reprogramming, pharmacotherapy, combined stress inoculation training, combined cognitive therapy and exposure therapy (Zappert & Westrup, 2008), process group therapy, individual therapy, body therapy, art therapy, hypnosis, substance abuse therapy (Black, 2007), progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, music therapy (Spinazzola et al., 2011), affective expression and regulation skills, cognitive coping skills (Carey, 2006), school-based group cognitive behavioral therapy, resilient peer treatment, client centered therapy, family therapy, child-parent psychotherapy  (Silverman et al., 2008).

Some of these interventions and treatments integrate the body but many do not. Additionally, many of these therapies require tremendous amounts of training and may hardly be available to the sex trafficking victim population (due to barriers like resources, training, money). What would it look like to integrate something that naturally fits into the human experience, such as movement, that also brings the body into the therapy as a tool for healing?


Not my own body

The body’s role in the physical and psychological survival of a traumatized person is integral. Dissociation allows the victim to divorce her mind from her body in order to endure abusive experiences, and both Dayton and Rodriguez, in his work examining dance/movement therapy as a couples treatment modality for working with trauma, distress and extreme emotional pain is released through somatic symptoms. (Dayton, 2010) (Rodriguez, 2007). The body holds in the present memories of the trauma from the past, perpetuating the terror of the abusive experience well after the actual event ends.

  • Trauma expert, Van der Kolk, affirms that because the trauma is often stored in body memories, traditional psychotherapeutic verbal therapies ignore body states and sensate dimensions of experience, and do not effectively treat the trauma survivor because the body is needed to unlock those trapped feelings (Dayton, 2010).
  • Researchers Mills and Daniluk (2002) proclaim that “”the impact of sexual abuse on the body demands that the body itself be a major topic in treatment (Dayton, 2010).”
  • “Externally caused pain that went through the body is still active in the body and best addressed on the body level (Koch & Weidinger-von der Recke, 2009).”

The body is central and critical to healing for this type of trauma because it was through the body/using the body that the violation and terror entered.

Dayton asserts that finding reconnection and reintegration with their bodies is a key element in the healing process for victims of sexual abuse (Dayton, 2010). In their analysis of traumatized states for art therapy and clinical neuroscience, Hass-Cohen and Carr explained that crisis often leaves a person without the ability to verbally communicate in a way that effectively expresses their traumatic feelings, as upper verbal regulatory functions in the cerebral cortex are challenging to access (Hass-Cohen & Carr, 2008).

This really seems to create a necessity to work directly with non-verbal, emotional systems. The literature on clinical implications of trauma imprints confirms that words cannot fully incorporate the sensations and actions that are fixed within the body (Dayton, 2010) (Rodriguez, 2007). As Melinda Meyers (1999) expresses this note: ”the first step in moving ‘back home’ [post abuse], is to begin to move the body and breathe…”

Rodriguez points that before verbal language, body movement was the basis of a human’s experience of self and communication of thoughts and emotions with others (Rodriguez, 2007). Along the same lines, in their article “Coming alive: Creative movement as a personal coping strategy on the path to healing and growth,” Leseho and Maxwell upheld dance as a connection between the mind and body (Leseho & Maxwell, 2010). This mode serves as that neuropsychological basis for the mind-body connection (Rodriguez, 2007). The introduction of movement processes can help release the trauma from the body and brain by helping the survivor articulate their story of abuse.

Across all scholars examining the movement, body/mind healing notion, a common assertion emerges: the therapeutic value of dance and movement provides a sense of freedom and a noninvasive route to access parts of self without being censored by intellectual defenses of the conscious mind (Rodriguez, 2007) (Dosamantes-Beaudry, 1999) (Leseho & Maxwell, 2010) (Chandler, 2010) (Michaelson, 2006) (Dayton, 2010) (Krantz, 1994) (Mills & Daniluk, 2002). As the body moves in new ways, the scope, depth, and nuances of unexpressed needs and emotions are then opened up and become more accessible for therapeutic work (Krantz, 1994) (Rodriguez, 2007) (Hanna, 2004) (Leseho & Maxwell, 2010).

