Monday, 3 October 2011

Conference Thoughts - part three

After the keynotes on Thursday morning we had a choice of presentations. I went for Henk Smeijsters, who I enjoyed listening to at the 7th European Music Therapy Congress in 2007. He is Professor of Arts Therapies and Head of Research of KenVak He has a particular interest in the work of Daniel Stern whose pioneering works on mother infant communication, and on the use of arts in psychotherapy, have been a great inspiration to me. Henk's presentation looked at Damasio's concept of the core self, an area of "felt meaning" beyond words. This is the "intelligence of the body" and links with art forms. Damasio wrote that "The core self at the bottom of the mind resembles Arts", and we believe that the Arts Therapies can express what is beyond cognition and words. Smeijsters says that "The felt experience of life can be put into gestures, pictures, sounds and movements. Art Forms are experienced as a felt match with the core self" (From his Powerpoint). He then linked this with Stern's concept of Vitality Affects - feelings/emotions that are felt in the present moment. They can be measured in parameters of art, such as rhythm, tempo, dynamics and form. So, Smeijsters says, "vitality affects are formed as art forms - when we experience art forms we experience vitality affects". This also means that as arts therapists, when we work with art forms, we work with the client's core self. I found Henk's presentation very interesting, combining the insights of neuroscience and psychology to show how the arts are central to the expression of our core self.
This was followed immediately by Malvern Lumsden, Dance Movement Therapist and Professor of Community Mental Health, University of Agder, Norway. He also looked at the way neuroscience backs up the work we do, summing this up in four hypotheses:
  1. The integration of lower and higher levels of the brain, of right and left hemispheres, and the resulting sense of self is essential for the "intelligence of feeling", but may be blocked by adverse experiences in development.
  2. The resulting lack of "emotional intelligence" - not to speak of a range of psychiatric "diagnoses" - can be seen as a consequence of this lack of integration.
  3. The arts and arts therapies are an important channel for promoting the development of the disordered brain (eg right and left hemispheres) and the fragmented self (many facets) both during development and subsequently.
  4. Since movement (involving the body, space, cognition, affect and social interaction) is fundamental to the early development of the brain and the self, dance movement therapy is seen as particularly relevant in the context of pre-verbal developmental and relational issues.
He also talked about the concept of "flow", using Laban's theories as a starting point and identifying three main types of flow - body, social and spatial. It is important to have mindful bodies, to be aware of the imapct of mind on body and body on mind. He reminded us that "emotion" literally means moving or pushing out, thus reinforcing the physical movement implied in the word.
Malvern also talked about another highly influential neuropsychiatrist Allan Schore who believes that all early forming psychopathology is connected with attachment disorders, leading to a failure of self and/or emotional regulation.
He also recommended The Meaning of the Body by Mark Johnson which also explores these issues.

The combination of these two papers was well planned, as they both linked current developments in neuroscience with the work we, as Arts Therapists do. I headed off to lunch in the Real Collegio courtyard, my head full of ideas, and looking forward to some more active learning at the afternoon workshops.

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