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ISBN: 978-0398088477


ISBN: 978-0398088477



As parents, we may have the experience of suddenly looking at our child and realizing with a shock that he or she knows more than we do. This happened to me in reading Kathleen Rea's fine new book. Kathleen has taken what she learned in the training we offered her at ISIS Canada and the European Graduate School and integrated it into her own unique body-based way of doing expressive arts therapy. Her method is grounded on her own experience as a woman, as a professional dancer, and as a therapist.

One of the great strengths of the book is Kathleen's honesty and vulnerability as she writes about her own struggles. She describes her personal conflicts in a way that lets us see not only the pain she experienced but also the ways in which she found the creative resources she needed to find her way through.

We read first of the struggles that Kathleen had with her body-image as she dealt with issues of perfectionism and control. Her attempt to take charge after the chaos of her parents' divorce, combining with the strong cultural messages that are given about women's bodies, resulted in a battle between anorexia and bulimia that almost took her life.

Dance became her passion and her way to survive. From an early age, she was drawn to this mode of expression, and it ultimately became a lifeline that would lead her into a deeper and more profound relation with her own body and with the bodily basis of emotional life. At the same time, the world of ballet that was her chosen field became the demon that told her constantly that her body was not good enough and that she had to exercise greater and greater control over it. It was not until she found another way home through more expressive forms of dance, like contact improvisation, that Kathleen was able to use her body as a resource and a route to greater self-acceptance.

Finally, as a therapist, we read of Kathleen's own experiences with her clients, the ways in which, in paying attention to her own bodily sensations, she is able to find creative forms of therapeutic action that lead her clients into more fulfilling modes of expression. Kathleen's openness to her own body as well as her fine sensitivity to the bodily expressions of others are the foundations on which her therapeutic practice is built.

We can see all these realms of experience converge in the extended description of the therapeutic work she did with her client, Allen. Kathleen's own experience with bulimia gave her a special insight into Allen's addiction to food and the way he used it to give himself control over his life. At the same time, her artistic background as a dancer became a resource for the movement work she did with him. The "fussy dance" she learned in her dance work gave him the ability to go beyond the inhibitions that prevented him from engaging in bodily expression.

We also see how her training as an expressive arts therapist, her own therapy, and the experience she gained in her therapeutic practice provided not only the skills and knowledge that every therapist must have but also the conviction that the therapeutic process is possible, that beneath all our suffering is an enormous beauty waiting to be seen if we can unlock the doors that protect it from harm.

Ultimately, then, this is a book about beauty. As an artist, Kathleen knows the power of beauty as a cultural expression. Those of us who were fortunate enough to have seen her perform can testify to the beauty of her movement, the way in which her body seemed to exhibit a spiritual grace normally denied to us earth-bound mortals. But beauty for her was never about perfection of form; it always testified to an openness and honesty that is deeply emotionally touching in her work.

Similarly, the beauty that shines forth in this book does so because it is infused with love. Kathleen's therapeutic practice is grounded on the capacity to accept her clients completely for the beautifully flawed human beings that they, and we, are. Her work with them in the expressive arts is never for the sake of the art itself but for the way in which the arts can hold our beauty and show our inner light.

Reading this book, I can offer no greater tribute than to say that I wish I could have had Kathleen as my therapist. Unfortunately no matter how special we realize our children have become, they can never be the parents we wish we ourselves had. There is a time to let them go and to take satisfaction in seeing who they are. I am proud to be one of those who have helped this wonderful therapist come into the world. I hope that the reader will come away from this book with a living embodied sense not only of what it means to be an expressive arts therapist but also of how living a life based on openness and honesty can put us in touch with the beauty and love that is ultimately ours to come home to.

Stephen K. Levine, Ph.D., D.S.Sc., REAT, is Co-Director of ISIS Canada and Dean of the Doctoral Program in Expressive Arts at the European Graduate School. He is the author and editor of many books in the field of expressive arts therapy, including Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul, Trauma, Tragedy, Therapy: The Arts and Human Suffering, and, with Paolo J. Knill and Ellen G. Levine, Principles and Practice of Expressive Arts Therapy: Towards a Therapeutic Aesthetics.

