Building bridges of understanding
: The use of embodied practices with older people with dementia and their care staff as mediated by dance movement psychotherapy

  • Richard B. Coaten

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study investigates the use of Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) on people with dementia, on care-staff, on embodied practices and the author‟s own reflections and developing understanding about their use and importance. Embodied practices mean engaging with a person through the lived experience of their own body in relationship to self and others, thus people with dementia can be more effectively reached and communicated with. Embodied practices contributed to: improving mobility; affirming identity; supporting affective communication; increasing observed „well-being‟ and extending the range and quality of care relationships.

This study proposes care-staff need to be better informed psychologically about how to engage, how to „build bridges of understanding‟ between the „known‟ and the „not yet known‟. Care-staff need to be more accepting that communications and behaviours expressed through „strangeness‟ and „otherness‟ can be better understood and related to as having meaning and importance. This is a paradigm shift away from bio-medical thinking, placing the onus on care-staff becoming more adept at communicating and finding meaning in so-called „non-sense‟. Embodied practices support remaining individual capacities and communication skills and by way of this, „Personhood‟ (Kitwood and Bredin, 1992a: 274).

The fieldwork was within a mental-health hospital ward in England. A single DMP session was studied using a qualitative and quantitative methodology, regarding impact on the patient, on care-staff, and on the use of embodied practices. It was recorded on video (VTR), mapped using Dementia Care Mapping (DCM) with the impact on care-staff studied using questionnaires. Analysis of the VTR transcript yielded thirty-three linked themes leading to five further meta-themes. DCM results indicated significant effects on raising and supporting observed „well-being‟, consistent with other sessions of a similar type (Crichton, 1997, Perrin, 1998).

Contribution to knowledge concerns the development of a more creative, more expressive and embodied approach to the care of people living with dementia as presented here by the development of a new approach called „Creative Care‟.
Date of Award2009
Original languageEnglish

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