In her examination of the effects of psychophysical expression on health, Krantz asserts that movement works in the realm of symbol and metaphor to deliver a secure and creative outlet for exploration (Krantz, 1994).  Leseho and Maxwell studied creative movement as a personal coping strategy on the path to healing and growth and encountered one woman who described her therapy experience as: ‘When I dance it’s a huge release of emotion and I end up bawling, but other times it’s the most incredible joy that I can feel’. Another participant of theirs found that ‘It was invaluable for me to learn how, through breathing and movement, we can unblock ourselves. There is just so much blockage that happens because we don’t move (Leseho & Maxwell, 2010).”


Brains offline

Further evidence that movements arts and dance serve as an excellent therapeutic alternative is found in the study of the impact CSA has on the developing brain.

Author of the book “The Boy that was Raised like a Dog,” Dr. Bruce Perry accounts the horrific stories such as genocide survivors and murder witnesses he has encountered for childhood trauma and transformation in his work as a child psychiatrist. Dr. Bruce Perry found that in the cases such as CSA, young children are at a greater risk of suffering permanent effects of trauma as their brains are still in development sequentially. The frontal lobes of the brain’s cortex that control regulate planning, self-control, and abstract thought do not develop fully until late in adolescence and well into the early twenties (Perry & Szalavitz, 2007). This means it is imperative to meet the child therapeutically where the child is developmentally, and not where he or she is chronologically. This may provide a strong case for leveraging movement to meet the young victim or the adult CSA victim where she is developmentally. Not everyone, especially those sexually traumatized, will have the full ability for abstract and concrete thinking that is required by other verbal-centered therapies.

It can be concluded from this that dance/movement therapy may be one of the most approachable therapies that could be leveraged for a young sex trafficking victim in recovery.


Beyond Words

Dance, as one of the oldest forms of healing interventions and experiences known to humans and culture, has long been used as a powerful modality to contribute to healing,  and manage stress and illness (Leventhal, 2008). Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), the accredited field of dance movement therapy supported by national and international research (Payne, 2004), is officially described as “the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional and physical integration of the individual (Dosamantes-Beaudry, 1999, p. 245).”

DMT has been described by Chang in his dance-movement therapy in Seoul, Korea as a form of psychological rehabilitation and psychotherapy (Chang, 2002). Examining the experience of dance therapy for the survivors of child abuse, Mills and Daniluk found that DMT combines movement with skills of psychotherapy, counseling, and rehabilitation (Mills & Daniluk, 2002). Dixon upheld this form as providing an alternative healing therapy for women who experience trauma, disabilities, depression and specific areas of sexual violence (Dixon, 2011).

DMT pioneer, Marion Chace, began her work in psychiatric wards following the rhythmic and nonverbal movements of WWII veterans , then working with hospitalized individuals to develop dance/movement therapy as a formalized discipline (Pratt, 2004). Key pioneers, including Blanche Evan, Liljan Espenak, Mary Whitehouse, Alma Hawkins, and Trudy Shoop, then each contributed their distinctive versions as they started formalizing the use of dance as a tool for therapeutic healing in the 1940’s (Dayton, 2010).

Founded in 1966, The American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) set out on a mission to facilitate the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a method to further the emotional, cognitive, social, and physical integration of the individual.  They now host 76 charter members with an 18-member board of directors and various committees, more than 1200 professional and nonprofessional members and sponsors annual  conferences as well  as the formation of regional groups, seminars, workshops, and meetings (Pratt, 2004).

Both Brooke and Rodriguez distinguish three notions that are foundational to DMT work. First, a person’s emotional and psychological needs, including their history, can be observed through movement. Secondly, the DMT therapist must have a strong therapeutic alliance in place with the client to support their movement process. And lastly, that changes in movement behavior can impact a person’s total functioning (Brooke, 2007) (Rodriguez, 2007).

