Profiles of DMTs
Profiles of Dance/Movement Therapists
Ande Welling interviews a variety of dance/movement therapists with different backgrounds, journeys, and experiences. Read how these DMTs pursued their credentials and what they are doing now.
The most recent article is listed first.
- Charné Furcron
- Jenny Baxley Lee
- Esther Schultz
- Aditi Subramaniam
- Suzanne Rossol Matheson
- Leif Tellman
- Ellen Searle LeBel
- Lisa Goldman
- Wendy Allen
Spotlight on Dr. Charné Furcron, LPC, BC-DMT, BCC, ACS
Dance found Charné Furcron early on, wrapping her up, snuggling in, twirling her around as it gently healed her spirit. Struggling in a difficult childhood, her interest was peaked by an episode of “Soul Train” and Charné asked her mother to let her dance. Enrolled in her first ballet class, she danced, curling up next to the movement and music, she felt safe and at home. Dancing soothed her soul, helping her grow into the fullness of herself. With healing dance as a foundation, Charné has engineered a life full of artistry, dance performance, teaching, therapy, and transformation for herself and the many others she has worked with.
Her childhood experiences led her into the arts, mental health and wellness, and into the field of dance/movement therapy. Her depth of education and subsequent certifications are many. Charné holds a BFA in Modern Dance from Texas Christian University, two Master’s Degrees – one in Dance Therapy from Goucher College and the other in Professional Counseling from the Georgia School of Professional Psychology, and a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology from Argosy University. In addition to her education, she also holds multiple certifications and licenses in counseling, dance therapy, supervision, and coaching.
Charné has worked in a variety of different settings, with a number of different populations, and with people of all ages. Through her career, she has always been guided by her beloved relationship with dance. From psychiatric hospitals to detention centers, residential rehabilitation centers to private practice, Charné creates client interactions and designs programs by following her empathy and compassion, inner wisdom, and expertise in healing dance. Her current and most recent endeavor as the Teacher Training Artist and Director of Outreach at Moving in the Spirit, in Atlanta, GA, began blossoming while she was nurturing an avid performing career and working as a DMT in a mental health hospital. As these roles and positions came to an end, her work as a dance teacher and therapist at Moving in the Spirit grew as she began collaborating with the co-founders to sculpt a greater role for herself.
The organization is one that “utilizes dance as a creative tool to enrich the lives of children living in Atlanta’s most challenged communities. Their goal is to help young people develop their confidence and leadership skills, encouraging them to overcome the challenges they face each day and realize the full potential of their lives.” Charné has been instrumental in using her skills and knowledge as a dancer, teacher, and dance therapist to creatively architect a program that she is able to fully assess, evaluate, and use research-based results to demonstrate its impact.
As a teacher, Charné beautifully integrates her dance therapy training with her educational prowess. Her classes are more than dance classes, as she leads 3 to 19 year olds through an experience of both technique and therapy. “I believe that education is best when it is responsive, creative, and experimental . . . [thus] my teaching style is individualized to fit the needs of each class.” Though Charné shifts her teaching to accommodate all who participate, her classes follow a broad five part structure. Each class begins with a check-in designed to give dancers an opportunity speak about how they are feeling. After check-in, they are led through a technical warm-up based on elements of ballet and modern dance, that is created to stretch, strengthen, increase their body awareness, and prepare them to move. Theme development follows the warm-up, as students are encouraged to explore, learn, and create phrases of movements that address personal and societal issues. After this exploration, they process and reflect, connecting their movement experience with verbal language. At the end of every class, students give each other “sunshine,” sharing with a partner a gift they have received from them during the class. From this overarching structure, it is clear that Charné blends her wisdom as a dance therapist with her skill as a modern dance teacher to shape classes that “stimulate the heart, mind, soul and spirit of students. . .”
Her role as a researcher is slightly different, though rooted in her desire to heal, transform, and empower each student with dance, her overall intention is to collect, measure, and analyze data that will demonstrate how the program impacts each child. Charné uses a variety of statistical measures including standardized assessments and feedback surveys from parents, teachers and dancers, to assess the program. So far, her research has yielded positive indicators. “The evaluation results display the longer a student is in the program, the higher their self-confidence/self-concept (is) . . . Therefore, dancers are [better] equipped to problem solve and become successful in life.” In addition, many students go on to graduate high school, attend college or vocational school, and some even return to Moving in the Spirit to volunteer, sit on the board, and to give back to the program that meant so much to them.
It all began with a childhood ballet class. The deeply forged relationship with dance is evolving, still snuggling in, still twirling, now connecting heart and soul of Charné to the hearts and souls of many. Her career encompasses such width and depth, as she has danced with and for herself first, and then, with and for others. Today, Charné gracefully embodies her roles as program architect, dancer, dance therapist, dance teacher, and researcher as she moves to ultimately witness the resiliency of youth as they transform their challenging backgrounds and circumstances and become strong, compassionate leaders.
