It’s said, ‘as a therapist you should not have any favourites’ and I agree to it. But then sometimes you come across groups that you can’t help but fall in love with. In July 2015, I started working with one such group. This is a group of 10 visually impaired children between the ages of 6-11 years with different levels of blindness (partial to complete) who stay at a blind school in Delhi. When I met the Principal of the school she mistook me for a dance teacher and expected me to take dance classes with the kids. I wasn’t surprised as this happened pretty often. However, after I explained what DMT was all about, she seemed very interested and asked me to start working with these children. Since she was expecting dance classes, she didn’t have any therapeutic goal in mind that she wanted me to work on, except to make the kids move. So I decided to do a pilot session with the group and then come up with the therapeutic goals. However, after this session I decided to stick to the goal that the principal had in mind. The goal was to make them move, as I found that the kids displayed very little and restricted movements. Some of the observations that I made in the pilot session were:
- Very low range of movement- the participants showed very little range of movement and had difficulty in even doing the most basic movements. For example, standing up straight and bending down to touch their feet.
- Very little sense of direction- the participants showed very little sense of direction and could not distinguish between right, left, front and back.
- Low body awareness- the participants were not aware of their different body parts and could not distinguish between their right and left hand.
- Required constant guidance- the participants could not do movements on their own and required me to constantly do the movement with them.
Hence, keeping this in mind I decided to work on:
- Making the participants become more aware of their bodies
- Making the participants achieve a sense of direction
- Inducing different qualities of movement as their movement was very uni-tone
And so began my work with this group. The main focus in the initial sessions was to make the group aware of their own bodies. Different body awareness activities were done with them to achieve this. The first was to ask them to move their different body parts in isolation. Although the younger kids were very excited and did this with great enthusiasm, the older kids resisted doing this saying “moving waist is what girls do”. It was interesting to chance upon these gender stereotypes that came in and how the boys overcame them. After a few sessions it was seen that they had moved past this reluctance and could move any body part now.
Another important point of focus in the initial sessions was to understand directions and developing an ability to move to different spaces on their own, without anyone’s help. One overlapping outcome of both body awareness and spatial awareness was recognizing directions. To keep this going they were made to take a certain number of steps in different directions to induce a sense of directions, namely, right, left, front and back. In the initial few sessions, the movement activities chosen involved very simple and basic movements. As I sensed a progress in their movements, we started including activities with a little higher pace of movement. Slow and fluid movements were introduced to break the pattern of very rigid and sudden movement qualities. A few weeks into the sessions, it was seen that the participants could now move on their own, count their number of steps and distinguish between different body parts and directions.
A tool that proved to be very important during this phase was touch. While a light touch aided one participant and gave him a sense of security and became a cue for him to move, it had a completely opposite effect on another participant, who started cringing from any kind of touch and stopped coming for the sessions altogether for a while. His body was seen retreating and closing every time I would use touch to aid him in the session. He chose to be absent for 2 weeks. After he joined again, it was made sure that no touch was used with him and slowly he was seen becoming open to touch with his fellow participants, and started taking part in activities that would involve holding hands, which he would refrain from earlier.
After a few sessions the participants were introduced to rhythm. They were encouraged to make sounds with their hands and feet by tapping their bodies or the ground, clapping or just by using their voice. This worked wonderfully for the group and has now turned into a closing ritual where everyone just sits in a circle and makes sound, sings or screams as they wish, ultimately leading into a synchronized rhythm. Props such as dandiya sticks were also used to develop rhythm and keep the development of a sense of direction and body awareness going. A byproduct of this was an increased level of concentration in their classes as the teachers reported that they were able to comprehend instructions better and sustain attention for longer periods.
As the sessions progressed, storytelling was introduced in the sessions. Open ended stories were narrated to the participants for them to be able to put their own ending to it. This not only pushed them to tap into their creative side, but also helped the therapist in tapping into their subconscious motives, as the participants enacted their perceptions of characters, situations and sounds, in stories narrated to them.
Simple ground rules such as not speaking over anyone, not hitting each other and only-one-person-speaks-at-a-time-while-the-others-listen, were set in the very beginning and were recalled at the start of every session. It was observed that even these rules had developed a new pattern of conflict resolution among the kids, as earlier they would all shout at and hit each other. On the contrary, if anyone in the group had a conflict during the sessions that I was conducting, they would prefer to sit in a circle like our opening and closing circle and talk about it to try and resolve the matter.
The sessions are still in progress and till now, movement therapy is proving to be immensely beneficial for the participants, as the activities are helping them increase their attention span, concentration level, body awareness, sense of direction, range of movement, emotional expression and conflict resolution.