Amy Willshire/ September 6, 2019/ All posts, Dramatherapy or Dramatherapist, Lifelong Learning/ 0 comments

Last month I attended a three day training course called Embodied Approaches to Eating Disorders led by Laura Wood, Martin Redfern and Naomi Nygaard – all creative therapists who are also trained in IFS. This is the third and final blog sharing some of the different strands of that training. The first blog looked at an embodied approach to IFS which works with parts of self and yesterday’s blog looked at meditation and theatre approaches. Today we are going to look at movement and improvisation, designed to increase the spontaneity the person has to adapt to different scenarios.


Movement is fundamental. Every breath taken, every work spoken, every gesture, every step – all start with the movement. Often we move before we have even thought to move like our body decides and our mind then plays catch up or sweeps in with a rational for the movement which preceded the conscious thought.

I love this quote even though it is written about another client group:

‘The movements that we make in our dancing sessions are all part of the dance of our lives. The movements we express in accompaniment to music are moments from our being alive; they express our living presence. They are moments to be treasured. They are expressions of who we are and they affect the people we dance with. They ripple outwards. They connect us to each other. Dancing weaves us together.’

Hayes, J., & Povey, S. (2010). The creative arts in dementia care: practical person-centred approaches and ideas. London: Jessica Kingsley. Page 92

I spoke in the other two blogs about the use of movement in warm-ups and in meeting the parts but I have saved my favourite of the movement activities for this final blog on the training weekend.

Parts Part-y

At the end of the second day of training, we were invited to attend a parts part-y. Popular music played and our parts were invited to move in whatever way they wanted to. Parts stomped around the room, parts had moments of stillness, parts raved and danced and jumped. Sometimes people exploring parts with similar energy would move together, sometimes parts had moments of solitude to respond to the music in their own way.

This was unlike any other party I had been to. I remember jumping joyfully at a primary school disco before being told by another child that I could not dance. I remember parties since where I watched how other people were dancing and tried to copy them, to fit in. To look cool and have fun in a way which was socially acceptable. Perhaps this is why ceilidhs, line dancing and other set dances are popular – once you know the moves of the Macarena or the Baby Shark song or Tragedy (insert any other song with it’s own dance) then you can bust out the moves in total confidence that you are dancing in the right way. Songs without their own dance are still danced to in set ways – the shoulder shake, the foot shuffle, the “dad at a wedding” dance.

That was not what was happening at the part-y. The music may have been similar, but the parts were responding in whatever way they needed to. If this is an angry part, then stomp and punch and kick. If this is a scared part then tremble or run around. If this is a joyful part, then dance like no one is watching.

The part-y was liberating, expressive and insightful; there is rarely the opportunity to let your body show exactly what you are feeling on the inside.

Improvisation & Developmental Transformations (DvT)

Laura started an improvisation group while working at a recovery centre of people with eating disorders. She found that often, people with an eating disorder are quite cut off from their playful, creative and spontaneous qualities so she introduced the Improvisation Group to help to encourage clients to reconnect with those qualities.

Laura uses a set of about 15 games, designed to help even the most inhibited clients to be able to join in with the group and to develop mastery. Four of those games were included in the training. Rather than give her full list, Laura encouraged us to select games from our existing repertoire which may assist our specific clients.

Group rules

To ensure the group is beneficial Laura uses a rupture and repair approach; rather than protecting the clients from anything which may be triggering, it is playfully exposing them to challenging things within a safe space and encouraging the client to find their own creative responses.

The rules are:

  • YES, AND…. – Whatever is offered by group members should be accepted within the play.
  • Everyone Participates    This group does not work if there are people watching from the sidelines
  • No Apologizing – Saying sorry can be a way to limit or sensor yourself so within this group it was not allowed.
  • No “Red Lights” – Red lights are a way for clients to stop a conversation which may be triggering but in this space they were encouraged to find other ways to respond.
  • Respect of the Body – Trust what it tells you it can and cannot do
  • No such thing as “Safe” – Clients can never achieve a perfectly safe world but they can find one which is safe enough if they can build their inner resilience.

On the last point, David Read Johnson, the founder of Developmental Transformations says:

“Thus, the goal is to help our players feel more comfortable in unstable situations, such as intimate relationships. The approach is not dissimilar to teaching children to ride bicycles, or toddlers to walk, or teenagers to date; that is, we do not promise total safety, rather we focus on building self-confidence and capacity to remain balanced in unbalanced situations “

David Johnson, Developmental Transformations Handbook, Page 32

Sound and movement

The group were invited to each make a sound and a movement which would be copied back by the other group members. This is an introduction game to allow everyone to get warmed up.