Spotlight on Jenny Baxley Lee, BC-DMT
Amidst beautiful green trees, warmly hugged by hot humid air, we sat talking dance therapy and life pathways. Jenny Baxley Lee smiled. Her words danced. “I have not wasted one moment of my life, not one. Everything I have done has led me to another place in my journey.” Her voice, strong and clear, her eyes reflecting the many moments she had lived, experienced, and passed through. Jenny is a natural trail blazer with a flair for making her heart’s wishes possible. Her career as a dance therapist has spanned the world, linked professions, curved and swirled with diversity, and is a continuous integration of knowledge and skills. She is a bridge – connecting one thing to the next with her talents, wisdom, and incredible drive.
Life loves from the beginning, Jenny finds strength, inspiration, and the tender practice of cultivating emotional intelligence through dance, theater, and song. She began her undergraduate studies with an interest in music education, but chose to pursue degrees in Human Development and Spanish. A personal loss nudged her more fully into the arts, as she moved through the healing process by dancing, teaching, choreographing, and performing. With her life love of the arts at the forefront, and the intrinsic feeling of well-being when fully participating, Jenny found a way to incorporate these elements into her final year of undergraduate work. Employing her skills as an artist, Jenny improvised around her degree requirements, finding ways to bring dance into her mandatory courses. She viewed child development through a dance lens, and partnered with both a children’s dance theater and a nonprofit organization that provided dance to children with disabilities to create her internship. Her interests revolved around the idea that quality of life was different between those who did and did not participate in the arts. An advisor introduced her to Anna Halprin’s work and the field of Dance/Movement therapy and, as Jenny neared graduation, she began applying to Antioch New England Graduate School. “With a clear vocational direction of Dance/Movement Therapy . . . I have never looked back.”
Jenny actively designs her moments. During her internship at Antioch, she acquired a Child Life certification. She used this certification and her DMT training in her work in pediatric hematology/oncology at a children’s hospital. The job “looked more like Child life than DMT” and Jenny resigned from it as she moved into her new role as a mother. Soon after, in a venture she called Dancewise, she began doing contract work, practicing DMT with adults with memory loss in long term care facilities. Next, Jenny was hired as a DMT by a nonprofit art organization to engage with adults with developmental disabilities and mental health diagnoses. She describes her career path as “curvilinear,” as she moved from being a clinician with varying populations, into another type of role. Jenny cultivated her administrative side while serving as the Director of Arts and Services and launching an arts in healthcare initiative to be of use for five local hospitals. She kept up her clinical work part-time, while learning a wonderful new skill set in the areas of grant writing, program development, implementation, and evaluation.
Her career is filled with motion and flow as she moves from clinician to administrator, dancer and performer to teacher. Jenny’s time has been spent in a plethora of settings and with a variety of populations, and it seems her interests include bringing the arts into medical settings. Her early undergraduate choices continue to resonate, as she is guided by her original interest in the quality of life in those who participate in healing arts. In 2011, Jenny traveled to Rwanda with the University of Florida Center of the Arts in Medicine AIM for Africa trip. Soon after, she joined their faculty.
Her current work is full and multi-dimensional. She is a lecturer in the Arts and Medicine program, a clinician, a study abroad director and teacher . . . her work is diverse and the breadth of her experience is clearly seen in the wide stretching reach of her many roles. She leads community Authentic Movement groups, co-leads a Dance for PD group, is busy designing alternate coursework for DMT, engages in career counseling, inspires and is inspired by her students. She is a traveler, a presenter at conferences, and she uses her dance therapy work with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
“The most rewarding aspect of the work is the actual chance to move. I will never cease to be amazed at the capacity of movement to transform a moment, to raise awareness, to bring light, and to make you feel so good. Simple, but true.” At this moment in her career, she is most inspired by her students, specifically witnessing the BFA dance students who realize they desire more than the excitement of being on stage.
Her work is expansive. Jenny has tapped into her trail blazing power – diving into a diversity of moments, acquiring skills and experiences that allow her to engage fully in her work. She is a skilled creator, leaving a bright glowing pathway in her wake. In her own strong voice, she describes her career as “curvilinear path at dusk calls . . . “
Spotlight on Esther Schultz, MA, BC-DMT
In beating hearts and fast firing neurons, deep lung filling breaths and oxygen rich blood traveling long curvy pathways through the body, we find the subtle internal rhythms that define life. Mary Starks Whitehouse wrote “ . . . movement is one of the great laws of life. It is the primary medium of aliveness, the flow of energy going on in us like a river all the time, awake or asleep, twenty-four hours a day . . .” The absence of movement brings the dissolution of aliveness. Dance/movement therapists, by their very nature, tune into the vitality of movement to foster a sense of wellbeing. It is inside the rhythmic wisdom of the body that DMT’s practice their craft. How does a dance therapist, an artist facilitating health through bodily motion, work with clients in varying stages of embodying stillness? Esther Schultz, a BC-DMT in a hospice facility, uses the moving essence of life to bring wholeness and peace to her clients as they experience their shift out of this life.
