Media Highlight: Traditional Chinese Dance in Working with Trauma

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Ilene A. Serlin

APA Symposium (2022, August)

Trauma, Creativity, and Diversity: Our Inherent Resilience

During APA 2022, I had the pleasure of presenting a CE program with an outstanding and diverse group of colleagues from Division 56. The session was well-attended with standing room only. I am a psychologist and also a dance therapist. As a dancer, I began with folk dance, and have traveled around much of the world learning and exchanging dances with local people in community celebrations and rituals. As a dance therapist I worked with autistic children in psychiatric hospitals and women’s breast cancer support groups, and noticed how much trauma is held and expressed in the body. As a psychologist, I have worked with trauma in natural disasters and manmade traumas, and there, also found that trauma could be expressed and relieved through the body.

After several summers working with Syrian women refugees in Jordan, and using belly dance and the debka circle dance, I understood how embodied expression needed to be culturally sensitive. And the arts are particularly useful, as symbolic and nonverbal bridges that cross cultures and work with whole communities.

The video I shared at this APA presentation was of a Chinese woman who went through the cultural revolution. We knew each other through a class I taught and so she asked for a session. Live sessions are rarely caught on camera, but she allowed the translator to use her camera. The film is highly edited into this 5- minute segment, but it tries to capture the stages of culturally-sensitive, trauma-informed, dance therapy. Since the expressive therapies are so powerful, great care and good clinical judgment must be used. In the video, several stages of this therapy are shown: grounding, stabilizing, supporting, containing, attuning, mirroring, creating dialogue, and finding natural uplifting together. To continue reading click here.