When words fail you, you can use your body as an effective way to communicate through the art of simply moving your body in a way that feels expressive to you. You can discover your true self from moment to moment through a modality called Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP).
Mhari Baxter is a practitioner of DMP who helps others in their journey using the art of dance movement psychotherapy. You can learn more about Mhari and her work here:
Tell me about your professional background.
Hello, my name is Mhari. I am a certified Movement Psychotherapist with ADMP UK-Ltd. and a Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance and Seasonal Yoga. I also trained with Special Yoga (British Wheel of Yoga) on Mindfulness with children who have a diagnosis of Autism and ADHD and completed Attachment-Based Yoga and Meditation for Trauma Recovery with Deirdre Fay. I am a Focussing trainee and hold a First BA (Hons) from Edinburgh College of Art.
My training in Seasonal Yoga incorporated Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM emphasises the unity of body and mind and the communicative intelligence of fascia (connective tissue in the body). TCM cogitates that emotions relate to different organs in the body. When these emotions are out of balance there can be tension and dis-ease there. Becoming aware of these tensions in DMP and yoga can support our immune system and overall wellbeing.
I work privately as an integrative psychotherapist and provide online and in-person wellbeing courses, such as Breath to Work for students and professionals. I work 1:1 with children and young people in education and design and co-facilitate the Embodied Learning Programme. I am a dancer, artist, gardener and tutor. I have worked creatively with young people, adults, children and their families in local communities and education for over ten years to support health and wellbeing.
What made you want to get into this field?
Inspirational to my journey has been collaborating creatively with people who are deaf-blind at Sense Scotland.
I learnt from individuals accessing Sense Scotland and the art team about body language and non-verbal communication. This includes how memories are stored in the body and expressed through breath, gesture and posture. I discovered how our state of mind transforms through expressive movement and arts. And how arts and movement can support communication and meaningful relationships.
On a personal level, drawing/making, yoga and dance have supported me to process grief and loss in my life and I wanted to share this gift with others. I was particularly inspired by authentic movement practice and 5 Rhythm dance courses. Here I met dance movement psychotherapists from around the world and heard of how their work was benefiting individuals and communities.
What has been your favourite aspect of this work?
Witnessing people’s transformation and re-discovery of their true selves. Discovering the healing nature of our bodies and the arts. Growing and creating alongside people I work with. I am constantly learning about the wisdom and resources we have in the body. And how we can train our mind like a muscle!
Can you explain what dance movement psychotherapy is and what a typical session is like from start to finish?
DMP is a relational, embodied and creative process that recognises body movement as an implicit and expressive instrument of communication. ADMP UK is an organisational member of UKCP (UK Council for Psychotherapy), adhering to their ethical code of professional practice.
A session offers a space for you to safely explore whatever is there to be explored or understood. Sessions are confidential and there is no expectation or judgment to allow a natural process to unfold. I listen and support individuals to communicate their feelings in ways that are comfortable to them. Individual sessions support dialogue in the moment-to-moment experience. Individual sessions may use props that promote a movement dialogue, creative and or verbal ways of relating.
Therapeutic work may be short-term or over a longer period of time. My approach is integrative with the view that there is no single approach to suit all. My therapeutic practice is informed by a range of therapeutic modalities including, sensorimotor psychotherapy, Arts Therapies (dance/movement, music, drama, art), Eco-Psychotherapy, Transpersonal, Humanistic, Psychodynamic and Solution Focussed.
How can dance movement psychotherapy be supportive in overall healing and well-being?
Dance movement psychotherapy is a holistic approach and considers the whole body in a relationship. Therefore it accepts the verbal and non-verbal aspects of self. The cognitive, physical, emotional, creative and spiritual parts of self have the opportunity to integrate. Sometimes there can be a part of us that needs support and when it is not seen or acknowledged it can impact the other parts of ourselves and become an obstacle in our everyday lives. Dance Movement psychotherapy can help to identify those obstacles that may be getting in the way of our growth.
In dance movement psychotherapy and other body-oriented psychotherapies, there is the knowledge that our body has a mind too. And that when we allow our body-mind experience to be there, just as it is and keep it company -without judging it, analysing it, trying to change it or explain it – we create a space that allows the body-mind to heal itself in a genuine inter-relationship.
Is there a technique in your practice that you have found to be the most beneficial to the people you work with?
