Effectiveness of Dance Movement Therapy techniques when working with PTSD – IV Anger release in movement

Guernica - Pablo Picasso
Guernica – Pablo Picasso



Alice’s case:

I used to bite my arms a lot when I was a child. Not when I was growing up,
because I didn’t want to be angry – I recognised I had a lot of anger inside me that I
needed to deal with. I started dealing with it when I was having individual DMT
with J and I learned that I didn’t have to keep it all inside. It does more damage to
me so I’ve got an anger cushion. I really trash heel out of.

Leo’s case:

He experienced feelings of aggression. He would gladly kill his rapist in 50,000
different ways. We worked out a container exercise to keep his aggression under
control. (…) Although he found touching scary and threatening, being able to push
me away gave him a good feeling. In two consecutive sessions he directed his
aggression at his rapist. He hit and kicked him, cursed and shouted. Although it
caused him trouble it relieved him (Frank 1997 – 3).

Traumatized individuals are often fixated on trauma-related emotions of grief, fear, terror, or anger (Odgeon 2006 – 12) In Dance Movement Therapy the anger and aggression are addressed, as Devereaux explains in the case of domestic violence for instance, the fear, anger, and unregulated physiological arousal resulting from frustration of attachment goals and the intergenerational transmission of relational patterns needs to be taken into account in any view of violence and abuse. (Devereaux 2008-60).

This can be released through rhythmic, stamping exercises or even with the direct use of props such as the examples above. This is related to the theory of catharsis, one popular and authoritative statement that supports that venting one’s anger will produce positive improvement in one’s psychological state. (Bushman 2002 – 2)

Nevertheless this has its difficulties. The body has been violated and the ensuing emotions are often buried deep in the body itself. By tracing these emotions and letting them explode, room is put into motion by activating the body, and blocks can be felt. Intensifying the movements that go with such fields of tension make it possible to break through these blocks.
(Frank 1997 – 60)

The women of the interview based research of Mills & Daniluk (2002 – 83) also talked about the importance of being able to express and expend through spontaneous movement the energy generated by this therapeutic work. A type of physical catharsis that allows a physical release that participants perceived as an important part of their “healing” and a critical aspect of reconnecting to their bodies.

Clients with dysregulated arousal, a typical symptom in PTSD, that manifest it as explosive aggression may benefit from working with slow, integrated, mindful movements of the arms and hands that simulate aggression (Odgeon 2006 -227).
It is well known that traumatic experiences can lead to a huge repressed anger and rage. A exhaustive quantitative research about anger and aggression among Iraq and Afghanistan. War veterans who exhibit symptoms of PTSD suggested that relevant anger treatments should be incorporated into early intervention strategies.

In the final phase of “Stress inoculation treatment” for PTSD (Wampold et al 2010 – 931) some connected techniques are addressed such as imagery and behavioural rehearsal, modeling, role playing, and graded in vivo exposure, in order to prevent relapse into the traumatic experiences.

However, the study of Bushman that asked the question whether “Venting anger feed or extinguished the flame” concluded that rumination (catharsis) increased rather than decreased anger and aggression. Doing nothing at all was more effective than venting anger. These results directly contradict catharsis theory.

This is a chapter of a critical literature review: «Effectiveness of Dance Movement Therapy techniques when working with PTSD»

It was an exercise for my second year in the Master in Dance Movement Therapy in Codarts, Rotterdam. Therefore it may have faults in the quotation and not be rigourous or valid for research.