Letting Go: Dance/Movement Therapy for Caregivers

Editor’s Note: November is National Family Caregiver’s Month. In her previous post, Natasha wrote about some of the challenges caregivers face and how important it is to find ways to be supported in such roles. In this post, she offers a glimpse into a dance/movement therapy session with caregivers.

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“No time to breathe . . . I don’t have time to take care of myself these days.” “It’s all about what mom needs . . . I have to help her with everything.” “I forget what my life was like before dad came to live with us . . . such chaos now.”

Emotions of exhaustion, frustration and grief poured out of the 40 to 70 year-old dementia caregivers in my dance/movement therapy (DMT) session. At the start of the group, the majority of members assumed rigid and guarded postures; not surprising, as they were “holding it all together” and could not “let their guard down.” Some members felt guilty for taking time away from their loved ones to join our session; others felt alone and wondered how being there could help with their devastating and overwhelming situations. What would happen if they “let it go?”

To begin our session, we sat in a circle and I sprayed some lavender oil mixed with water around the room and led members through a deep breathing sequence. Following those few moments of calm, members seemed ready and recharged, as evident in their smiles, relaxed postures, and increased alertness. We clapped and tapped our feet rhythmically to the tunes of Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind and Fire, Aretha Franklin and the Beatles. Then we “shook” some worries and pain (both physical and emotional) out of our limbs. Members interacted playfully and shared some laughs, as the rhythmic synchrony fostered connection, sense of self and trust. Moreover, these caregivers were taking time to focus on themselves and express their feeling states in a structured and supportive environment.

Circle hands floor

As the group progressed, members opened up and shared their stories and personal struggles with being a full-time caregiver for their loved ones (many of whom had younger children of their own). They began to “let go” as their laughter and playfulness increased and shifted the overall mood in the room. Members reported that they felt supported and understood by each other.

To close, I guided members through another deep breathing sequence and stated, “Here and now, we make time to breathe… even for a moment.” Some members became tearful, while others initiated holding hands. The group continued to hold on while breathing deeply and letting go. The difficult feelings that had been bubbling up inside of these individuals were expressed and validated. As illustrated above, DMT is a psychotherapeutic and supportive intervention that is based on the principle that movement reflects patterns of thinking and feeling. Importantly, DMT for caregivers offers some time and space for members to share their stories, to feel connected, and to let go.

 

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