DMT entails a licensed and trained dance/movement therapist working with individuals or groups of all ages, with a range of mental, emotional and physical capabilities in a variety of inpatient or outpatient settings (Dayton, 2010). Among the many methods a DMT therapist might use, the following are examples provided by a variety of experts who have examined dance movement work.

In his work with Healing Trauma and the relationship among attachment, mind, body, and brain, Siegel notes how the DMT therapist may work with each individual to attend to their body, detect subtle shifts in posture, and observe eye contact, breath patterns, and voice changes (Siegel, 1999).

Payne, in his study of the theory, research, and practice of DMT, describes the role of the therapist. The therapist are attuned to the tensions held within the body that may be heightening awareness of an action or feeling, and awareness of the breath.  They may use sensory use of touch in many variations of manifestation using a multidisciplinary approach (Payne, 2004). The variety of activities range from a variety of small and large movements, rhythmic dance, spontaneous and creative movements, thematic movement improvisation, unconscious symbolic body movement, group dance, and movement and relaxation exercises (Dayton, 2010) (Mills & Daniluk, 2002), here-and-now exercises,  guided imagery, assertiveness training, and sensory integration activities (Kierr, 2011). Dayton, in her research on the creative use of dance/movement therapy processes to transform intrapersonal conflicts associated with sexual trauma in women, describe the dance/movement therapist as acting as both a participant and as an observer. The therapist may join the client in movement, mirror the client’s movements, and/or observe their movements, always following the client’s lead, rather than taking the lead (Dayton, 2010).

Movement will reveal a lot of where the individual is at. Because of the intimate nature of sexual trauma, an individual’s sense of safety, trust, and personal boundaries can be injured (Rodriguez, 2007). Sometimes DMT therapists will find clients who have an extensive restriction of movement repertoire, inability to create spontaneous movement, under or over regulation of emotions, anxiety triggered by physical touch, or inability to contain body boundaries (Payne, 2004). Survivors are taught to recognize tactile sensations in their own skin through exercises such as circling, shaking, tapping, patting, stretching, pulling, pushing, clapping, swinging, and rocking (Payne, 2004), in order to grow in awareness of their bodies in space and time, to define their bodily boundaries, and to identify, integrate, and articulate the sensations in their bodies (Michaelson, 2006).

 A variety of case studies illustrate DMT’s proven effectiveness  time and time again. DMT has been shown to work with multiple populations including those with mental illnesses, disabilities, anxiety disorder, eating disorders, Parkinson’s disease, addictions, multiple personality disorders, and persons who have been abused, such as children, battered women, the elderly, blind people, people with learning difficulties, and people with physical disabilities, and survivors of sexual abuse (Mills & Daniluk, 2002) schizophrenia, cerebral vascular accidents (Pratt, 2004). Pratt also describes a meta-analysis published in 1996 that suggested that dance/movement therapy may help children, psychiatric patients, and elderly persons with varying disorders, and anxiety in particular (Pratt, 2004).

Lastly, DMT has been found to alleviate the after-effects associated with sexual trauma with several studies supporting the benefits of using dance/movement therapy for treatment in cases of sexual abuse, including rape and incest (Pratt, 2004).


My approach

Three limitations I would note upfront about the research premise of my study and work with movement arts and examining cross cultural factors for effective scalability and ‘democratization’ of Western therapies for international sex trafficking victims.

First, I am a doctoral candidate for a Doctorate in Psychology and Counseling (PsyD) and not formally a certified dance therapist. On one hand, that may be a disadvantage, but on another hand, that puts me in the shoes of those abroad at these aftercare shelters that may also not have the opportunity to attain such formal training.

Additionally, I have chosen not to employ a full brand of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) for the purposes of my study. I do not see this as a limitation per-say.

The movements I leverage for my research will be a set of basic movements based on the Bartenieff Fundamentals. While there is a myriad of different options of movement therapies (AM, CD, DMT), for the purposes of my study, I am selecting a form of movement arts that encourages personal expression and full psychophysical involvement. What I envision is something that appears very fun and approachable especially for dance cultures like the Philippines, yet has restorative, therapeutic elements baked into the fabric of the movement work to facilitate a victim’s healing process.

