Dance and body movement can help with recovery from addiction & trauma

LHC: Hey there. Welcome to Let's make a health connection. In this podcast, we introduce the interview and showcase the many healthcare providers and resources that we feature on our website, I'm Jennifer Barber, and I'm a licensed clinical social worker in Washington and Oregon, and I'm happy to be part of the local health connect provider community. Today we're talking to Michela Farnsworth. She is dually licensed in the state of Washington as a licensed independent clinical social worker and a substance use disorder professional, trained in EMDR and working toward a certification in dance movement therapy, which we will be talking about later. Michela has a history of working as an advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault programs as well as working for national and international organizations that provide training, technical assistance, and policy advocacy for these programs on a macro level. Michela has also worked as a case manager and a clinician for residential and outpatient treatment centers, treating dual diagnosis, which means chemical dependency or chemical addiction and mental health, providing individual, group, and family therapy. Currently, Michelle runs a private practice called Release Counseling in Vancouver, Washington, where she offers individual and group therapy for adults and specializes in the treatment of trauma and addiction. Hi Michela, thank you so much for being with us today.

MF: Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate this.

LHC: Oh my gosh. Let's just jump in. Can you tell us what dance movement therapy is and how did you get into that?

IMF: I would love to tell you about it because every time I say it, I often feel like I have to start off with what it is not because I just get either some really perplexed looks or panicked looks whenever I tell people that. I'll just start with the definition. The American Dance Therapy Association defines dance movement therapy as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual for the purpose of improving health and well-being. It's a holistic approach to healing based on the empirically supported assertion that mind, body, and spirit are inseparable and interconnected. Dance movement therapy utilizes a lot of different types of body-based techniques to help clients heal and process in combination with or in addition to talk therapy. So it's not a dance class. It doesn't require any clients to have any history of dancing. It doesn't mean I'm going to make you dance in class. I may not stop you if that's something you feel so inclined to do. I'm going to certainly welcome it and invite it, if that feels good to you. I'm not going to require that. It's required of me as a dance therapist. I had to have a background in dance, but it's not required of clients and it really just means that no matter what we're doing, talk therapy, dance movement therapy, or a combination of both, my lens for healing is really based on integrating that mind, body, and spirit connection.

LHC: I love it. I wonder how many calls you get before you even meet the person. Are they asking you, do I need to know how to dance to be able to see you?

MF: I get all kinds of responses, which is why I've started to kind of develop this defensive mode. Let me tell you what it's not. Don't freak out. So you don't have to know how to dance. Dancing is welcome, but we're talking about movement. movement in the body and how that helps on a therapeutic level.

LHC: Absolutely absolutely. Can you tell us a little bit about what your clinical work looks like?

MF: I mentioned that I viewed the healing process through the lens of integrating mind, body, and spirit. often use dance therapy techniques as either primary or supportive roles or not at all. Sometimes clients are just not interested, and that's totally fine. So, whether I'm working in my private practice or not, I've had a history of working in residential and outpatient treatment programs. No matter where I'm working, I'm able to utilize it. My goal is just to always help clients get reacquainted with their bodies in really gentle ways, develop a relationship with their bodies, and see their bodies as a supportive resource rather than a source of pain or distress. I always like to consider first what the level of care is for this client that I'm working with. I'm going to be really mindful of the fact that many of them are still withdrawing or detoxing and that they have been really disconnected from their bodies for a long period of time. It's just really about focusing on the use of just body awareness or mindfulness or breathing techniques just to kind of increase that awareness of their bodies. This increases awareness of emotions and develops skills to cope with distress and soothe themselves. especially while they're just going through all of the things in outpatient levels of care. If I have a longer period of time and we get to expand into more advanced body focus concepts and exercises, focusing more on connecting with that core sense of self. What are your core values? How do you know when you're living a more embodied lifestyle? How do you know when you're behaving, acting, and living in a way that's congruent with these values? When it's not, and then I've really gotten into utilizing stuff like polyvagal theory to kind of support the trauma work. I like to pair that whenever I'm doing any kind of EMDR in the preparation phase. It's very helpful to give clients that language and understanding of what is actually happening in their bodies, as well as some coping skills that are specific to managing and coping with that. especially before we start getting into desensitization and reprocessing.

LHC: Great, there's a lot there and you talk about residential treatment. I might be asking you a question you're not quite prepared for, but I think we need to clarify if you currently want people to know that you are available to see them on an outpatient basis. So, as a clinician in your own office or through a residential program, can we just make that really clear?

