Wellness, Addiction & Movement

The following is our interview with Anginese Phillips, MS, LCAT, BC-DMT, Co-Director, Full Force Wellness & Dance Repertory. Full Force adds a clinical approach to rejuvenation and dynamic self-care through holistic modalities in order to enhance the personal and professional purpose of others. We spoke with her about the role of movement as a tool for recovery.

When did you first become convinced that movements could help in the area of addiction?
Although I’ve never had issues with substance abuse, I have family members close to me that have. Consequently, I have had to deal and am still dealing with the co-dependence piece of it. The way I’ve been able to process it all has been through movement. Using movement, I have been able to explore my own feelings, to cope, and to really understand myself as an individual, which has been profound. Anytime I would be stressed out, or dealing with the loss of a loved one, I would take the time just to move. And moving provided a release of tension and frustration that verbal exploration simply does not allow.

Later, I noticed while serving as an intern at the psychiatric ward at Woodhall Hospital Center in Brooklyn, that most of the patients had some type of dual diagnosis. It may have been that their mental illness caused them to want to use instead of discovering prescription medication or perhaps their meds had horrible side effects for them, and so doing cocaine or marijuana was better in their mind…whatever the source, I noticed that using movement allowed them to explore the reasons for the need to use street drugs and to understand their own mental health.

What does movement address specifically in regards to wellness and addiction?
Everyone has their own style of moving, which in dance therapy, is called “movement repertoire.” It can be something as simple as when we are talking to someone and interacting with them on a nonverbal level. There are certain things that you can see in someone as they are moving. Whether it is movement behavior or some non-verbal expression, for instance, if someone is being asked how they feel they might say “I’m fine” but nonverbally the body language can show you something completely different. Understanding that, as well as understanding the effects of addiction and how substance abuse affects the body and plays a role in the body and its effect on interpersonal connections with others is key.

Can you share a case study of the use of movement and dance as a healing tool?
Yes, there are so many. One patient who had an addiction to cocaine, became very “alive” when she was using and was extremely social. Her body language was quite direct with others, but it was connected to her drug use. She enjoyed being bigger than her usual self which was extremely shy. Her body language was very different when she was not using cocaine; she would have concave shoulders and not give others eye contact, etc.

Something that we were really able to explore in dance movement therapy in a group setting was her self confidence and her inability to be heard on her own terms. One of the things that emerged from working with movement was addressing the fact that she had been sexually abused. Those circumstances played a role in her use of cocaine, working like a blanket covering her trauma. Ultimately she realized some of what was holding her back. She explored changing some of her physical habits when not using drugs. Something as simple as just giving people more eye contact or picking her head up, lifting her shoulders and opening up her upper body allowed her to connect and feel her feelings enough to start connecting more with others.

What is your vision for the future of integrating this method of helping people who are dealing with addiction?
My mission is to support others not only in understanding the value in knowing more about how movement and mindfulness help with coping skills, but also to help communities struggling with addiction to process their experience through movement. Using verbal tools to break down what happened to someone and guide them through acknowledging and becoming aware of what is going on is important. But non-verbal techniques are also important in guiding someone into the next step of their developmental phase.

How do you typically structure this kind of work?
I usually focus on groups, to me, that is where the real work in processing comes out. When someone comes into the group, we do an introduction which includes my sharing what they should expect in the session. I mention that this is not only a verbal group, but it is a movement group. I explain that while I’m called a dance movement therapist, it is not your traditional form of dance. It’s not going to be modern dance or hip hop or anything. This is about your own movement repertoire, and it will be us together exploring it and discovering what comes out of it. It is tapping into your unconscious via group movement so that we can THEN verbally process what’s going on and perhaps tap into a way of finding balance and then embracing your sobriety.

So there is a talk therapy aspect of this?
Yes. I play music and the group gets into their bodies and explores what is happening so that after the music and movement, we can sit down and talk about it. How did you connect with someone else? What happened to your own body? What experiences did you have internally that maybe you wouldn’t necessarily have on just a verbal level? Thank you so much for spending time explaining your work for us.
Thank you! To learn more about Anginese Phillip’s dance/movement therapy practice, check out; Full Force Wellness & Dance Repertory or go to her website www.fullforcerepertory.com

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