An Interview with a DMP (1)
Based in the South West of England, Sarah Haddow talks about her Dance Movement Psychotherapy career, including working with postnatal depression.
Could you summarise your Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) specialism?
When I started my training in 2009 I was very lucky to meet Lucy Livingstone, an incredible and inspiring DMP and Psychologist who had been working with mothers with postnatal depression. In my second year I secured a placement with her in the in-patient hospital for mothers in Bristol.
It was an experience I feel so grateful for as today, ten years on, I have worked with over 1000 mums in the South West of England. I feel proud to specialise my working with women, identifying their concerns and supporting their mental health. My role has always been about working with them to find their identity after having a child and working with them to support their relationship with their young baby.
I have been fortunate to be part of raising the profile on postnatal depression in the UK and watching first-hand the changes that have been made, thanks to there being more attention for PND and the use of creative therapies.
I have also worked with young children in schools, and before lockdown I was beginning a new project. An incredible head teacher in Somerset has secured funding for young children who have been expelled from primary school. There are very few places for young children aged 5 and 6 to go once they have been expelled. She has set up a unit in her school for these children. The children can come from any school in Bath and North East Somerset. Her approach is a very human and creative one - she wanted to use dance therapy for these young people. For the eight weeks that I was there, I could see once again how creative therapies play a key part in working through deep issues around trauma. I work with the body, breath, imagination, attunement and embodiment. In practice, for me the key is making sure the client feels safe and held in order to open and explore what is going on internally for them.
What attracted you to DMP over other counselling and psychotherapies?
As a young dancer in training I felt disconnected to what my body was doing and saying, experiencing a lot of shame and disappointment in what my body looked like and felt like - lots of comparing! I was not happy or comfortable being in my body at all. I didn't feel good enough and I pushed and pushed for perfection in what was an unhealthy way. In 2005 my body gave me a very clear warning, I was about to perform in front of a live audience and having had severe abdominal pain for a week, I chose to ignore it. I know looking back now I didn’t have the skills or knowledge to listen to my body at all. On stage my appendix ruptured. I then contracted septicaemia and I was in intensive care for five days with 20% chance of survival. Doctors said to me ‘You won't dance again professionally, and you need to think of something else to do with your life’. I think my body had other ideas! Without me knowing it! TRAUMA was alive and kicking inside and over the following years I was determined to find a way to heal and process this trauma and continue to dance. I went back to my training a year later, a different dancer with a willingness to listen to my body and help others do the same. I was open to listening to my body. I wanted to learn how to do this and I took lots of somatic practising lessons, workshops, anything that I could find! That started my journey of my path to train as a Dance Movement Psychotherapist and a path to healing my own trauma through dance. Since qualifying this feeling is still the same. Many people exist without awareness of self, or knowledge of their behaviours and trauma, causing a pandemic of anxiety and distance between us as humans (no reference to the current situation!). We as humans need to connect for survival and in some ways for love and happiness. I encourage all my clients to connect with their inner feelings and begin a journey of getting to know their body and in return feel that balance and connection between mind and body. I am in my practice now very keen to include the importance of nature and how it can positively support our mental health.
Who can benefit from DMP and why?
Honestly it’s an easy answer but anyone and everyone! I have spoken about working with women and children, however in the past year I have been working with men ages 21-45. Men that would describe themselves as ‘too tough’ to talk about their feelings, yet they have come to visit me at my home practice, moving, breathing, talking, crying and sharing their deepest thoughts and concerns. Recently a client said to me:
‘You have saved my life, I think you are amazing at your job and I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t come to see you. No one believes me when I tell them that I’ve seen someone for my mental health, honestly everyone should be doing this’
Can you speak about some evidence based practice?
We are often told that evidence in our field is limited because we are drawn to collect qualitative evidence and I often have been overlooked because I don’t produce quantitative data to show that this work helps. I have probably been less active in this field, mainly because as someone with dyslexia I struggle to put myself forward. However, I have been a part of a reflective research group for 8 years. We were successful in publishing a paper for a research journal and presented at The International Marce Society for Perinatal Mental Health, UK, 2015 (Moving on Up! Therapeutic movement for postnatal anxiety and depression). This was an incredible experience. We had academic consultants from all over Europe saying to us, we all need this! We all need to play, be creative and use the creative therapies to support mental health.
In 2018 I wrote a chapter for a book around the facilitation of community groups for families, Weaving the Cradle (2017) Facilitating Groups to promote attunement and bonding between parents, their babies and toddlers - chapter 9, Moving Bodies. I am very proud of this contribution, representing my field and raising the profile of DMP.
I am using nature in my practice more and I am excited that there is more evidence showing us how being outside, being playful, creative and attuned to simple ways of being and living is being given the attention for increasing the mental health of many.