MF: Yeah, no thanks for that. I am currently working out of my private practice in an outpatient setting at an outpatient level of care, but I have a history of providing these services and that residential level of care both for co-occurring addiction and mental health as well.

LHC: Perfect Thank you, thank you for clarifying that. I also think it's really important for people who are listening to know that you offer something that not all mental health providers offer. You've got that dual diagnosis piece going on, you are trained in substance use disorders, and so not a whole lot of mental health professionals are. I'm wondering if you might be able to speak a little bit about what the connection is between trauma in the body and addiction.

MF: I mean, there's a lot of overlap there and so, you know, on the one hand, we've had the discussion open up in the last couple years about how trauma is held or carried in the body and often causes distress or discomfort in a variety of ways until it can be released or healed or processed. If we don't, it starts to kind of show up in a lot of really somatic ways. if we don't process the emotional trauma or the emotional impacts. On the other hand, we often drink or use substances as a way to numb or dissociate, often from physical pain, emotional pain, racing thoughts, distressing thoughts, memories, flashbacks, etc. All these ways that trauma can continue to manifest itself on a daily basis Whether or not the trauma and the addiction occur independently or co-occur, there's often this desire to dissociate; to avoid all this discomfort and distress. Which is fair because we can only really tolerate that level of distress for so long and so, as a source of survival, we start to find ways to help us do that, either through the use of substances or suppressing various sensations or creating somatic or mental blocks in different kinds of ways. We're very good and creative at doing that.

LHC: Can I stop you for just a second? because I'm noticing that the word dissociation is really finding its way into the mainstream. I'm wondering if you and I've never asked one of our mental health providers this question, but can you describe what that is?

MF: I may not be the best person to fully answer that, but I can tell you that dissociation happens on a whole lot of different levels. I'm trying to think of the word on a full scale. We all dissociate on a daily basis. It's just kind of when we zone out. That's a form of dissociation. At first, that's on like a low level, and then at the more extremes, you start to get into that dissociative identity disorder kind of example. What I'm talking about now is somewhere, probably more towards the middle. It's definitely more extreme than just zoning out while somebody's talking to you or while you're driving. Don't do that, by the way. That's just kind of the opposite of mindfulness, that lack of mindfulness, that kind of lack of awareness. Using substances to numb out or finding other techniques or ways to kind of numb out so that you're not experiencing what's happening in your mind and body. Then we can get to those extremes where we start to develop dissociative identity disorders.

LHC: What I'm feeling you're getting at is that with substance abuse, you're using that as a way to numb and not be in the present moment.

MF: They're using that as a coping skill. It's really a coping technique. It's not a real healthy one, but for some people, it's the way. There's that connection. That connection between trauma, what's happening in the body, and wanting to escape from that. I was doing a continuing education video the other day. The facilitator put it nicely. He explained that when we're experiencing trauma, we're really experiencing it in that limbic part of our brain. in that limbic system. That's where it's held. That's where it's stored in terms of memory. When we're doing a lot of these top therapy modalities, that really engages that prefrontal cortex. There's not a direct connection in the brain between the prefrontal cortex and that limbic system. Utilizing movement and utilizing these dance therapy techniques is going to be the most effective way to help process that trauma because you can get to it through movement, whereas it's really helpful to understand your trauma and utilize the talk therapies. I hear this a lot. My clients will tell me they don't feel any better. It's not going away. It's not fixing it well and it's not healing. So those dance therapy modalities really help us to undo a lot of these skills we've developed to survive these really unhealthy situations or to survive these recurring trauma memories, flashbacks, and other symptoms that are really distressing by helping us to readapt our minds, our bodies, and our nervous systems to sustain healthier lifestyles to process and heal a lot of the traumatic symptoms or symptoms of trauma so that we can live healthier lifestyles, live in healthier situations, and sustain healthier lifestyles in ways that the body and mind were designed to do.

LHC: So let's focus mainly right now on substance use disorders as it relates to a group that you're getting ready to offer. Can you tell us a little bit about this group and also, is it very clear just for people who are coming who are in addiction recovery?