Several basic movements that are inherent to all human beings serve as the foundational basis of Bartenieff fundamentals–Breath, Core-Distal Connectivity, Head-Tail Connectivity, Upper Lower Connectivity, Body-Half Connectivity, and Cross-lateral connectivity (Hackney, 2000). I have received basic training in this type of movement and found it very approachable and particularly accommodating to children/youth because of the interactive, playful nature of these movements.

The underlying principle is total body connectivity which holds the whole body together with all parts integrated and in relationship, and where change in one part impacts the whole. Breath is the basis of life and movement, and serves as the physiological support for all life processes and all movement. Bartenieff fundamentals also focus on the concept of grounding—that human beings move in relationship to gravity and the earth. Basic body connections are based on the stage-specific developmental progression early in life that establish patterns of total body connectivity in adulthood. Lastly, all movement is multifaceted and complex—each movement is a whole system within itself with many different elements of body, effort, shape, and size (Hackney, 2000).

Furthermore, there are a few core assumptions as a qualitative study that I would like to note. As a qualitative study, this research is not purposed to prove or provide empirical research for the effectiveness of DMT or movement therapy for sex trafficking victims. The Philippines only provides one experimental context for exploring my research questions and access to the aftercare setting, and this particular population is through a partnership with a Seattle-based non-profit called, ArtsAftercare. The working assumption is that this dissertation work will be eventually incorporated into Arts Aftercare’s curriculum for arts therapy, and also serve as a pragmatic and effective form of dissemination of this dissertation research. 

There are several reasons why I would create my own line of movement arts to leverage in the experimental grounds I have chosen for this study (the Philippines):

  • First, I feel that providing a more elementary/basic line of movement arts can meet the needs for the research questions on hand most effectively– in that it’s more democratic in nature (doesn’t require formal training or certification). This fits well in my ‘train the trainer’ model methodology where the first workshops will be directly to the aftercare workers than the aftercare workers to the victims to help with scalability and replication.  Due to my work investigating factors of democratization in the implementation of effective interventions cross culturally, it is imperative that an approach is selected that itself is easily assessable and simple to grasp, regardless of education and financial level, and easily applicable across different cultures.
  • Secondly, the tried and true Bartenieff Fundamentals meets my study’s needs for a movement theory in that is simple to grasp across cultural contexts because it is true to the basic set of movements that all human being engage in their human development bodily stages. In this, the movement used with victims will emphasize fun and engagement not performance or perfection. This will amplify the reception other cultures and this population may have to engage in movement!
  • Thirdly, one of the unique ways this dissertation study will be disseminated  is through a kit/curriculum put out by Arts Aftercare. The simpler the movement, the easier and better it will translate in this form factor

The last limitation to note for this study is that it is intended to be ethnographic in nature only, since I am unable to spend extensive time abroad. The Philippines is only one experimental grounds I have chosen to leverage and no doubt cannot accurately represent all cultural contexts in the conclusions I find there. It is only one taste of answers that can be discovered to answer these research questions, not the totality.


In another world

In examining the cultural significance of DMT, although DMT was formalized in the west by Marion Chace, dance has been an element of healing spanning many centuries, religions, cultures and societies. Dance is one of the oldest healing interventions and experiences across humankind, dating back to ancient and pre-industrial cultures. Cultural social organizations across the world have leveraged the powers of ritualistic and community movement (Dayton, 2010).

Given the effectiveness of dance and movement to help heal the victims of sexual abuse, it is assumed that we can take that same model of healing and apply it to an aftercare setting, working with sex trafficking victims. In the growing number of aftercare shelters springing up to address the needs of these victims, I feel that careful consideration must be given to the cultural context and the limits of the resources of aftercare environments. Sex trafficking is a global problem that crosses cultural boundaries, impacting people of all ages, races, ethnicities, and gender with global ramifications. This makes it imperative that care takers and therapists be culturally aware and understand the cultural context in which they are working.

