April 7, 2017

Virginia Woods

Virginia Woods, Queensland
2004 Diploma Graduate & IDTIA Interstate Tutor & Training Supervisor
Work with People with Eating Disorders in a Psychiatric Setting

Eighteen months ago I applied for a position as a casual psychologist (psychologist being my other hat to my dance therapy title) with New Farm Clinic. NFC is a private psychiatric hospital in central Brisbane. When I spoke to the allied health manager I suggested running dance movement therapy for their patients, highlighting my interest in working with the patients with eating disorders as I have been working privately in this area for a number of years. He was very keen but subsequently left the organisation!

Since then I have been running therapy groups for them on a regular bases and regularly reminding them of my other skills. Finally this year the new allied health manager became enthusiastic and has employed me on a Wednesday to run 3 movement sessions. These have been very successful, having a good response from both patients and staff. I run 2 groups for the general patient group which consists of people with psychosis, depression, anxiety and related mental illnesses. I also run 1 group for the eating disorders inpatient program.

The challenge with this population and setting is that each week the people in the group change and their mood and energy level can vary within the group markedly. I have had to truly rely on responding to the group as they are and being flexible about the content of the group. I have found working with Marcia’s “Five part session” really helps me to work through the 45 minutes I have with them. The theme for the group usually appears out of the warm-up and release. Some of the themes have been: describing mood states through movement, “who am I”, soothing agitation, experiencing change in mood from heavy to light for example. They loved the group I did on experiencing joy!

The eating disorders group has been exploratory and interesting. One of the features of people with eating disorders is their poor sense of self – sometimes seeming non-existent. They do not generally respond well to creativity and prefer structure. They tend to be low in energy and resistant to engaging in a group setting. The sessions for this group then is entirely different to the other more creative flexible group and I decided to use structured activities which would allow for the movement experiences that would develop sense of self, body awareness and comfort with their body and also change in energy level.

Warm-ups usually consist of a rhythmic activity which provides a structure and social interaction while allowing for some creativity possible for those who are ready and willing to develop that sense of self. The middle sections of the session I choose a theme, usually discussed with the coordinator of the eating disorders program, and design a yoga style program with the theme in mind. For instance when the group was working on boundaries and sense of self the activities emphasised personal space, returning to centre of the body, balance toward and away from centre. I offer a more creative exploration of the theme as centring and preparation for closure, for instance using elastics to personally mark out personal space and a group exercise with the elastics.

The response has been very good to the program by the participants with a very good attendance rate, unusual with this population. I will continue to explore ways of processing their experiences to increase the integration of the information gained in the experience.