Awareness (utilising Mindfulness, Somatic experiencing and Focussing techniques) of my own breath, heart, posture and voice. Noticing how I show up and my body sensations as this directly impact the individual I work with. In turn observing the client’s body posture, breath and voice. The body is an instrument and directly resonates with those we are alongside. I listen to the echoes of the client’s experience in my body. Sometimes feeding back to the client what I observe in their body and what I notice in my body to see what truth is there. Important to notice my conditioning and the impact that might have on how I am tuning in and relating with the client. I also utilise creative resources to externalise sensations and feelings and to support and expand movement preferences and patterns.
What is dance movement psychotherapy like from the patient’s point of view?
The client is best placed to answer this question…I hope that they feel safe and empowered to be more fully themselves.
What would you say to someone skeptical about dance movement psychotherapy and its effectiveness? How do you approach that?
Depends on their learning style and age. For example, individuals who are rational and science-minded may find research and evidence important. If that was the case I might cite psychotherapists who have been speaking about trauma in the body for decades such as Freud, Klein, Piaget, Siegel, Levine, Jung, Ogden. And current research in the field of DMP and body-oriented approaches in the UK and internationally. I would explain how trauma is held in the body (Fight, Flight, Freeze response) and impacts us, our physiology as well as our state of mind.
I would maybe speak of how in the western world there can be a tendency to overuse our brains to experience and exist. Descartes posted: “I think therefore I am.” Situated in the historical context of the European enlightenment when scientific rationalism was the predominant societal approach for progress. In dance movement psychotherapy there is recognition of the mind and body connection. DMPs observe how facial expressions and patterns of movement reflect our thoughts and feelings. Cutting edge research is demonstrating that facial expressions express what is going on in our hearts and that different patterns of heart activity have different effects on our thoughts and behaviours (heartmath.com).
Physiologically the brain is connected to the spinal cord. The spinal cord has nerve endings that communicate with the whole body. The largest nerve is the vagus nerve and runs from the brain to all the vital organs in the body such as the heart and the lungs. The vagus nerve sends signals to the brain to relax. By altering our breathing and heartbeat we directly impact our vagus nerve and the signals it sends to the brain. In DMP we can become more aware of the body-mind connection and discover resources within ourselves to flourish!
Maybe this is too much to say to someone sceptical and it may not resonate until they have experienced DMP for themselves!
Besides dance movement psychotherapy do you have any universal health and well-being tips that you’d like to share?
Compassion and gratitude practice for your body and all it does for you. Self-care is so important and something that needs attention and practice. Working with breath techniques is very effective and can energise and relax you in minutes. Try taking several mini pauses in your day to be still and see what you notice…spend time in nature.
If there was one piece of advice you could give to someone who is struggling, what would it be?
As difficult as the struggle may be, know that it will pass; like the clouds passing in the sky and the seasons changing. Also, know that there is help out there. And that it is okay to ask for help. Everyone struggles and needs help. There is a lovely book that articulates this called The Boy, the Mole and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. One quote (of which there are many) I like from this book: “We often wait for kindness…but being kind to yourself can start now.”
What resources would you recommend? (books, podcasts, websites that you’ve found helpful)
- Cuddy, A. Your Body language may shape who you are. Ted Talk. Emotional connection to our body posture and our relationships | Mind changes our bodies, bodies changes our mind.
- Fay, D. Attachment – Based Yoga & Meditation for Trauma Recovery. W.W. Norton & Company. New York, 2017.
Grounding exercises | Centring Techniques | Yoga and meditation
- Hanh, T. N. Peace is every step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life, Rider, Ebury Press, London 1996
Three conscious breaths | Being in the present moment
- Levine, P. In an Unspoken Voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. North Atlantic Books, California 2010.
Survival Response | The body as a storyteller
- Meekums, B. Dance Movement Therapy: Creative Therapies in Practice, SAGE Publications Ltd. London, 2002.
Body scan | Body outline tools
- Ogden, Minton, Pain, W.W. Chapter 10 Phase 1 Treatment: Developing Somatic Resources for Stabilisation. Trauma in the Body. A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy, Norton & Company, Inc., New York, 2006.
Somatic Resources | Emotional regulation techniques | Positive sense of Self | Ability to cope with stressors
- Saraswati SS, et al. Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha
Bihar School of Yoga, 1969.
Pranayama (Breathing techniques)| Full Yoga Breath (Four-part breath) | Sama Vritti breath | Ujiah breath| Bhramari breath | Kapalabhati breath
- Apps and websites:
Waking up App by Sam Harris
Plum Village App
- Resilient Lives: Building strength through dance movement psychotherapy trailer
Communicate more effectively by using your body movements and even props through DMP. To learn more about Mhari and dance movement psychotherapy, check out her website below:
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