Hiscox and Calisch examined the cultural issues inherent in art therapy and found that the mental and emotional meanings of client’s artwork have tended to be over-generalized in interpretation by health professionals and art therapists (Hiscox & Calisch, 1998). For therapists to detect the valuable nuances of creative interventions with international clients, they must become well-versed in understanding their clients’ cultures and belief system (Hiscox & Calisch, 1998). In agreement, Malchiodi, in his work with trauma informed art therapy and sexual abuse in children, and Chang, in his work with Cultural congruence teaching dance-movement therapy in Seoul, Korea, found that cultural competence by therapists includes the recognition of different cultures, and how culture, along with ethnicity, degree of education, location, regionalization, family and extended family, peers, social economic status (SES), gender, development, religious and spiritual background shape how the client experiences their trauma (Malchiodi, 2012) (Chang, 2002).

Sex Trafficking aftercare experts, Grant and Hudlin, expand on culture’s role asserting that culture has a wide scope of influence on survivors in particular, shaping how they understand the trauma they experienced, including how individuals perceive their level of control, responsibility level, conflict management, problem solving, and expression of pain (Grant & Hudlin, 2007). Culture provides the lens which traumatized individuals perceive life after the trauma and search for meaning behind their pain;  moreover, cultural traumas are transmissible across time and generations (Grant & Hudlin, 2007).

Van der Kolk and his colleagues examining psychotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder also agree that culture shapes the coping process for individuals in defining their context of social support and supportive system of values, lifestyle, and knowledge (Van der Kolk, McFarlene, & Weisaeth, 1996). For example, psychological trauma and reactions such as PTSD have been largely legitimized in Western diagnostic systems as a product of Euro-American history and culture, however according to epidemiological research, traumatic stress can be found among a variety of populations with different cultures and political religious systems(Van der Kolk, McFarlene, & Weisaeth, 1996).

For a movement therapy practice that is primarily rooted in Western culture to be effective in this culturally diverse landscape, dance researcher, Hanna, emphasizes that therapists must understand what symbolism is culturally specific in movement. They may need to make accommodations for people of other cultures, be aware of the cultural guidelines for verbal and nonverbal engagement, and take the time to describe the process they use in a vocabulary that works with the particular culture’s belief systems (Hanna, 1995).


Clarification: I’m not a savior or a Western cowboy

One important clarification in all of this– when I refer to the ‘democratization of Western interventions’ (esp in my Part 1 Diary Dissertation), please note that I am well aware that the Western paradigm is not the end all solution or the savior of the world. Although primarily developed and formalized in the west, dance movement is not originally from the west in general! Historical cultures like those in SE Asia probably had cultural dances established into the foundations of their cultures well before the West ever did. (Refer to Ethan Watter’s book “Crazy Like Us”)

That being said, you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are some amazing qualities and value that the Western paradigm has to offer. First of, the majority of empirical research and outcome studies for movement arts is found in the western world. Secondly, although the formalization and ‘manualization’ of DMT may make it less democratic in some ways, it has raised the bar and standard of excellence in intervention work.

My hope is to take elements of movements arts and the Barteneiff fundamentals and test it out abroad– what sticks? what works, what doesn’t? In all of this, I come with not multicultural competence but multicultural humility. I don’t know what I don’t know. This qualitative nature of this research lends itself well to creating a platform to explore, discover, and experiment, while exposing learnings that hopefully can be applied to other western interventions in the translation to other cultural contexts.

My hope is that it will result in many positive results/ learnings  and byproducts including the answering of my 2 research questions:

  • Does Dance/Movement arts work well with Filipino constituents?
  • What worked/ what didn’t?
  • What factors do we need to be considering when we take something from the West and try to translate it to another culture?
  • What aspects of Filipino culture should shape the movement arts practiced there?
  • What learnings can we apply to other western interventions that want to scale out across cultural contexts? (including talk therapies)
  • What learnings can we apply to taking movement arts to other cultural contexts? (such as taking the curriculum to India, Hong Kong, Bulgaria, etc)



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