Originally from Ohio, Esther began her foray into dance at 15. She continued dancing at Bowling Green State, while majoring in psychology and minoring in dance and history. A college professor introduced her to the field of dance therapy, and she chose to earn her master’s degree at Drexel University, graduating in 2006. Esther began her career as a DMT at an inpatient psych facility. Soon, one of her internship sites, a hospice, asked her to come and work for them. Esther accepted and has been easing adults and pediatric patients, into their final days for the past six years. Family members and siblings also receive Esther’s support, as the process of dying affects those who continue to live. Much of her current work involves bereavement counseling with patients of all ages in individual sessions. She also occasionally leads workshops and group sessions, and has organized bereavement camps for children. Esther is fortunate to be an integral part of a hospice team who believes in creativity as an important key to health and well being, as the facility offers dance, art, and music therapies to all of their patients and families.
In her work with people whose internal rhythms are approaching an ending, Esther has found challenges in “adapting the traditional models of DMT to accommodate the hospice patient and the movement and energy limitations.” She attunes to each client, guiding a process to meet their individual needs, while maintaining an awareness of the overarching goals that inform her interventions. Many of her interventions are designed to “decrease restlessness [and anxiousness]; increase self-expression and facilitate closure and life review; to address the changing body experience while promoting independence and fostering a sense-of-self through the creative process; maintain and increase quality of life; and, to adapt sibling play relationship.“ She is continually inspired by the people she witnesses, finding gratitude and humility as they share the depth of their departure with her. “I feel especially privileged to work with our pediatric hospice patients. It is an honor to witness and participate in such sacred moments in these individuals’ lives.“
Her work is sometimes subtle and tenderly graceful. She describes a session with Joey, a 4-year-old masterful storyteller, who was referred to the hospice following aggressive treatment for an end stage, pontine glioma tumor. As this child navigated his journey, slowly losing his ability to move, Esther used transitional objects, play, and storytelling in their dance/movement therapy sessions. His natural creativity enabled him to engage and process his internal experience. With an imagination on fire and two invertible balls he named “Spikey Man” and “Stanley,” he explored themes of inside/outside, stillness, and safe places, using his hands to move, hide, bounce the characters through his story. Esther’s goals for her work with him were to “address body integration, promote self-expression, offer creative channels for sensory stimulation, and to promote play interactions.” As he neared his final days, his movement only in his toes, he wove a lovely story. Esther facilitated this process by touching his feet with soft balls. He circled his toes around the balls and told “an elaborate story about a trip his toe was going on. Rotating the ball as Joey lifted his toe and tapped his foot, he described the scenery and how long the toe had to travel before it could rest. At last, the toe reached its destination. As [he] completed the story, Joey looked up with a smile as wide as the horizon and eyes dancing with delight. The session came to a close.”
In another session, Esther describes working with an adult. In this session, she engaged the client in body part warm-ups, breathing and relaxation techniques, Tai Chi-inspired movement, and Authentic Movement. Her client willing participated in the movement work and was able to locate the pain in his left shoulder and spine and the limited use of one side of his body. As their work together progressed, he began to identify movement motifs and connect them to psychological themes in his life. He was soon exploring his experience with homelessness and addiction. He reflected on the movement process, saying: “I expressed my feelings through the movement, it felt good.” He also said, “I think to be whole is to have my heart and mind match, I have come to that place from a very long journey.”
Using her own creativity, Esther has carved out many ways to adapt a modality grounded in movement to those who are negotiating their way out of movement. She relies on a supportive team of nurses, social workers, chaplains, and other creative arts therapists to help manage the intensity of the environment. She also incorporates her own self-care in the form of yoga, knitting, and relying upon the support of her family.
An artist of movement, Esther tenderly evokes vitality and aliveness in those lives she is fortunate enough to be a part of. Using her own internal rhythms, heart beats and deep breaths, Esther moves gently alongside those whose heart beats and deep breaths are slowing; tapping into their essential aliveness as they approach stillness.
Spotlight on Aditi Subramaniam, MA, R-DMT
Dance . . . “It has been the one constant throughout my life.” Aditi Subramaniam, a dancer, clinical mental health counselor, and registered dance/movement therapist from India, has lived a life full of experiences, study, adventures, and opportunity. Her early and life-long participation in Indian classical and folk dancing, and its positive impact on her own mental health, sparked her curiosity and propelled her to explore the powerful relationship between dance and psychology.
