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Dance/Movement Therapy for Individuals with Eating Disorders: A Phenomenological Approach

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Individuals with eating disorders (EDs) face many challenges in their recovery. EDs are complex and can be difficult to treat. Mortality rates for individuals with EDs are among the highest of all psychological disorders. As outcomes of traditional treatment approaches vary and relapse rates are high, it is important to explore complementary treatment approaches. Emerging research has shown that fostering mind-body connection can benefit recovery, yet there is a dearth of research on such interventions. Dance/movement therapy (DMT) is designed to foster mind-body connection and is the focus of this study. More specifically, the study explores the experiences of individuals who self-identified as female, engaged in DMT, and the perceived impact of DMT on their recovery. Eleven interviews were conducted and analyzed using a phenomenological approach to identify themes. Three major themes emerged (i.e., ED Treatment, Experience of DMT, and Impact of DMT) along with several subthemes. Participants reported that while engaging in DMT was often challenging, there were various benefits to their participation. Challenges included overcoming a negative body image and being present in their body through DMT. Some participants also highlighted the challenge of not knowing what to expect from their participation in DMT. Participants reported benefits such as improvements in mind-body connection, emotional awareness, and self-esteem. Limitations of the study, directions for future research, and clinical implications are discussed.

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Correspondence to Amy Syper.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest. The study was not funded by grants, scholarships, or organizations. The research was approved by the Institutional Review Board and all participants read an informed consent form and voluntarily agreed to participate in the study.

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Appendix A Semi-Structured Interview Protocol

Appendix A Semi-Structured Interview Protocol

Hello [participant name], thank you again for taking the time to participate in this study. I am doing this research in the hopes that I can gain a better understanding of the effects of DMT. I want to know more about what is helpful and what is not helpful from the perspective of someone like yourself who has lived that experience.

Throughout this interview I will be asking you about what aspects of your experience with dance/movement therapy were most and least effective and why. I will also ask about treatment and recovery more generally. You are encouraged to be as open and honest in your responses as you are comfortable with. If, at any time, I ask a question that you feel uncomfortable answering please let me know and we can skip that question. Take your time answering each question and don’t worry about the time it takes to give an answer. If we need to move on for the sake of time, I will let you know. Do you have any questions before we get started?

1. Before we get to my list of questions, what is the most important thing you want me to know about your experience?

2. Over the course of your treatment, what have your experiences been like with treatment professionals, including doctors, nutritionists or dieticians, and mental health professionals?

3. Over the course of treatment for your eating disorder, and relapses if you had any, what were the main obstacles for you to overcome?

4. How, if at all, do you feel that DMT was able to help you overcome these obstacles?

5. What led you to seek out, or agree to participate in, dance/movement therapy (DMT) for the treatment of your eating disorder?

6. What was your experience of DMT like in general?

7. What elements of DMT were the most helpful and why?

8. What elements of DMT were the least helpful and why?

9. What ways, if any, did DMT help you that talk therapy did not?

10. How, if at all, did your relationship with your body change throughout your participation in DMT?

11. How was it to be present in your body throughout DMT?

12. What changes, if any, did you notice in your self-esteem? If there were any changes, what do you think helped that happen?

13. What changes, if any, did you notice in your ability to identify and label your emotions? If there were any changes, what do you think helped that happen?

14. What changes, if any, did you notice in your ability to express your emotions? If there were any changes, what do you think helped that happen?

15. Are there any aspects of DMT, including specific activities, that you will incorporate into your life going forward? If yes, what are they and why?

16. Is there anything we didn’t talk about that you feel it would be important for me to know about your experience?

17. How are you feeling about your recovery from the eating disorder now, after your participation in DMT?

18. Do you have any questions for me?

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Syper, A., Keitel, M., Polovsky, D.M. et al. Dance/Movement Therapy for Individuals with Eating Disorders: A Phenomenological Approach. Am J Dance Ther 45, 211–237 (2023).

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