more than movement

More than Movement: Working Through Transference

In many ways, my role as a movement specialist makes me out to be something of a boogie man. When some clients are faced with doing movement, the facilitator often becomes the object of their transference. For example, if you have a client who struggles with doing more active things or who has abused movement in the past, they may be unable to work through their frustrations with movement.

So, the group facilitator, the person who’s asking them to do different movements, to do stretches to do more active things, then becomes the embodiment of movement itself or even the personification of what movement means to them. All the while being the representative for each client’s body. This doesn’t just happen to group facilitators, often dieticians also experience this same level of transference with this particular population, and possibly more.

Often, clients don’t have the physical cues that allow them to know when they’re doing a movement incorrectly. When you have a client who is malnourished, it’s extremely important to allow them a sufficient amount of time to connect with their body and relearn what it feels like to get an appropriate stretch. Or what it feels like to sync a movement up with the breath or, what it feels like when a muscle is actually being activated appropriately. They need time to learn and understand what it feels like when a muscle is inactive while in motion. We need to spend time really focusing on the self-awareness that the disorder has taken away from this individual.

If you really take a second and realize what happens to your internal environment when you exercise, or the physiological responses that have happened, you might be surprised at what it mimics.

  • During movement a person will experience an elevated heart rate, heavy breathing, and sweating; this sounds like a panic attack.
  • Tightening of muscle, hard time catching breath, uncontrollable thoughts, triggered by the first two sensations; this sounds like a trauma response.

These two examples were triggered by an internal environmental change; a physical status change. But no matter what you call it, you, as the group facilitator, brought about this change for them.

It is vital to understand the possibility that any negative interactions a client might have with you aren’t aimed at you personally, but at what you represent to them. And once you see that, you can then understand the role you need to play to help the client build a better relationship with you that will translate to a better relationship with movement/physical activity.

Ask Questions

Asking questions is key. Find common ground weather it’s with tv shows you might like in common, music, art, etc.

This allows you to seem more human and builds a level of trust that has nothing to do with movement at all.

In the past, my love for art, anime, and adventuring served as a base for connecting to a client who hated both me and the idea of movement. These seemly random connections actually turned them into one of my biggest advantages, to the point they even went out of their way to defend me, and my style of teaching and behavioral corrections, to other clients.

Invite the Client to Watch

You never want to force a client to participate in a group that is meant to be both challenging and slightly triggering. They have to be willing and want to join. This is actually the first step to building trust. It shows them that you’re not going to push them to do something they might not be ready for, but you will challenge their level of comfort.

One activity they can do at that time is simply watch the movement group. Watching allows the client to sit with all their feelings and persevering notions of what movement is to them. This can bring about a lot of anxiety. While they sit with this discomfort, it can be the perfect time to practice some of the skills they’ve learned with their team. Journaling is an amazing tool that can be used.

Here is what I normally do and say,

“Hey, so I know you’re not ready to join the others yet, so to give you credit for the day I would like you to just sit here and watch what the group does for the next 45 minutes. For the last 15 minutes, I would appreciate it if you would write about everything that came up for you while you watched. Every detail and random thought, talk about it all.

Afterwords, I think it would be best if we had a sit down, review what you wrote, and come up with a game plan that you and your team can agree on moving forward.”

Often clients won’t be able to sit with the discomfort of watching a movement group for 45 minutes. But that’s actually very informative and important information for you and the team. Sometimes, just sitting with discomfort is one of the best ways to build up tolerance tofor a situation. Being unable to even watch means there is sometimes more going on. If it was just about themselves and being uncomfortable in their own skin; then watching others wouldn’t have set them off to such a degree. So now we have to figure out what the real issue is and how to address it in a creative way.

Challenge their “truth”

The next step is to challenge what the client believes to be true with what you know is actually true. Recognize that there is often some level of cognitive dissonance when it comes to how clients view movement.

If the client believes something to be true, then this truth is the client’s reality. So, to challenge that, we have to ask more questions about that belief to fully understand it.

For example, if a client says something along the lines of “I hate movement, it doesn’t do anything for me but give me flash backs of when I abused going to the gym” This tells me that they don’t “hate” movement but rather they dislike the actions of what they perceive to be a workout. This also tells me that this client is very self-aware and can identify that they have abused working out in the past, and that they have placed an extreme boundary on themselves to ensure they never do it again.

As stated in my last article, More Than Movement, this boundary would be considered avoidance. One of the best ways to combat this would be to add fun activities that all clients will enjoy. Movement game day has been one of my favorite tools to show all the clients that movement can be both enjoyable and fun. Activities like these allow everyone to see that movement isn’t just “working out,” but it can include anything that allows your body to get more active in a positive way.

When we start to explore ways to overcome avoidance and transference, we can move clients towards a healthy relationship with movement.

the road to wellness starts by seeking help. today.

Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP), supported housing, and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, of all genders.

To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.

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