Sometimes for very new groups it might be just a movement without the sound. Sometimes it might be a sound and a movement in response to a question such as “how do you feel about being in Improvisation Group” (cue lots of thumbs down and “meh” sounds).

Laura spoke about welcoming clients resistance and asking them to play with that part which does not want to be here within the session.

The imaginary ball(s)

Laura had an imaginary ball- about tennis ball sized which she invited us to throw around the circle. To do this we were not allowed to use any words, the ball would be passed by making eye contact and throwing. As we gained mastery over this game, Laura added a second imaginary ball – this time football sized, then a third beach ball sized ball and then a final fourth ball the size of a tiny marble. Now we not only had to make the eye contact to pass the ball but we had to be clear about exactly which ball was being passed.

For some clients, eye contact can be very challenging – particularly if the person has experienced rejection or trauma in the past. I have watched people play similar games where they will keep their eyes glued to the floor, snatching glances when they need to and then looking straight back down. For some clients with eating disorders, there is a strong desire to not be seen – to disappear, or to avoid eyes which may judge them on how they look. This game encourages the client to play with eye contact in a small but safe and playful way.

The machine

The third game began to consider the clients response to treatment; “what part of treatment annoys you” asked Laura? A reply might include “having to have people listen to me when I use the toilet” might be a reply. The invitation is then for that person to start a movement and sound to represent how they feel about this. Other group members who also have feelings about this element of treatment are then invited to join with their own movement and sound building “The Toilet Listening Machine”.

Other machines included “one thing I want to honour about my body” and “how to be imperfectly beautiful”.

Laura directed the group to get faster or slower and then to find a way to stop the machine together.

This game allowed some of those taboo subjects to be embodied, created a way for the group to join each other and share in a creative way.

The Cauldron

A DVT take on an improvisation game created by Viola Spolin (Improvisations for the theatre) with a twist of IFS parts work.

The facilitator, or playor in DVT terminology,  indicated a playspace area within the group circle which she waited inside. Outside  of this area was a matt or small seat which the group was invited to keep occupied throughout the drama, this is like a waiting area for whoever is going next.

The improvisations starts by the playor opening an imaginary door between the playspace and the waiting area and asking what parts are out there.

The participant replies stating one part or by listing their current feelings(s) s that the facilitator can suggest possible parts.

So we saw parts which held critical or limiting beliefs, parts which were angry, parts which felt anxious, parts which wanted some reassurance.

Whichever part entered, the playor accepted the part and responded to them, perhaps by joining them with a similar part of themselves, or perhaps by pushing against their limit. So for one person, who entered proclaiming that they could not do a particular thing, the playor found a switch on their back which could turn on the ability to do that, allowing them to playfully explore their potential. For another person, the playor became a human blanket which could offer some comfort, for another the playor started a game of hide and seek to search for a missing part which the person had proclaimed did not exist.

It was important that the playor accepted whatever was brought into the playspace before pushing playfully against that parts boundaries. So if someone entered saying they were not afraid of anything, the playor would accept this – ‘yes – nothing scares us, we are brave…’ before then offering that maybe there was another part which did get afraid sometimes and exploring the polarity between those parts. The polarised part could then be rehidden and re looked at several times during the improvisation. This playing with co-existing opposite truths about ourselves encouraged some personal reflection and an exercising of our spontaneity to challenge some of our limiting beliefs and explore new possibilities.

The improvisations included appropriate physical contact, moving around the play area, mirroring and a generous amount of time. When parts arose which told the person “I should leave the playspace – I am takin too much time” the playor encouraged the person to kick away that part and to stay with the part which entered until something had shifted or settled, even in a small way.


There was a lot of theory and ideas packed into this training weekend but this was best demonstrated not with a PowerPoint slide and flipchart presentation, but with an invitation to jump in and experience the method (with some very helpful teaching asides as the facilitators named what they were doing at key moments).

I really enjoyed the training, some of the techniques were already familiar to me but the way the different approaches were knitted together was really inspiring. The focus on how the dramatherapy activities could be adapted to best meet the needs of a client with an eating disorder was done in a sensitive and attuned need. Often an eating disorder can make a person feel disembodied or not at home in their own skin; this embodied, trauma informed approach encouraged them to playfully find ways think about their bodies in a different way.

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