Looking back at Aditi’s life is like glimpsing puzzle pieces falling beautifully into place each step of the way. She began dancing in India at four years old, and with the support of family and dance teachers, made dance a priority as the years progressed. “Even if I was feeling feverish or upset or busy with other things, I would always try to fit in dance classes. I always felt better after them.” Intent to discover the connection between well-being and dance, Aditi earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Master’s in Clinical Psychology, and a Post-Graduate diploma in Management of Learning Disabilities. It was while earning her Master’s degree that she consciously sought to marry dance and psychology. During her thesis research with mentally challenged children and their experiences through dance, she discovered dance therapy and the ADTA. While she knew she would find a way to pursue this field of study, she remained in India and began working as a psychologist in two different schools. In one school, she applied her love of movement and dance, music, and play in her therapeutic work with children with emotional behavioral difficulties and special needs. After four years of working, her plan to pursue DMT materialized. She moved to Boston to study in the Dance Therapy and Mental Health Counseling program at Lesley University where she graduated in Spring 2010.
From India to Boston, Aditi set about dropping another exquisitely shaped puzzle piece into its place. “In this field, passion comes together with work.” She describes her experience at Lesley as “bringing the inside out.” This personal unfolding has inspired an evolving introspective and reflective inquiry into her self as it relates to her identity as a dance/movement therapist. “I am always thinking about using the self as an instrument in therapy. The person in 2008 and the person I am now is totally different. It has made me literally believe in why I am doing this work, why I am drawn to this work.” Aditi’s love for dance therapy is unquestioned as she continually asks, “What contribution can I make to the field, to the community? Both in the U.S. and in India. In India, we have the arts and we have therapy, but we don’t have arts therapy.”
As she contemplates these questions, and many others, Aditi has already contributed much to the community in the United States. In school, she used DMT and expressive therapies with the elderly, with those dealing with dementia an Alzheimer’s, and with children with social, emotional, and developmental difficulties. Her current work as a mental health clinician and DMT in the early intervention program of a children’s hospital brings together all of her passions – children, dance, therapy, attachment theory, and neuroplasticity. “This is exactly what I wanted to do when I started school. It is really inspiring to know that this is exactly where I wanted to be.”
In her current role, Aditi works with a team of physical, occupational, speech, and mental health therapists to create multi-disciplinary treatment for children. She works with children both in their homes with their families, and in the hospital by co-leading developmental play groups. As a dance therapist, she focuses on using the nonverbal aspects of attachment and attunement, always mindful how she is using herself as a body-based model of attachment. “I am extremely interested in parent child psychotherapy and drawn to attachment theory – I show up every week, mindful of creating this relationship. I am always asking ‘What is my goal in this relationship? How can I create a model or experience a different relationship that will support the family?’”
Her work is layered as she meets with children and families in their natural home settings, as well as in the structured hospital environment. She conducts home visits throughout the week and enjoys how this work resonates with her worldview. “I really appreciate (going into the client’s home), it breaks down the power dynamic. I see the value in a natural setting. You are on their ground and in their energy.” As part of her self-reflective nature, Aditi is also mindful of her presence and role as a part of the relationship and dynamic. In the family’s space and on their turf, she searches for ways to use her presence to meet them where they are at and to support them in their strengths.
In the hospital, her work with little ones (ages 0 to 3) during developmental play groups gives her the chance to tap into the power of neuroplasticity and attachment, as she strives to repair relationships and support early interventions. These groups contain more structure as she encourages play and expressivity to support and encourage developmental growth. The groups include free play with musical instruments, parachutes, art materials, sensory tables, and toys. This is followed by snacks, explorations of gross motor movement, and usually ends with a structured group activity like circle time, singing songs, etc. Within this framework, careful attention is paid to the way children are moved through transitions, and Aditi uses body-based cues to facilitate smooth and healthy transitions.
Aditi acknowledges the many hats she wears as she flows from situation to situation, from house to hospital. Ever mindful and cognizant of her evolving presence and important contribution to the therapeutic relationship, she diligently practices self-care through journaling and engaging in her own expressive outlets. She views her personal exploration necessary to her work as clinician. “I am constantly evolving. Every day brings a new situation. My training in the expressive therapies has been really helpful as I write in my journal . . . this sheds a lot of light on myself both as a clinician and personally.” Aditi also finds grounding and self care through her relationship with her husband.