Foreword — Stephen K. Levine

My Map — Part One: Body-Based Wisdom
My Map — Part Two: The Self in Relationship to the World
My Map — Part Three: Wellness and Dysfunction

A Recipe for Transformation from a Neurological Perspective
Therapeutic Art-Based Experiences
1. How the Arts Provide a Sense of Safety
2. How the Arts Entice Exploration
3. How the Arts Build Relationships
4. How the Arts Engage People with the World
5. How the Arts Increase Self-Knowledge and Interaction
6. The Arts Encourage New Connections and Long-Lasting Change
The Sum Effect of Expressive Arts Methods


My Six-Step Method
1. Notice the Sensation
2. Describe the Sensation
3. Stay-With the Sensation
4. Find a Simple Shape or Movement that Matches the Sensation
5. Amplify and Intensify the Sensation
6. Harvest
How the Steps Work Together

Final Words

Chapter 1
I absorb every detail of the swan costume pictured on the back of my Anna Pavlova record. The coffee table is pushed out of the way and a large, open carpet beckons. The house is empty — a rare occurrence. Holding the record carefully by its edges, I gently ease it onto the turntable. Like most nine-year-olds, I'm usually pretty careless with my stuff, but this feels important and worthy of care. I gingerly place the needle onto the record; a single cello note hovers. More follow. My feet start to move and my arms float upward as my body becomes light. The living room walls disappear. Warmth builds. I turn and bend and move towards something unknown. It's risky — anything might happen. My heart feels big, like it might break into a million pieces. Goosebumps flutter up my spine as my swan wings spread and I feel air rush through my feathers. Then it hits me: a knowing that cuts through all else. I am the reincarnation of the great ballet dancer Anna Pavlova. Her love of dance lives on in me, and I am born to shine this love as bright as it will shine.

I have found the perfect hiding spot to read my book, a window ledge alcove on the third floor of the National Ballet Company rehearsal hall. Here I will be safe from the judgmental eyes of colleagues who would probably laugh at a book called A Woman's Worth. The ballet world is not exactly friendly to feminists. I have a single Twizzlers candy hidden in my pocket. I slip it into my long sleeve and nibble on the end, hiding sweets like a kid even though I am twenty-four. It's my only source of calories in a day of nothing but Diet Cokes. My shoulders curl in. I have to return to rehearsal soon and the licorice feels like it has already made its way to my thighs. I dig my nails into my thighs creating large red scratches. My rehearsal mistress warned me last week about my weight.

She said, "You're a big-chested girl, so you need to be even thinner than the other girls." She continued, sweeping her hand over my collarbone, "I want to see more bones."

Back in the present, from my alcove, I hear music from the studio below— Swan Lake, one of the most gruelling ballets I have ever danced. I love it and I hate it. It's stunning, but for the corps de ballet, by the third act, it's a war field of bloody toes, hunger, and exhaustion. Just getting through it gives me a similar sense of accomplishment that I imagine climbing Mount Everest would. My rehearsal starts soon. I open the book I have been holding close to my chest and read:

"What?" you say. "Me, a goddess?" Yes, I say, and don't act so surprised. You knew when you were little that you were born for something special and that no matter what happened to you, that couldn't be erased. The magic could not be drained from your heart. . . Sorry to tell you, but you had it right years ago, and then you forgot. You were born with a mystical purpose.

These words are my nourishment for the day.

I lean on the arm of my chair, chosen for its comfort — an important thing for a forty-something retired dancer with achy bones.
My client asks me, "Is it really possible to get better?"
"Well, it is possible. I had an eating disorder for ten years, and today I eat whatever I want, whenever I'm hungry. And I have learned to appreciate and love my body. But I understand what you are saying. I remember thinking I would never get better."
After a pause, I continue. "Do you remember a time when you were young? Before you started not liking your body?"
"Are you sure?"
She closes her eyes. "I think I remember something . . . I am very young. My mom helped me make a suit of armour out of cardboard. I wore it the whole day. I remember feeling so proud of how I looked."
"Can you describe that feeling?"
"Hmmm," she pauses for a moment before continuing. "It's hard to describe. It's like just . . . being . . . with no negative thoughts getting in the way."
"How about exploring this 'just being'? See if you can remember what it felt like to be that knight. How did you stand? What was your expression?"
She spends a few moments trying out different postures, finally settling on a lifted chest and a beaming closed-mouth smile.
"Now just stay with this posture and explore how it feels to move about the studio. See if you can welcome the knight back into your body."

From a wild swan girl, to an image-obsessed ballerina waif, to a guide helping others, I have experienced the healing of hearts and minds. I've discovered that healing does not need to be a forward progression in which we continuously improve upon ourselves. Rather, it can be a falling back into ourselves, remembering and experiencing the current of life that pulses through us. It can be a coming home. I will now take you back to the beginning and tell the full story of how I came home to my calling as an expressive arts therapist.

Williamson, M. (1993). A woman's worth. New York: Random House.