Janavi Ananth, a practitioner of Creative Movement Therapy or ‘wellbeing practitioner’, as she likes to call herself, tells us about this lesser-known path towards mental health. A graduate of NMRKV College for Women, Bengaluru, and Mysore University, Janavi is also a trained psychologist who delivers counselling. She has been associated with the prestigious Creative Movement Therapy Association of India and loves dance, theatre, reading and listening to music. Read on as she gives us a glimpse into this offbeat career avenue and into her professional journey in the same.
Janavi Ananth, practitioner of Creative Movement Therapy
Inspiration and beginnings
It all started during research work as part of my M.Sc. Psychology course. One of my classmates happened to research on the effect of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) on differently-abled children. I took interest in the subject and that was when the Dance/Creative Movement Therapy bug bit me. After graduating from the course, I attended a workshop on body awareness by Tripura Kashyap. That was it. I took up a program in Creative Movement Therapy, quit my first job of a behaviour therapist, and here I am!
Creative Movement Therapy
What Creative Movement Therapy (CMT) aims through its practice is to carry out learning, and changes, enhancements or shedding of behaviour/thought process in an organic manner. We believe that movement is the first sign of life, beginning with the embryo stage. Our body is a storehouse of superpowers and the brain/mind is also a part of our body. So, through movements, we can explore the process of directly or indirectly addressing our goals which may be anything from memory enhancement to team work, to anger management, to physical flexibility. So CMT blends mental and physical health and proves that they are incredibly interconnected. The best part is that it's creative, it's fun, it's beautiful. It is also super scientific and structured at the same time. It brings the two sides of the continuum naturally and beautifully. So, you have to be spontaneous and open, but extremely aware and thoughtful of very word or action in the room. More importantly, you can't give up when the results are slow.
While I tell you about CMT, I must address a common misconception about it. One does not need to be a trained dancer to participate in it. In fact, it is better if one is not artistically inclined, as it takes away the aesthetic pressure from the movements. CMT is for all ages. The only situation where it is not advised is when movement is related to a client’s traumatic experience or if they are medical advised to stay away from movement.
I trained with Creative Movement Therapy Association of India (CMTAI) in 2015. I followed it with a six-month internship at NIMHANS’ Sakalawara Community Mental Health Center. After that, finding jobs was not easy in this field. We had to create jobs. That’s when I learnt about Fitkids Education and Training Pvt. Ltd. They believe in creative and effective development of all from their early years. I joined them as a Dance Education Specialist and worked with school children, exploring academic concepts, general social skills and so on through movement and games. I picked up many skills such as group observation, the ability to identify strengths and weaknesses, group management, session structuring and time management.
At a personal level, being with children was always a joy for me, and it was no doubt that my work in turn, was therapeutic to them. But I wanted to go beyond and integrate psychology into it. So, I launched myself as a freelancer while volunteering with CMTAI during their events. Gradually, through word-of-mouth and a few coincidences, I have been busy with multiple projects. I currently visit three centres for group therapy and private practice. I have taken frequent risks, just gone with my ‘gut feeling’ at times, been penniless, but found my way through.
A day in her life
There is no space for the mundane in my life. Although I have regular sessions scheduled, the modalities are never fixed. I use all art forms and try to bridge them with my training in psychology. On some days I sing as we move, sometimes we act, sometimes we draw or only play. There have also been times when we have only spoken and not done anything else. So in a week, I have a specific day for my supervision and personal therapy and two days for one-on-ones with clients. I then visit centres during the rest of the week. When I am at home, I do the documentation, marketing and reading, along with other duties for CMTAI.
The use of art in Creative Movement Therapy
As far as roles are concerned, just as a facilitator, I get to be some cool things like animals for my young audience—jumping and running like crazy. I can also be the strict teacher at times. I get to be the envied facilitator since children and parents always look forward to my sessions. I also get to be the audience for some wonderful plays for the elderly groups. Along with these fun roles, I also enjoy beautiful bonds and magical moments created during sessions. The other great part about my work currently is that I am my PRO, my accountant, facilitator, counsellor, student and project head. I have a friend who helps me with all the technical stuff, but at the end of the day, I am my team.