MF: Right now, that's where I'm starting out. One of the things that dance movement therapy is still fairly new is We're probably in our third or fourth generation of clinicians, and so as I've been doing my coursework and working towards my certification, One of the things I noticed is there's not a lot of published research around the use of evidence-based practice or around the use of dance therapy modalities to treat the addiction recovery population. I've kind of been exploring that on my own by just kind of seeing what I've been noticing with my own clients. What's worked for them? what's not. One of the things I've kind of noticed is that there's this gap where for the first couple of years there are all kinds of really structured treatment options and support options for folks to really help mitigate relapse and really help them get through those first couple of years safely. That's absolutely wonderful, but I started to notice that once clients get past those first couple of years, many of them start to get stagnant in their recovery. It kind of got to the point where they could stabilize those first two, sometimes three levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Which is fantastic. But then they didn't know what to do next. I just kind of noticed a lot of different patterns that I'll kind of boil down to the fact that it appeared to me that client recovery was something that folks were doing versus that more embodied experience of just part of who they are and how they perceived the world around them and how they moved through their world. So that kind of became the inspiration for developing a group using these dance therapy techniques and helping folks learn how to transition their recovery from addiction.

LHC: That is beautiful. Can you tell us about how you're structuring the groups? And if someone wants to, we'll talk about how they might be able to find you later, but if somebody wants to begin this, what can they expect?

MF: This is still new to me.'d love to kind of expand and develop other groups or other ways that this group can serve other folks. But for right now, it's definitely for folks that have got a little bit of recovery under their belt and are feeling a little bit stabilized in those first three levels of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It's a 10-session closed group. Which means I'm asking folks to be able to commit to all 10 sessions because each week kind of builds and progresses and develops off of the week before. I've developed this group based on a foundation of theory and practice from addiction dance movement therapy, trauma and mental health disciplines, as well as from the foundation of the community support programs, 12-step refuge recovery, smart recovery. All of that has kind of been integrated, so it's again based on this expectation that folks coming into this group already know a lot of that. I've also pulled from theories and technical theories, techniques and exercises that I've facilitated with clients and other contacts both in individual and other group sessions in treatment settings in my private practice. That's kind of where I've gotten this from and it follows in three phases, so that first phase, the first three to four sessions, focuses on that integration of mind, body, and spirit of the individual. so, helping clients to feel more grounded and connected with their core sense of self. In the dance therapy language, we review or we talk about this as moving in the vertical plane. Then the second phase expands the focus outward into what we call the horizontal plane to repair and or develop healthy relationships with other people and the environments that we live in.

LHC: Great

MF: Then that third phase prepares clients to move forward in their lives with the capacity to adapt to new changes and transitions that occur in their lives and kind of be able to answer the questions. Where do I go from here? How do I live a fulfilling recovery lifestyle? So during this phase, we work through more complex three-dimensional concepts, and this is what we call the sagittal plane, more of a forward-back kind of movement. So we really focus on how to find stability in mobility and expand on a lot of the previous movement tech exercises.I intend to leave it up to the group to decide whether or not they want to continue meeting as a process group. they've created a bond or they're kind of this is all still kind of new and fresh and they still want a little bit of support as they continue to integrate it into their lives.

LHC: Wonderful Michela. This sounds just so amazing. When are you going to be offering this?

MF: I am open to offering it now. I just need a minimum of five people in a group in order to be able to start it. The groups are happening in person due to the level of movement exercises that are part of that.

LHC: And where will this be?

MF: My office is in downtown Vancouver, in the Carter Building.'s 211 East 11th Street, Suite 204.

LHC: great, and if somebody wants to reach out to you who's hearing this and they want to be part of that group, they want to be one of those five people. How would they get a hold of you? How would they find you online?

MF: Yes, so my website is There's more information about the groups on my website. They can reach out to me through my website. They can email me at They can give me a call at 360-489-6195.

LHC: excellent, and all of the information you just provided will be included in the show notes. as somebody's clicking and listening to the podcast, they can just look right below that and find all the ways to connect with you. Michela, you are doing some amazing work out there. Thank you so much. Is there anything else you want to share before we close off today?

MF: Yeah, I mean, not only do I work with individuals who are experiencing addiction and recovery or going through it themselves, I can also work with friends and family members. That's a really important piece when you have a loved one that's going through addiction and recovery. It's really challenging for the loved ones, for the friends and family members. So if that's something that you're experiencing, I can help you with that as well. That's a great piece to be offering.

LHC: I love that. Okay, Michela. Thank you. you so much for joining us today.

MF: Thank you very much for having me.

LHC: Thanks again for listening to Let's make a health connection. Find us online at as well as on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The links and show notes for this interview are available on our podcast page. These interviews are really fun, and I hope you made a health connection today. We'll talk again next time. Let's make a health connection, copyright 2022, is the exclusive property of MBS Therapy, LLC, a Washington-based company. Local health care is inclusive and does not endorse any political or religious group. Thank you again for listening, and we'll see you next time on

By Jennifer Barber, LICSW 5-11-2022