Diving into the unknown of the work is the most challenging, inspiring, and rewarding element of Aditi’s job. The ability to come in with a plan and let it go has been a difficult process, but one she believes has helped shape her into the clinician she wants to be. She holds the humility that comes from entering a client’s home, supporting their strengths, while sitting with them in their struggles and difficulties. Aditi finds inspiration in witnessing and being a part of incremental growth that happens as both child and parent take those first steps into well-being. “Empowering and supporting families. There is growth in being able to meet people where they are.” In addition to these little gems, Aditi also speaks to the inspiration that comes from working with a talented, dedicated team of professionals.
Aditi’s exquisite, mindfully shaped puzzle pieces continue to fall into place as she brings her lovely energy and passion to those she works with, and to the communities she is a part of. It seems she has found her life’s work . . . “My DMT work resonates with my life philosophy so much. I really love what I am doing.” As she continues to shape her pathway in Boston, she has expressed the desire to return to India, and to share dance therapy and her interest in infant parent mental health with her country. Guided by her curiosity, passion, and her commitment to self-reflection, Aditi’s life continues to unfold, piece by beautiful piece.
Spotlight on Suzanne Rossol Matheson, MA, BC-DMT, NCC
In the fall of 2000, Suzy Rossol Matheson and her father drove from Dallas, Texas to Keene, New Hampshire to embark on a life-changing adventure. The then 27 year old, armed with a BFA in Dance from Southern Methodist University, began studying Dance/Movement Therapy at Antioch New England Graduate School. It was her first time away from home and an experience “. . . that [she] will never regret.”
It seems Suzy maintains an ever present awareness of her priorities, using them to guide her desire to balance her professional and personal life. As her life changes, she generously allows priorities to shift, bringing her more in line with what she needs in the moment. Her love of dance and books about dance ultimately sparked her desire to study DMT. As a dance major and a member of a dance book club, Suzy serendipitously received a book on dance therapy by Joan Chodorow. “I remember being fascinated; I couldn’t put the book down. This was my calling!” She graduated, worked to pay off some school loans – always keeping the end goal, her desire to study DMT, in mind. After perusing the various graduate programs, she chose Antioch and off she went to follow her calling.
After graduation, Suzy imagined her training would lead her down a somewhat typical path, expecting to work full-time in an agency or hospital. Suzy began using her DMT training as a counselor in a substance abuse treatment center in order to earn hours for her BC-DMT. When her daughter entered her life, she shifted her priorities once more. Suzy realized that her imagined path would not allow her to make her daughter the number one priority. Back in Texas and equipped with her BC-DMT, Suzy moved from an agency job into contract work. Today, she owns her own business. Her determination to put her daughter at the forefront of her life guides her as she chooses to work part-time and only during hours that do not conflict with her child’s schedule.
The flexibility of contract work enables Suzy to meet her professional and personal needs. It also gives her the opportunity to interact with a variety of people. She works three days a week at a behavioral health hospital, and supplements the rest of her time leading monthly programs at nursing homes, assisted living centers, the Autism Treatment Center of Dallas, and the MS Society. Her lovely integration between her personal and professional lives has produced a career that is “rewarding, fun, flexible, [and] growing.” Most importantly, her life revolves around her daughter’s schedule and that leads to whole-body satisfaction.
Suzy approaches her groups with conscientious thought and attention to the needs of her patients. She provides a beautiful description of her work with adults in the behavioral health unit in a hospital:
We sit in a large circle and warm-up to Santana’s “Smooth.” My goal is to contain the energy and help the patients focus. I ask them to lead a “smooth” movement individually around the circle. Bob Marley plays next and I see most clients reaching with their arms. I go through the different levels of verbalizing what I see, and then have each client put a meaning to what they are reaching for… God’s hands, children, meds to work, a woman, relieve stress, loss of control, a girlfriend, nutrition, and wellness. While they are moving/swaying, clients talk about common themes: control/loss of control. Next, clients pair up in dyads and take turns being the leader and follower. We have a discussion at the end and relate this exercise to everyday life. We close our session with the same “reaching up” gesture, reminding ourselves of our goals we shared today. I then end the group the same way I end every group: “With these hands, and this sober mind, and this heart, I can do anything!”
While she appreciates the freedom contract work gives her, Suzy acknowledges a seed of worry regarding the longevity of this type of career. Other struggles in her quest to contribute goodness to the world come from her inability to attain mental health licensure in both New Hampshire and Texas. In spite of these setbacks, Suzy still finds much to be thankful for in her life. As she shares the gift of dance with her patients, they express gratitude for her presence. Their smiles, their tears, and their moments of self-expression are rewarding. Her inspiration comes from the cocoon of loving support that surrounds her. “My family, friends, DMT colleagues, clients I meet along the way, they are my inspiration.”
