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  • Julianne Downham

What are services missing in what they offer to support young people’s emotional well-being?


We ask young people to share their story, tell us their tale and yet we insist that we are the ones to interpret it for them. To analyse and formulate the data and tell them how they should feel, think and behave based on our beliefs, our judgement, our text books.


Why aren’t we enabling them to make their own sense of it? Standing by their side whilst they begin to look at what they feel, letting them give meaning to the confusion, letting them find clarity in the midst of the storm. If only we encouraged them to find what possibilities are there for them to explore, if they found the trust they needed to know themselves well enough to find the answers and the understanding of the structures that make them who they are.


By enforcing the “We will tell you” approach are we taking away their own natural ability to understand what they are energetically feeling and to heal, to hear what the body is saying is needed and how it communicates this to them.


Traditionally it seems to me we are establishing a belief for them that they need to find answers and permission from others in order to develop a process of “getting better”. That they need to always have that external validation that what they are feeling is “REAL”.


It’s often seen that they are told “STOP” feeling this, you can’t “FEEL” that, “IGNORE” those thoughts, instilling the perception that feelings are “WRONG”, that we need to water them down instead of recognising them and what is behind them.

It’s seen that we will remove by force what they think/feel, rather than letting them organically tell a story of emotions, letting them be expressed in ways that don’t need to fit into a theory or diagnosis criteria. But to be expressed through their own internal governing system; the soul/spirit within them.


We work with young people who are expected to verbalise feelings that make no sense, that seem to be in a foreign language to them. We sit opposite them in a therapy session ready to “TALK”, yet what language is spoken? Few teenagers have the vocabulary to use to give meaning to the words. They are seen as adults yet many are emotionally functioning as children way behind their chronological age.


Is this where music and dance could come in to help? Letting them find meaning through movement, both to recognise where the emotions are within the body, what they are saying and how they can express them through letting the body move, to “express themselves”.


With dance they are using the skill they had before speech, they using the language of the body. Making shapes and moving to their natural rhythm, listening to the guidance from within.


Dance gives them a space to explore sensations, can help them self-regulate and move the tension from the body. Dance and movement is an ancient form of healing, it is done all over the world as a form of expressive communication, rituals and ceremonies.


Through encouraging them to listen to the body, they are becoming active in the process of trusting what they are feeling, listening to and understanding what the body wants them to know. Dance can push them through restrictions and limitations that their mind has placed on them, the blocks that hinder their progress, even contributing to the health of the physical body. Neuro pathways can be accessed and rewired, connecting back into where there has been disconnection.


Incorporating imagery in how they express themselves can also give them the space to step out of the logical mind that wants to make sense of the feelings and help them to tap into the emotional side, the side that can connect into our soul. When we are switched off from the mental chatter of our conscious minds we can access our core being. Emotions, memories and sensations that we have blocked out.


When we have suffered a situation or event that has produced a sense of fear our body will often disconnect from this feeling. Hide it away in order to stop feeling it, so we don’t experience the discomfort it causes. This may be beneficial in the moment, yet pushing it away deep into our “being” will only take our mind form it, the imprint it left on our body remains.


Dance and movement can help us access this memory safely, gradually bringing it back in a way that isn’t over powering. This emotion needs to be released from the body, seen for what it is (something that has happened, but isn’t no longer happening) and given permission and the process to leave, to disconnect from the emotional intensity.



Through movement and dance we are also learning that it is safe to “be” in our bodies, that we can react without having to be fearful of the sensations that are traveling within our systems. That being able to sit with what is uncomfortable and know that it’s safe.


It’s not surprising really to know that the word emotion is derived from the Latin word: “emovere” meaning to move, move out or move through.


So is the way we address our own emotions and those of the young people missing something?


I certainly know from my own experience that dance has given me so much emotional freedom, it has been a vehicle to help me recognize and acknowledge my emotions and to then clear them. I have at times needed to talk about what came up through the movement, to help integrate what has changed but I seem to have an easier way to express myself with language at this point.


To be able to give people the space to learn the skills to tune in; connect to and move their emotions with dance is my aim for the future. To use the skills and experience I have gained both within the therapy room as a psychiatric nurse and those of a dancer on the dance floor to offer an opportunity and space for this to happen.


I would encourage everyone to get used to tuning in to what their body is saying, learning the language your own soul speaks.


Here are a few suggestions to begin the process.


"Start with an emotional check in."


Close your eyes and consider:

*How are you feeling right now? (label it with a word)

*Where and how do you sense that feeling in your body (scan down from the top to the bottom, feeling for any resistance).

*How can that feeling be moved through/out of your body (stamping feet, shaking arms).


“Let go and really dance” 


Play your favorite song. Don’t think how to dance, feel the feeling and move in such a way that you are trying to express it.


“Try on” different feeling words. "


How would you want to feel? Dance that way.

This process can begin to help us “know” when we are beginning to feel an emotion, recognising the sensations that our body uses instead of words before the rational mind kicks in and uses past experiences to interpret a current situations, this is the cycle where we get into reacting rather than responding.

Give it a go, have some fun. Improve your health on all levels; emotional, physical and spiritual.

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