Effectiveness of Dance Movement Therapy techniques when working with PTSD – II Body Awareness

Girl in front of mirror - Pablo Picasso
Girl in front of mirror – Pablo Picasso


To avoid direct contact at first, I started by placing several objects on various parts of his
body, to see if he was aware of all parts of his body and whether this contact wouldn’t be
too threatening.
I had also noticed that he laid his hands on his bottom and that he made forceful kicking
movements. About this he said that he felt anger coming up and this was the first time he
could clearly connect a feeling with a movement. On second thought he considered that he
did it to protect himself; he had become aware of his movement. (Frank 1997 – 51)

DMT interventions like this one, from Zvika Frank, which bring awareness to sensations, thoughts, and images and give inner experience narrative coherence through creative expression can be seen as forms of exposure therapy that support trauma processing.
Body or somatic awareness, (Devereaux 2008), (Frank 1997),( MacDonald 2006), (Memel 2012), (Pierce 2013), (Koch, 2011), also called pro-prioceptive sensing or inner-body focusing process (Price 2005 – 5), interoceptive awareness and sensory awareness (Van der Kolk 2006-5) is a crucial factor in the treatment of trauma. There is even a Trauma
Center Body Awareness Scale (Van der Kolk 2006)

A broken body

For traumatized individuals, body awareness can be quite problematic in the beginning “I thought of my body as this unfortunate accessory”, or “I always felt sort of fractured, fragmented, like parts of my body are on different planes and they’re not connected to me personally” (Mills&Daniluk 2002 – 79).
Somatic awareness may be disconcerting or even frightening, sometimes triggering feelings of being out of control, terrified, rageful, panicky or weak and helpless. (Odgeon 2006- 199).
That has forced clinicians to explore techniques that offer the possibility of reprogramming these automatic physical responses, involving addressing awareness of internal sensations and physical action patterns, explaine Van der Kolk in the Clinical Implications of Neuroscience Research in PTSD (2006 – 282).

As the eminent researcher in DMT, Sabine Koch stated (2009 – 290) the treatment of trauma survivors must focus on body awareness and affect regulation.

Effects of somatic awareness

Increasing body awareness in victims of trauma makes it possible to gauge, slow down, halt traumatic hyperarousal, and separate past from present (Rothschild 2000 – 101). The reconnection to their bodies (Mills & Daniluk 2002 – 79) can then lead to acceptance, strengthening the core/self-image, physical control and balance that can directly empower one to make more conscious and healthy choices (Memel 2012 – 3) Body psychotherapy approaches for trauma recovery include teaching patients and facilitating their ability to incrementally access and sustain inner body awareness, which increases the capacity for body connection and thus facilitates dissociation reduction and reassociation or integration with the self (Price 2005 – 2).

Specific concepts from dance/movement therapy, such as attention to interoception and creative expression, may support clients in their effort to digest the physical and emotional toll of their traumatic histories (Pierce 2013 – 14).

In the recognised book Trauma and the body this technique is also mentioned: Clients are taught to distinguish between physical sensations or actions and trauma-based emotions or cognition through cultivating deeper, more focused awareness of sensations and movement (Odgeon 2006- 199).

For instance, Zvika Frank (1997) began to work on his patient’s need to feel safe on a nonverbal level with the help of Pesso’s proximity distance exercise (…) The purpose of this exercise is to learn to indicate boundaries and to listen to signals from the body.

The core of this technique is also mentioned in Trauma and the body: ”She explored the sensation and movement of making a stop gesture with her arms and hands, putting aside her thoughts and emotions to notice only how this movement felt physically.”


This is part of a Critical Literature Review: Effectiveness of Dance Movement Therapy techniques when working with PTSD, that I wrote as  an exercise for the second year of the Master in Dance Movement Therapy in Codarts, Rotterdam. 

It was part of the module of Research Methodologies, therefore it may have faults in the quotation and not be valid or rigorous enough.