As Suzy shapes her career around her daughter, her devotion to dance and dance therapy remain vibrantly clear. She served as the President of the Texas Chapter of the ADTA from 2006 to 2011, receiving an Exceptional Service Award from the ADTA for the inspiring, revitalizing, and dedicated role she has embodied. “. . . Suzy breathed new life into the chapter. She is an inspiration to DMTs in Texas and continues to play a vital role in shaping DMTs. . .” Suzy has also served as the Adaptive Dance Chair for the Dance Council of North Texas for two years. She is active is managing grants and planning Adaptive Dance workshops. Suzy continues to be a zealous advocate of the field of DMT.
It is with a spirit of fun and enthusiasm combined with a dedication to “make the world a better place” that Suzy continues to engage fully in her work as a dance therapist and as a mother. Guided by her love of dance, a serendipitous book, and a desire make her passions her priorities, Suzy Rossol Matheson is a woman with a vision.
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.
Spotlight on Ellen Searle LeBel, LMFT, BC-DMT
In a span of nearly two decades, Ellen Searle LeBel has built a private practice in Arcata, California by integrating dance/movement therapy, Authentic Movement, Jungian theory, depth psychotherapy and Sandplay. A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Board Certified Dance/Movement Therapist (BC-DMT), and Sandplay Practitioner, she uses an awareness of movement as a bridge between traditional verbal counseling and the montage of therapeutic arts mentioned above. A kind and gentle spirit, Ellen enters into each session with an openness “to the moving mystery,” using her knowledge and experience to help clients “understand conscious and unconscious obstacles” that affect their ability to grow and change.
Ellen began her undergraduate studies as a fine arts major at Wells College. She danced through school, kept dancing after earning her BA, and danced right into the field of dance/movement therapy. In 1978, she attended graduate school at Cal State University Hayward. The university did not house an approved ADTA supported DMT program, thus Ellen completed the requirements for the degree as an alternate-route student. By the time she graduated in1982, she had completed a dual degree in dance/movement therapy and clinical counseling. During her graduate work, she was fortunate to learn from influential dance therapists including Cynthia Berrol and Neala Haze.
Her journey in the healing arts, from beginning to present, is rich with personal and professional experiences. As a student, she engaged in and explored dance therapy with developmentally delayed adults. Ellen’s first years as a dance therapist found her working with elderly clients and adults surviving head injuries. In order to get her LMFT license, Ellen set aside her dance therapy work and shifted her focus to verbal therapy. While her professional life was taking a temporary dancing hiatus, she cared for herself by studying Authentic Movement. “This was wonderful for me, it kept me moving.” She immersed herself in long-term study with Neala Haze and took wisdom-filled workshops with Janet Adler, Tina Stromsted, and Joan Chodorow. Her early experience in Authentic Movement inspired the eventual integration of DMT, Sandplay, Jungian analysis, and verbal therapy in her current work with adults, couples, and teens. Joan Chodorow, also Ellen’s private clinical consultant, taught her much about linking these healing arts. This integrative evolution began in the early 1990’s, as Ellen set about interlacing the various modalities of her therapeutic work.
She began by weaving together verbal therapy, DMT, and Authentic Movement. Sandplay therapy soon followed. Sandplay involves the use of a box of dry or damp sand and a variety of miniature figurines. Clients may choose any figure(s) to incorporate into their session as they manipulate the sand and “create a sand world, an imaginative play that illuminates their inner world through the symbols in the sand.” The inclusion of this therapeutic art form came naturally, as the similarities between sand work and Authentic Movement are many. Authentic Movement is a practice involving moving and witnessing which encourages both mover and witness to bring the unconscious into conscious awareness, and rests upon the idea that a safe container and intentional therapeutic relationship is paramount. Both practices contain ritualistic elements, are self-directed processes that welcome exploration into the unconscious realm, and invite an internal somatic response. Both also require a safe holding space which fosters healing by allowing clients’ imaginations to activate. “It is really what I’m passionate about – the combination of movement awareness with sand, the body, and symbols.”
Ellen approaches her current therapeutic work with elements of these frameworks in mind. She strives to create safety by devoting attention to developing a trusting therapeutic relationship. With some clients, her somatic work is subtle and involves gently bringing body awareness into the present moment. Verbal therapy sessions are sprinkled with thoughtful somatic encouragement, and clients are often introduced to breathing and grounding exercises. Others engage in more typical Authentic Movement or DMT practices. These sessions start with a warm-up to music before transitioning into body-centered or Authentic Movement explorations. The music warm-up enables Ellen to assess a person’s emotional and physical state while building trust. Sandplay sessions can be experienced as a sort of Authentic Movement practice; Ellen contains the space and silently witnesses as clients move, push, sculpt and create with the sand. Authentic Movement and Sandplay can be combined in single session either beginning with movement and followed by Sandplay or vice versa. Traditional DMT techniques are seamlessly introduced into sand work. Each figurine holds a shape, a certain posture, or gesture. Ellen may invite a client to embody the figure’s shape, explore it imaginatively, and to notice their emotional or physical response to this exploration. With each client, Ellen uses her many lenses to witness and guide the process.
