Psychologist, DMT Practitioner
Executive Team Member, CMTAI
To move is to feel,
in moving we reveal,
how we think, how we express.
All it takes, is a little awareness.
With awareness being the key to a path of enlightenment, acknowledgement, acceptance and change, it has always been essential to know more to grow more. The experiences I have had, conducting Dance/Movement Therapy based sessions for the primary department of a South Delhi school, have led me to understand the absolute necessity of this work in the early years.
With children sitting down to learn, for most of their day in the school, there is a slight lack of freedom and a larger sense of a restrictive environment for learning. While this method is absolutely necessary to inculcate discipline and structure, it is also important to have some time designated for slightly free movement. It can work wonders in helping children express themselves and also provide an opportunity for a different method of learning. With the growing need for mental health evaluation and maintenance, such creative methods may also go a longer run in easily identifying issues and dealing with them.
Aligned with this thought, the idea behind such sessions was introduced to the school, soon after which implementation began. The children I closely facilitate are students of classes III, IV and V. This is the age where most of the children’s schemas about the world are being developed and they are constantly learning and unlearning ideas, behaviours, thought patterns etc. Thus, it makes them the appropriate population to begin this intervention with.
The children at the school have weekly sessions of Dance/Movement Therapy in smaller groups and each group of children continue for a period of six months. The baseline of the work involves inculcating psychological know-how among the children through the medium of movement. Some of the concepts that are included in this are: self-awareness, mental well-being, body control, impulse control, emotional awareness and expression, problem solving and conflict resolution, anger management, sensitivity, respect etc. Two to three sessions are designed for each of these and movement activities are done for them, with closure through verbal reflection or art-based responses.
It has been amazing to see the children verbally come up with words close to or reflecting these psychological terms, on their own, by just experiencing some activities and participating in movement games. Every time the children enter the room, a sense of free-ness is felt with the way they run around and make the space their own. They understand these sessions as a time of lots of fun along with some learning. Each session ends on a learning note where a discussion is taken up based on the take-backs from each activity. There are rituals of saying ‘hi’ and ‘bye,’ and even if the bell used to ring sometimes, some children would not go before they did the ‘bye ritual.’ This is indicative of how much they enjoy these sessions and how motivated they are to participate fully without any external push.
When children of this age group realise what their experiences mean, they are able to understand and see it in a different light. Some sessions on emotional awareness and expression are also seen to take the children back to their personal experiences at different environments they have been part of. Some of them have shared real life examples in which they had felt certain emotions and have also been able to relate to situations where other people could feel that emotion, how they themselves could feel it in the future and even its relevance in a hypothetical situations. In anger management sessions as well, for example, it was surprising to see how children already had a few coping methods they knew about but had problems implementing it. This is where movement games took their role and created a model set of actions or process that could be used to achieve the same. It has also been interesting to see how certain classes that were seen to be incongruent internally in the beginning, blend well after a few sessions and became a coherent group that comes to experience something new together. A movement-based medium tends to balance the energies of different children in a class in an indirect and inherent manner, which helps in group bonding and interpersonal understanding as well.
Before the introduction of this method, the school was taking up the same goals through activities inside the classroom in the traditional teaching setup. Once the kids were taken out of their class, and introduced with the idea of learning through movement or rather ‘games’, their interest towards the same topics seemed to gather more attention than before. They are always found to be excited about the topic of the week/month and enjoy guessing the topic after the activities. The idea of guessing, in my opinion, gives them a chance to revisit the activities they have done in the session and thus help them integrate the session and its learning for effective closure.
Using other modes of expressive therapies like music, art and drama alongside movement (as an intermodality), also works in the favour of achieving the desired goals. An unconscious or conscious form of expression through any of these forms makes the learning more holistic for the child. Role-plays from drama, action-based songs from music and art based aesthetic responses are common uses of these modalities in the sessions at the school. The support of the other therapeutic modalities offers a variety of modes of expression and energy utilisation, which is essential for children of this age.
In conclusion, it seems that the benefits and the ways to approach inculcation of positive mental health among children are many, but there aren’t enough takers yet. By taking small steps through various dynamic interventions and maintaining continuous dialogue about such work and its boons, we may get closer to achieving better mental health states by impacting the minds at early stages.