The role of a Creative Movement Therapist
As a therapist/ facilitator, my goal is not to fix anyone. If it is, then I am already in the belief that something is wrong or not okay with that individual or group. That gives me a place of superiority. If I take this tone, then I have already lost the essence of my practice.
For me, as a practitioner in this field, it is important to acknowledge that the other is equal to me, and aid them in recognising, acknowledging, accepting and loving themselves or changing themselves. My job is to give them a space to find everything from within. I have to identify what could trigger them or settle them and practice accordingly. The significance of a facilitator comes in, since we are objectively looking at the scenario. We reflect things so that people can see what they missed seeing in themselves. We stimulate their thinking and analysis. All of these are part of their process of being and becoming. They are the best judge of their realities; so they own their goals, the steps towards the goals and the results. We are only facilitating their process.
Participants at a Creative Movement Therapy session
I would also like to share the structure of a session. There are long term goals and short term goals, but the objective for each session is set. So this is how a CMT session generally looks like: we have an opening ritual or check-in to get the pulse of the client. A warm-up is usually done to prepare the client physically and mentally for the main theme of the session. We do this to have flow and continuity during the session. This is followed by the main exploration. This is where the objective of the day is fully exercised. This makes up the major portion of the session. Depending on the group, we may have to verbally process or bridge, where we reflect, share and try to connect what we did in the session to their lives. Post this, we have a closing-down or cooling-down session to wrap up the experience and get going with the rest of the day. The structure needs to be well-thought-of and also be open to changes according to the needs of the client(s).
Opportunities in the field
The opportunities in this field are thankfully growing. Clinics, hospitals, intervention centres, special schools, rehab centres and the like are eager to try something new, something different, something effective. Educational institutions are also open to anything that seems stimulating for the children, and many training programs have raised the standards of learning and teaching. In fact, many companies have begun working towards the welfare of their employees in order to improve the productivity at multidimensional levels. There are companies just to do that. Today, the society is open to accept any passion as a profession. All these are good news for us. We need to be more alert and see where we can impact. Being a novel modality supported by evidences, we are already being recognised and welcomed. This gives us extra responsibility to be well-equipped and trained for the services we provide.
Challenges and words of wisdom
Lack of awareness is a huge challenge that my community is facing currently. So, the kind of questions we are asked are sometimes crazy, but we are happy to take it. Answering them only increases awareness. Plus, we are increasing in number and are being noticed.
Another challenge is that we don’t have a typical degree course in the country that pushes aspiring practitioners to go abroad. Adding to this, we don’t have great financial reciprocation. Practitioners should be paid on par with physiotherapists, nurses or doctors and definitely should not be looked at as social service volunteers.
This also leads to another challenge that we have; the lack of scientific research, which is now thankfully being addressed. Evidence-based studies and research papers need to be put out on the table so that we can say, “Look! We make sense! It works!” Mental health in itself, is still making its way out of the taboo box. And I strongly believe that such art therapy modalities can ease this process. I am so glad that CMTAI and similar organisations in India are in this movement advocating the use of art modalities towards wellness.
Lastly, I would rather say that like any other profession, this too needs love for the work. But I promise that Expressive Arts Therapy (umbrella term for all the art therapy modalities—movement-drama-music-visual art-play) gives a rich experience, both personally and professionally. One does not just grow but evolves. That satisfaction is bliss. So, I wish that everyone does not give up but stays up!
That’s a tough one to respond to. I can talk about this for days. From the huge list, if I had to pick my favourite, I can immediately think of those eyes that look at me when we enter our space. Not the smiles, not the hellos; but the eyes. Be it children or grown-ups, the eyes express a million things like hope, faith, sense of safety, joy and sometimes even disappointment. But they look forward to us coming together in that space. That’s when I drop everything behind and feel a complete sense of ‘right here, right now’.
I have to mention one more. And that’s a lesson more than an experience, so to say. My biggest learning is definitely that just awareness, can do so much. It has changed me as an individual. Awareness of our surroundings, of others, and of ourselves. I know that this is an innate ability that lies in us all. And that’s just one of the reasons why I love doing what I do.
You can contact Janavi at: email@example.com
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