A Client’s Perspective – Painting with my body


Playfulness. What a lovely word. It evokes concepts like freedom, joy, fun, exploration, and discovery. ‘Play’ sounds like a break from reality, a release of judgment. It implies creativity, which can be therapeutic and healing, offering a fresh perspective, a new way of thinking. ‘Playing’ is present moment living.
Children need play in order to help their rapidly growing brains to develop. Play helps the brain to continually learn as it grows and changes throughout life. As we move from childhood to adulthood, play is usually replaced by adult responsibilities. However, these are all things that are vital and important throughout life, not just in childhood. What happens to that playful energy? According to the laws of physics, energy cannot be created or destroyed? What does it transform into? What would happen if every once in a while adults could put their egos aside and play as if nothing were holding them back?

Creative arts therapies, such as Arts for the Blues use creativity and playfulness to facilitate change. The creative process is a complex concept involving a number of stages and components, unconscious and conscious material—all encompassed within the arts. One of the Arts Therapies, Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) has it’s roots in the modern dance movement. Dance expresses one’s inner world as thoughts and feelings take physical form; reciprocally, movement triggers thoughts, feelings, and memory. These founding principles—creative potential and healing power of dance, emotive quality of expressive movement, access to unconscious and preverbal material, reciprocity of body–mind connection, and embodiment/enactment—form part of the DMP creative process. Philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science are increasingly moving towards more embodied theoretical frameworks, which help participants gain a stronger sense of agency and connection with their body. By fostering the acquisition of new bodily skill and bodily awareness, DMP can cause changes to the participant’s narrative self-understanding.

A client sent me this reflection, after a particularly playful DMP session. As we worked together, we had been exploring movement using the different ‘efforts’ described in Laban Movement Analysis (a foundational part of my training) and particularly the concept of ‘weight’ (strong/light) and ‘pathways’ (direct/indirect), also air and floor patterns.

I am dancing. I imagine that each part of my body is a brush. Each time I move, I leave a brush
stroke on the canvas of my world. I can choose what sort of a stroke I make and what colour it is.
Some of the strokes are thick and heavy and dark. Some are light and airy and float away into the
distance. By bending my knees and straightening, I can use my hip to make a broad dark line which I
can continue with my shoulder and upper arm. It seems natural then to use my elbows and hands
and fingers to top what I realise is a tree with feathery foliage in the green of beech leaves in Spring.
I make short marks and long marks, straight lines and curves, spirals and fans. My whole body is
contributing. I realise that I’m creating a forest all around me. I paint in bluebells and ferns because
I can have all seasons at once in my imaginary forest. I add elderflower blossom to one of the trees
using my hair and a toss of my head. There are wild strawberries around my feet, their red berries
painted by my toes. I make wild raspberries using the tip of my nose and luscious blackberries with
my fingertips. A blackbird appears – not painted by me – and I realise my forest is beginning a life of
its own. I toss the blackbird a raspberry. He catches it neatly and rewards me with his song. His
song opens the door for other songs, other woodland sounds. I recognise a wren and I hear rustling
nearby that I just know is a hedgehog. The hum of insects appears in the background.
I step lightly through my imaginary forest, discovering wild and wonderful plants and trees,
accompanied by the sounds and occasional glimpses of all the creatures that have decided to
populate it. I am entranced.
I see a log in dappled sunlight and sit for a while, soaking up the beauty of this wondrous place. I
thank my body for dancing this place into being. I thank the universe for making it complete, making
it whole. I know I will be back.

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