GLOBAL WELLBEING WORKSHOPS

Description of Available Training Modules:

Module 1:
Three to Five-Day Training, Trauma and the Body: Easing Recovery through Dance/Movement Therapy

Module 2
Full-Day Training, A Dance/Movement Therapy Group with Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone

Module 3
Half-Day Training, Dance/Movement Therapy Group with Child Soldiers

Module 4
Half-Day Training, Self-Care and Your Body

Module 5
Full-Day Training, Self-Care, Relaxation, and Grounding

Module 6
Full-Day Training, Movement Approaches to Trauma Recovery with Adolescent Survivors of War and Torture

Module 7
Two-Day Training, Dancing Reconnection after Torture and War

Module 1:
Three to Five-Day Training, Trauma and the Body: Easing Recovery through Dance/Movement Therapy

How do communities around the globe recover from the emotional and psychological wounds of torture and war? And how can both service providers in developed countries and NGOs in the developing world foster healing in the aftermath of these horrors?

To address these challenges meaningfully it’s useful first to consider what happens to human beings when exposed to terrible, life-threatening events? Specifically, what interactions occur between the body and the brain? This several-day workshop is designed to help service providers examine the dance/movement therapy modality as a science and an art, and to develop appropriate answers to these challenging questions.

A range of approaches to learning—both experiential and didactic—is incorporated: moving together and alone; joining in lectures and discussions on theory; brainstorming; role playing; exploring new ways of providing client services by taking the client’s point of view; learning new techniques for helping clients relax; using our creativity as much as possible. From the outset special emphasis will be placed on developing self-care strategies that may shield providers who work with extremely traumatized populations from burn-out, and may instead augment capacity for working empathically with energy, optimism, and commitment.

Analyzing what we observe in people suffering posttraumatic distress in post-crisis contexts may guide our practice effectively. In cultures that embrace psychiatric understandings of mental health, the clinical diagnosis Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) reflects dysfunction in an individual’s bodily and mental responses to extreme danger. Of course, for individuals and communities alike, reacting to dangerous situations is entirely necessary—and healthy. Like animals, human beings are wired to respond to life threats by either fight or flight, or on occasion by complete immobilization. Whether thus reliant on fighting, fleeing, or freezing, the human body in the presence of a perceived physical threat to survival becomes exceedingly alert. In the moment of threat, this amounts to entirely adaptive, or healthy, behavior since heightened alertness in the face of potential aggression enables rapid protective action. Yet people whose bodies fail to recognize when a threat has resolved or vanished may suffer considerable ill-effects from that confusion. In fact, PTSD appears most often in persons whose bodies are unable to let go of that state of high alert, even when the danger is long past. Such sustained hyperarousal can be frighteningly maladaptive, and this is what we want to help survivors overcome.

Researchers indicate that this explains why we so commonly observe a rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, breathing problems, or an exaggerated startle response among persons who have endured torture or experienced terror. Human beings generally lack the power to control the rate of their heartbeat. They can neither make themselves sweat nor stop sweating at will. These involuntary bodily issues and others are controlled by a part of the human nervous system called the autonomic nervous system.

Some psychological researchers tell us that traumatic experiences can cause survivors’ autonomic nervous systems to get stuck in something like ‘high gear’. Later, when these individuals find themselves in a situation that reminds them of their past traumatic experience, their bodies tell them that the event is in fact materializing all over again. Their heart rate speeds up; they sweat; their breathing may be difficult. For many people who have suffered traumatic exposures, reminders of the threatening event may trigger the body to act as if the incident were occurring in the current moment. What’s more, when traumatic memories come involuntarily, these intrusive recollections may stimulate the autonomic nervous system to act as if the event were repeating. These people suffer much because they understand that their bodies are telling them that they are forever going through the bitter experience of their traumatic past. They grow increasingly nervous and hyper-alert: Typically, if you tap them on the shoulder, they jump. The vast majority of these people have debilitating sleep disturbances, and few are able to relax. Many put so much energy into avoiding triggers to hyperarousal that they end up leading exceptionally diminished lives. This workshop offers a dance/movement therapy approach with specific skills to help them.

Focusing simultaneously on the bodily experience and the cognitive awareness of traumatic distress is pivotal for recovery from its dire effects. Like other somatic modalities of treatment, dance/movement therapy can help empower clients to pay attention to their bodies and minds at once. Torture and extreme threats of war and displacement tend to force dissociation—that is, a split between the survivor’s mind and body—making it all the more vital for the provider to support reintegration. Applying tools shared in these sessions, we can help people to relax, to feel comfortable again in their bodies. Through breathing thoughtfully, or moving and dancing together with mindfulness, survivors may be able to begin to break the damaging, painful cycle that stimulates the body’s release of stress hormones.

We encourage our clients to ground themselves so that they gain some control over the bodily responses to mental distress. They can acquire skills for sleeping better, for managing anger and anxiety through purposeful physical discharge (rather than acting out aggressively or through risk-taking), and—we would hope—for experiencing pleasure in their lives again through the creativity and social interaction that are central to dance itself. Clearly, service providers—whether working in post-conflict situations in developing countries, or working with war refugees in the developed world—may benefit from this in-depth workshop, grounded in the facilitator’s personal experience serving such groups as torture survivors seeking asylum in the U.S. and child soldiers in post-conflict West Africa. Providers who understand these principles and know how to put into practice pertinent dance-based approaches to community mental health are equipped to serve more effectively.

