Effectiveness of dance movement therapy techniques when working with PTSD – III Metaphoric use of Space

 Bust of a woman an self portrait - Pablo Picasso

Bust of a woman an self portrait – Pablo Picasso


Alice created metaphorical “pockets” in the green cushion and when she was able to connect a physical sensation to her story she would put it into her pocket. “For later” she said. (…)

We identified Alice’s diagonal pathway across the space as a timeline and she related particular traumatic events in her childhood to particular places along this physical and spatial diagonal. She started to choreograph her personal story with very clear symbolic movements along this line. (…) I suggested that she could create another pathway in the space that might symbolise the present and future. MacDonald (2006-96)

Similarly Zvika asked his patient how he would imagine a place where he would feel safe,

Leo now was instructed to build a safe place for himself in the work room, from material of his own choice. He chose mats for walls, cushions as soft elements to sit on and to hold; and, incase somebody should enter unexpectedly, hockey sticks with which to hit the intruder. His safe place was built near a window. (Frank 1997- 50)

And later on,

In your imagination build a place in your body where you can store your feelings, which
you can lock up if necessary, to protect yourself. (Frank 1997- 50)


These are examples of using metaphor techniques extracted from the dance therapy field. Metaphor provides a useful distance from raw emotion, while also offering the opportunity for transformation (Meekums 2011 – 233).
As highlighted by the above case illustration, therapeutic approaches that work directly with the body provide new avenues for assisting victims of domestic violence through a simultaneously physical and metaphorical process (Devereaux 2008 – 69)

Moreover processing metaphors and symbols recruits the right brain at a preconscious and often nonverbal level, stimulating connections between the integrative pathways that have been demonstrated as foundational in organizing the sense of the corporeal and emotional self (Pierce 2013 – 16)

Similarly Johnson explains that the symbolic media of the arts, like dance, may provide more complete access to implicit (as opposed to explicit) memory systems, as well as visual-kinesthetic schemas that are usually processed by the nondominant hemisphere of the brain. It seems possible that traumatic experience and associated distorted schemas may be stored in these nonlexical forms. (Johnson 2000 – 586)

Therefore since overwhelming emotions can be contained via the metaphor, the client can begin to access experiences which have been suppressed in the unconscious. Against received approaches that focus mainly on helping the patient to build a verbal narrative of her problems, body memory approaches maintain that problems that lie within the domain of implicit memory should be treated by working directly with the body. Very interestingly, the way the body expresses its internal conflicts often takes the form of image schemas and conceptual metaphors (Koch 2012 – 5).

Metaphors are also used in cognitive and behavioural therapy, in treatments that include exposure techniques for PTSD, to help patients guide themselves effectively in relation to the anxiety that can accompany the exposure (Otto 2000 –5).
Ellis R. (2001) explains that movement metaphor is an important part in understanding the meaning of actions in therapy. The dance/movement therapist may extrapolate meaning or hypotheses (what she calls therapist meaning) from the  movement metaphor to bring themes not actively known to the client to their attention (what she calls client meaning).

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.