Ellen finds challenge in fostering somatic awareness with those who come specifically for verbal therapy. She strives to create a relationship that enables clients to move through their inhibitions, so they are able to experience the full benefit of healing through body, mind, and spirit. Ellen is inspired by those “moments when clients let their bodies speak for them.” As the push for short-term therapy continues, she is grateful for opportunities to develop and sustain a long-term relationship with those who need it. “To develop and maintain the long-term relationship is an extraordinary gift. Sometimes a commitment to a long-term process can really create transcendent change.” Her ability to trust the process, and non-judgmentally trust herself in the process, provides her spaciousness to follow the psyche without knowing where it is going to go.
In addition to her work as a therapist, she also finds time to facilitate consultation groups, offers continuing education for therapists, and has recently become a member of the American Journal of Dance Therapy’s editorial board. Her journey is ever-evolving as she learns from her clients and students and honors their presence in the perpetual cycle of exchanging wisdom. Ellen’s passion for her work compliments her scope of knowledge and propels her into new territory. Her current endeavor involves further explorations of Sandplay and DMT, training Sandplay therapists to witness movement, and introducing DMT’s to Sandplay therapy. Ellen Searle LeBel is truly a master of integration and forward motion.
Spotlight on Lisa Goldman, MA, BC-DMT, LCPC, GLCMA
Her inclination for body-based modalities piqued her interest in the fields of physical therapy, obstetrics, and dance. In high school, her mother gave her an article on dance therapy, a gift she would tuck away in the back of her mind and return to when she was ready. Lisa entered college, earned her BFA in dance, then, disillusioned by the politics of the dance world, veered into acting and comedy improv. She enjoyed this endeavor but knew this work would not fulfill her soul. In contemplating her future, her mother’s gift resurfaced. Lisa attended Columbia College Chicago and received her M.A. in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling (DMT&C). In addition to her DMT&C degree, she was among the first students to complete the Graduate Laban Certification and Movement Analysis (GLCMA) program.
Her therapeutic work has flowed into a variety of human lives, including those in in-patient psychiatric facilities, children and adolescents in the DCFS system, teen moms, and those surviving brain injuries. Lisa’s work with teenage mothers proved to be the most difficult and learning intensive of her career. Her exposure to the severe abuse and neglect caused vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. She encountered racism, staff burnout, obstacles and road blocks. Lisa also struggled with an inability to see the benefits of her work. Yet, it was during this time in her life that she grew as a therapist. “I learned a variety of counseling skills and how to handle intense crisis situations. This work is where so much of my self-trust as a counselor came from.”
Lisa’s current work with clients surviving brain injury is challenging and rewarding in its own way. As manager of a brain injury rehabilitation program, a therapist to clients, and a supervisor to students, Lisa wears many hats. Her passion for working with survivors of brain injury stems from the ability to see tangible benefits of DMT. Fostering healing in brain injury survivors is “all about re-integrating mind and body.” Approaching her clients using DMT techniques and interventions often espouses visible results. “It is so cool because you can so clearly can see the impact of DMT unfold in front of your eyes, in the moment.” The connection between the physical and psychological aspects of each person is palpable.
Her approach to her current work centers around helping clients relax into a place where healing can happen. This usually begins with a body-centered warm-up to shift them from their thinking self into their bodies. Next, clients might be encouraged to explore various ways to mobilize and stabilize. “I like to have folks explore movement that helps them connect to self first. Then I guide them in a way that invites them to connect with others on a body level.” The groups closes by centering and grounding, reconnecting to their bodily experience.
Performance holds much value, inspiration, and power for Lisa. Her high regard for this form of creative expression weaves into many of her therapeutic endeavors. She created a performing group for the teen moms in which they choreographed dances and performed them in the community. “I feel like it provided so much for these girls. It was a great way for them to channel, regulate, and creatively be in their healthy parts. And to be seen and witnessed in these parts.” Her current clients also benefit from the healing power of performance. Each December they learn and choreograph a dance that is performed in front of friends and family. Recently, clients and staff of the program choreographed a dance that was performed in the annual student/faculty concert at Columbia College Chicago.
Her love of performance and her visceral belief that it is essential to health, led her, along with colleagues, to create a structured approach to performance as therapy. This clear structure establishes safety and containment for “fluid, abstract, unconscious material to surface.” This allows clients to tap into their creativity and promotes self-healing. Lisa also believes in the power of performance as a form of self care. The process of creating, rehearsing, and performing “keeps us in our healthier parts as therapists, provides release and recuperation, and creates neurological shifts.” Her genuine love of dance and performance finds expression in Sling, a dance company she co-founded with fellow dance therapists.
