Creative Art Therapist

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Groups in process

When I work with groups I am constantly observing and evaluating. I use evaluations to guide and direct; to ascertain the problems and needs of the group, and program. According to Cruz, Berrol, (2004), “…quantitative methods explore measurable observable phenomena related to human experience, and seeks to explain and predict behavior.”

For instance, in one particular workshop assisting Dr. Rutkowski, I observed a client clench her hands, contract, and stand in a posture that would be difficult to move from whenever she used the phrase, “moving forward.” My hypothesis was she did not truly believe and embrace what she was saying, and had some physical tension around this phrase based on her body language.


I have observed countless times before, the relationship between words and phrases and stances and postures (known behavioral phenomenon). Further, I have witnessed how one could change one part, stances/postures for instance (known variable), which would change the manner of the spoken words/phrases and thus their meaning for the client (predicted state). Based on this data, I suggested the client consciously take a stance/posture that was physically non-contracting (opening), and begin a movement process that was opening and flowing. Her body stance/posture changed and the manner in which she said her words changed as she experienced the concept of ‘moving forward.’

Afterwards, she shared that she began to truly believe both physically and emotionally that she could ‘move forward.’ My assertion that she did not fully embrace what she was saying was confirmed by the client.

In my process of leading groups I rely on my Halprin Method/Motional Processing/Life Art Process knowledge, my experience with many great teachers over the years, my intuition, and how I would want a workshop to be if I were the participant. I observe the dynamics of the individual and group, whether it is elders or preschoolers, and adjust accordingly. For instance, while leading the preschoolers in a creative movement exercise, they got out of control and ran about wildly ignoring my directions. I changed the quality of my voice and directed them to move like wooly worms. Naturally, it’s difficult to move wildly about when you’re lying on the floor wiggling.

Each group presents itself based on not just the dynamic of the individual and the collective, but also on the culture that the group is a part of. With the church group, there seemed to be a polite non-cooperative nature in their response to my direction of movement while reading a psalm. Having them close their eyes and adding more direction to the exercise seemed to open up the movement quality and quantity.

It gives me the giggles when I think of how terrified I was as a child to get up in front of a group and read a book report, or engage in some sort of activity. Today when I teach/lead a group, I actually feel more balanced, whole and in harmony than when I am not teaching/leading.

Cruz, R,F. & Berrol, C.F. (2004). Dance/Movement therapists in action: A working guide to research options. Springfield, Ill.: C.C. Thomas.

Rutkowski, A. (1984). Thesis: Development, definition and demonstration of the Halprin Life/Art Process in Dance Education. Unpublished doctorial dissertation, John F. Kennedy University.

Winter, R. (2001). Handbook for action research in health and social care. New York: Routledge.

Hervey, L.W. (2000). Artistic inquiry in dance/movement therapy:

Creative Research Alternatives. Springfield, Ill: Charles C Thomas.

Reprinted from my unpublished manuscript: Renewal and Rediscovery of the Self in the Life Art Process: 20 years as participant, assistant and facilitator. By Richard Brunner MA, R-DMT. Copy write 2006.

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Writing a poem with clients

Writing a poem for the first time can be intimidating, but there are many possible ways to get started. In this post I’ll talk about just one of them, which is a list poem.

Defining a Poem

The first step when introducing poetry to clients is to define poetry. Show what a poem looks like on a page. Explain that a poem is usually short, and that each line has a fixed length. It uses carefully-chosen language to express a feeling, and sometimes uses rhythm, rhyme, or repetition.

MP900341496.JPGWriting a List Poem

A list poem is a poem in which each line begins the same way. List poems are wonderful for beginning writers especially, because the start of each line is provided, creating a comfortable way in (at least I have this part that I can write, and know I’m spelling it correctly). A list poem can be simple and powerful. One client, who struggles with depression, wrote a poem in which each line begins, “I love” followed by one thing that makes her feel happy.

5 Tips for Writing a Successful List Poem:

Read poems together as a group, to get clients familiar with the sounds and rhythms of it. After reading a poem, ask if there is any line that clients like or find interesting. Ask why they like it, what makes it stand out. Keep your ear open for things clients say—does something sound like a list poem? “Every morning I…” “I want to read…” “If I had a million dollars I’d…” “I love the way…” The possibilities are endless.

When clients are ready to begin writing, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Be specific

Help clients bring their poems to life by including specific details. In other words, show, don’t tell. “I wake up early,” becomes, “I wake up at 3:00 am every morning to go to work.” Instead of “I cook Chinese food” help the client write, “I cook catfish with spicy sauce.”

2. Five senses

Can you see this poem? Can you hear it? Smell it? Feel it? Taste it? Is this poem bringing a world to life? If not, think about describing with the five senses.

3. Order

Pay attention to the order of the list. Does it have a beginning? A middle? An end? Does it need an additional line to bring it to a close?

4. Word Choice

Think about word choice. Could another word be more effective? Sometimes beginning writers want to use the word “beautiful,” but write “nice” instead because it is easier to spell. Help the writer actualize the poem in her mind.

5. Edit

Don’t be afraid to edit. ‘Make it Messy’ is a good mantra for first drafts. They should have crossed out parts and additions. Are any items in the list extraneous? Are there unnecessary repetitions? Help students build the confidence to edit themselves.


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