Spotlight on Leif Tellman, MA, BC-DMT, LMHC
Deepening humanness. Moments of every day hold the potential to share, with each of us, the expanding wisdom around “what it means to be human.” For Leif Tellman, this potential inspires him to continually deepen awareness of his own humanity as he spends his days in the presence of others who are naturally creating these wisdom infused moments.
In his pre-dance/movement therapist life, Leif lived in Chicago, spending his days working towards a career in modern dance. He supported his artistic ambitions by waiting tables to meet basic survival needs. It is a situation many dancers find themselves in – working “day jobs” in order to hone their craft and fulfill their passion. Leif sought to marry his desire to dance with the necessity of making a living. In an effort to bring job and career together, he attended Columbia College Chicago and earned his M. A. in Dance/movement Therapy and Counseling.
With degree in hand, Leif transitioned from intern to employed dance/movement therapist at an in-patient psychiatric hospital. After three years in this setting, he left Chicago and headed to Seattle. The move brought many gifts, challenges, and opportunities for growth. In a new city, unsupported by a network of connections and contacts, Leif relied on his growing self-trust to flow into and through the creation of his career. He started as an activities assistant of a nursing home, eventually moving into developing and directing the Creative Arts Therapy (CAT) Department in the same facility. In addition to his work in nursing care, Leif devoted attention to growing his private practice. “It is full and very satisfying work. I feel blessed to be working on things I believe are important in the world.” As Leif acknowledges the gratitude he feels to be in the position he is in, he is also candid about the difficulty inherent in his journey. It seems he dove into the process with a determination to continually renew his belief in himself. This helped sustain him as he devoted an enormous amount of time, courage, and effort to building a private practice in a new city and to creating a network of connections to support his evolution from activities assistant to director of a CAT department.
In his role in the CAT department, Leif has been actively involved in shifting the culture of nursing care away from the medical/institutional model and into a “person centered” paradigm. The idea is to create a community where residents feel at home and where staff enjoy and take pride in their work. This culture shift returns residents to the center of their lives. Quality of life is increased by providing space for their independence, as they make choices regarding their heath and personal well-being. Leif's devotion to this shift has made even more space for deepening humanity, joy, challenges, and expanding connections in his work as a therapist.
His therapeutic approach shifts depending on the environment. In the nursing home, Leif follows a Chacian model. Dance therapy sessions begin with residents sitting in a circle, checking in, and then moving through a clear warm-up, theme development, and closure. The goal in this setting is less about processing and more about helping clients discover their abilities while encouraging creativity, socialization, connection, and storytelling. Music is used and dancing is often present.
In his private practice, the therapeutic approach varies depending upon the need of the individual client. He works from a holistic perspective, integrating verbal psychotherapy, internal family systems, dance/movement therapy, and ecopsychology into a diverse framework. Regardless of whether clients are moving or talking, Leif focuses on bringing attention to the body to help individuals expand their awareness. By simply asking what is happening in their bodies as they speak or move, clients are encouraged to learn the language of their body. For example, emotions begin in the body as sensations; a clenched jaw might be labeled as anger, a racing heart – anxiety. The ability to discern body sensations from the named emotion empowers clients, as the consciousness allows for deeper awareness, less reactivity, and more choice. The somatic focus inherent in Leif's approach, enables clients to explore the fullness of their experiences. Leif employs a variety of techniques, including the use of bolsters, stretch bands, and other props, as well as various forms of Authentic Movement.
Believing in his ability to create a life that marries his passion to his career, Leif has moved through his journey graced with “moving, deepening, fun, connecting, and challenging” moments. He has most enjoyed “watching [his] career grow and develop and finally looking around and saying 'wow, look what I've created in my life!” The present culmination of his dedication, passion, and effort seems to be spaciously filled with the reciprocal wisdom that comes in moments of deepening humanness.