Learning Objectives:

Back to top


Module 2
Full-Day Training, A Dance/Movement Therapy Group with Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone


Through a combination of PowerPoint-assisted lecture, video screening, experiential learning, and discussion, this in-depth workshop will share experiences from a dance/movement therapy (DMT) group for former child soldiers, conducted by Global Wellbeing Director and presenter David Alan Harris in war-torn West Africa.

Torture and the horrors of war typically rupture survivors’ sense of wholeness—disintegrating mind and body. Working “at the body level” proves an appropriate way to reverse this process and promote the sort of reintegration that is at the core of recovery. This workshop will include the screening of video material from a 2006 DMT group for a dozen adolescent male ex-combatants in a devastated part of Sierra Leone, and supplementary video from a reunion of all 12 members with the presenter in 2010. Utilizing highly structured exercises and deliberately improvisatory movement experiences, this group counseling intervention was designed by David and his co-facilitators to help reduce the former child soldiers’ symptom expression, while also encouraging them to regain a sense of personal and collective wholeness.

Workshop experiential activities will replicate interventions meant to enable physical discharge of aggression as a way of reducing anxiety, and to promote symbolic expression as a way of integrating the clients’ trauma. As a secondary focus, the workshop will address the unusual effectiveness of the DMT group in fostering a safe environment in which it was possible to rebuild dignity and trust, and where the former child combatants were empowered to address two simultaneous, paradoxical issues—the needs for acceptance and accountability.

Learning Objectives:

Back to top

Module 3
Half-Day Training, Dance/Movement Therapy Group with Child Soldiers


An abbreviated version of Module 2, this workshop incorporates similar lecture, PowerPoint, and video screening, but given time constraints offers less opportunity for discussion and experiential exercise.

Back to top

Module 4
Half-Day Training, Self-Care and Your Body


This workshop is devoted to matters of self-care for individuals whose work brings them in frequent contact with traumatized people, including survivors of organized violence and war, trafficking and torture. Proper preparation for taking on helping roles with survivors includes development of strategies for self-care. Small-group activities supplement lecture and discussion.

Learning Objectives:

Back to top

Module 5
Full-Day Training, Self-Care, Relaxation, and Grounding


Like Module 4, this expanded workshop addresses self-care for service providers and others whose work brings them in frequent contact with traumatized individuals. Augmenting the learning in Module 4, this full-day approach enables participants to practice a number of experiential activities designed to promote grounding and relaxation. Helpers may incorporate these exercises into their own self-care plans, and may also teach them to survivors in need of relaxation and improved sleep.

Learning Objectives:

Back to top

Module 6
Full-Day Training, Movement Approaches to Trauma Recovery with Adolescent Survivors of War and Torture


In the year 2000, UNICEF estimated that some ten million children had been traumatized by armed conflicts worldwide during the 10-year span that began in 1986. Given the impact of war and organized violence on children’s psychosocial well-being, initiatives targeting the needs of war-affected young people would logically amount to a global priority. Programs that deliberately and meaningfully address the psychosocial problems of children of war are relatively uncommon, however, even in places where relief and development programs are in operation. The presenter shares his experience in utilizing dance as a medium of healing with war-affected African youth—both those in refuge in the United States and those living in a post-conflict situation in their war-torn homeland. This workshop will incorporate lecture, discussion, video screening, and experiential learning.

In accord with current theories of trauma and recovery, a focus on engaging cultural resources may enhance communities’ resilience in the face of terror and deprivation. Dance programs, if appropriately designed to maximize cultural relevance, prove especially effective modes of psychosocial intervention. The literature on expressive arts initiatives that have been implemented in post-conflict contexts among children of war in the developing world serves as a launching point for discussion of programs spearheaded by the presenter—a Board-Certified dance/movement therapist from the U.S. Comparisons will be made between two distinct body-based approaches to working with young torture survivors: 1) a traditional dance initiative with 70 young South Sudanese refugees resettled to the U.S.; and 2) gender-specific dance/movement therapy groups conducted with adolescents in a remote rural area of Sierra Leone, all repatriated to border communities that had been at the epicenter of atrocity during the recent 11-year war.

Participants will join in dance and role-play activities, as well as grounding and relaxation exercises. Emphasis throughout will be afforded survivors’ need to rediscover a capacity for pleasure and healthy play. The presenter has delivered versions of this workshop in West Africa, southern Africa, Europe, and Canada, and persons caring for and/or providing services to refugee children and adolescents have found the workshop especially useful.

Learning Objectives:

Back to top


Module 7
Two-Day Training, Dancing Reconnection after Torture and War


Western treatment protocols for psychological trauma typically involve the retelling of trauma histories, despite evidence that the human brain’s storage of traumatic memories undermines verbalization. Creative arts therapists overcome this paradox in trauma recovery in part through nonlinguistic communication. Dance/movement therapists especially practice techniques that are designed specifically to “desomatize” traumatic memory—to borrow the language of esteemed traumatologist, Bessel van der Kolk.

Drawing on field experience in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Zimbabwe, and clinical work with torture survivors from another dozen countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, the presenter will provide an in-depth introduction to using body- and movement-based practices in promoting rehabilitation from extreme traumatic exposures. Experiential activity is the core of this workshop, which examines a range of movement activities and techniques. While the principle ideas shared are similar to those in Module 6, greater depth—especially in terms of embodying the healing process through symbolic activity—is afforded by the two-day structure.

Learning Objectives:

Back to top