Online proceedings for the IRCT General Assembly and 10th International Scientific Symposium - Delivering on the Promise of the Right to Rehabilitation

Time: 15:20 to 15:40

Promoting self-efficacy in African adult torture survivors through dance/movement therapy interventions

Presenter(s) and co-author(s): Mr. David Alan Harris ( Heartland Alliance - United States of America )



Mainstream treatment protocols for psychological trauma typically involve participants in reciting trauma histories, despite cultural barriers and evidence that the human brain's storage of traumatic memories undermines verbalization. Creative arts therapists overcome this paradox in trauma recovery through nonlinguistic methods. Dance/movement therapists, borrowing van der Kolk's terminology, practice techniques designed specifically to “desomatize'” traumatic memory. Kinesthetic empathy, a central dance/movement therapy process, involves replicating the movement patterns of traumatized clients. Applying such nonlinguistic techniques, the somatically-informed clinician may assist survivors of torture, trafficking, and war to practice embodying well-being for the future.


Drawing on direct training and torture treatment experience in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Zimbabwe, and clinical work in the US, with torture survivors from a total of over two dozen countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, a Board-Certified Dance/Movement Therapist and torture treatment clinician will provide an in-depth introduction to using body-movement and dance-based practices in promoting rehabilitation from extreme traumatic exposures. Direct observation and survivor/client self-reports will inform case study material to be shared, along with experiential activity and more didactic learning. Discussion will focus on a range of movement activities and techniques that have successfully contributed to the healing process after torture/trafficking, including symbolic movement that engages survivors in reframing their trauma histories and embodying recovery.



Torturers manipulate the human body in the aim to gain control over the psyche, and indeed, over entire com- munities. Survivors of such egregious violations of human rights may end up with the body split from the mind, such that dissociation impedes normal function. Treatment protocols that nurture the reintegration of the mind and the body almost of necessity must holistically address the soma along with the psyche. Dance and dance/movement therapy (DMT) interventions have been shown to be useful, transculturally appropriate means of fostering reintegration after the ruptures of torture and war trauma. Adult participants in DMT- centered treatment for torture survivors showed evidence of mind-body reintegration, manifest in a restored sense of self and increased agency. Self-reported symptom alleviation suggests that the symbol-laden embodiment inherent in DMT offers a pathway for identifying and restoring pre-trauma strengths. Further research   is needed to quantify the efficacy of this promising treatment modality.

Funding & No Conflicts Declaration

There are no conflicts of interest involved with this research.

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