Teaching and mentoring are important threads in her life. She began teaching in Columbia College’s DMT&C program a few years after her own graduation. Later, she began teaching the GLCMA program. Her work as an educator “deepens my work as a therapist, movement educator, choreographer, and performance as therapy creator.” Lisa is inspired by her students in the classroom and as an on-site supervisor. “It’s truly a privilege and honor, getting to be in [a process] with a person/student.” As a movement coach, she loves helping people deepen their movement repertoire and “coaching them through the creative process.”
Her richly woven, multidimensional tapestry continues to grow in its intricacy and complexity. The threads of her passions (teaching, mentoring, performance, therapeutic work, and dancing) connect and reconnect, cross and criss cross, as Lisa Goldman keeps breathing.
Spotlight on Wendy Allen, MA, LPC, BC-DMT
In a career she describes as “evolving, supported, creative, satisfying, [and] humbling,” Wendy Allen, has moved through her journey inspired by her love of dancing, creativity, and human connections. Upon graduating from Connecticut College with degrees in Dance Performance/Choreography and Philosophy, Wendy set off to New York City to pursue her dream of professional dancing. Unfulfilled by the realities of that lifestyle, Wendy found herself in a bookstore searching for magical life-directing answers. Her magic was hidden in a most unexpected place. Tucked inside “Cosmopolitan: Life After College,” was an article on Naropa University and Dance Therapy. A pivotal moment, knowing instantly she had “found [her] thing,” Wendy moved to Boulder, Colorado, studied at Naropa, and flourished in an academic setting that integrated Buddhist principles of presence and mindfulness with the teachings of Dance/Movement Therapy.
While at Naropa, Wendy applied her knowledge in internships at both state and private mental health facilities which in turn provided her invaluable experience with many diverse populations. After working as a Dance/Movement Therapist for a few years in a private mental health facility, Wendy shifted directions and co-directed Project Self-Discovery, a program for at-risk youth that was connected with the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. Wendy poignantly describes the challenges in her work as a therapist. “I have felt overwhelmed by the amount of suffering and saddened by the shortcomings of “the system” and its inability to adequately meet those who need assistance.” She acknowledges her struggle to leave work at work and the heaviness that comes from trying to meet the insurmountable need without over-extending herself. Wendy also speaks candidly of the rewards that move her through moments of difficulty. Propelled by her belief in the inherent goodness and beauty of humanity and awed by the creativity people employ to foster their own healing, Wendy finds lovely ways to reframe the suffering of the spirit. “I am inspired . . . by how a client will naturally adapt to a situation by developing some way of coping with whatever is going on . . . This creative capacity for adaptation is what enables many of my clients to survive and it becomes the very thing that enables them to find other options.”
True to her self-labeled evolution, her work with clients also evolved. Earlier in her career, Wendy balanced movement experiences and verbal processing within her sessions. Recently, she has explored simply trusting in the power and intrinsic healing properties of movement. She believes in the wisdom of the body while realizing the vulnerability and immediacy of somatic experience that can overwhelm clients who are unaware of this potential. Thus, she draws from a variety of expressive and somatic approaches (Body psychotherapy, Drama, Art, and Poetry therapy, and dance education) as less invasive in-roads if needed. Her sessions typically follow a loose Chacian format beginning with a warm-up involving check-ins, games, and movement. This ritual increases awareness, encourages presence, and provides preparation for “the work ahead.” The warm-up is also used to find a theme for the session which is explored and developed through various improvisational structures. Theme development can be done as a group, in dyads, or individually. After diving into the theme, Wendy brings her clients back together to reflect on their experiences, to set intentions, and to find ways to bring their work within the session into their daily lives. Her ability to integrate her interests guides her process. “I find that the skills I use as a therapist are the same skills I use as an artist…to develop themes in an organic and authentic way I rely on spontaneity, creativity, awareness, play, etc.”
Her career pathway shifted from therapist to teacher after she welcomed her children into the world. Wendy began teaching psychology at Naropa and, determined to keep dance a part of her life, taught children’s dance classes in Denver. She later became the chair of the Somatic Psychology department at Naropa. Currently, Wendy is teaching part-time at Naropa while pursuing her Ph.D. in Expressive Therapies at Lesley University. Wendy calls her current work inspiring and finds ceaseless interest in the creative processes she uses as teacher, dancer, choreographer, and therapist. Her students are sparkling wellsprings as their curiosity encourages her own thoughtful inquiries.
From NYC to Boulder via Cosmo, Wendy Allen continues to map her course by flowing with her passions for dance, creativity, and the inherent goodness of humanity.