Exploring the connection between body and mind in dementia care – the psychological aspects of movement

One of the underlying elements within Meeting Centres is the intention to provide movement-based activity sessions using the principles of psychomotor therapy. However, many people are unsure what psychomotor therapy actually is and what it means in practice. This blog post by Nicola Jacobson-Wright will hopefully help you understand a bit more about psychomotor therapy and why we feel it is important in the context of dementia.

What is psychomotor therapy?

Psychomotor therapy is well established and widely recognised in Belgium and the Netherlands, but is much less common in the UK. It is principally viewed as a psychological therapy, even though it involves physical activity.

It sees the body and mind as being interconnected rather than two separate aspects of a person, and works on the principle that there is a link between your emotions and mental wellbeing and your physical state. This means that by introducing different movement activities and changing your physical state, you can also change your mind and your mental state.

Many activities undertaken within psychomotor therapy are physical activities, and so can have physical benefits for the individual, but they will also have a psychological aspect. Overall, their aim is to improve a person’s psychological wellbeing.

How can movement-based activities help people?

Where do we start? As mentioned previously, as there is a physical side to these activities, they are a form exercise and so have associated health benefits. From a psychological perspective, movement activities done in a group can promote social interaction and build relationships. They can help to stimulate language for some individuals, but at the same time do not rely on verbal communication. Movement activities can also encourage individual expression and the exploration of feelings, stimulate memories, and boost self-esteem and confidence. Physical activity can also have a positive influence on a person’s mental health in a number of ways including improving mental wellbeing, mood, quality of sleep, energy levels and relaxation.

Overall though, movement-based activities are generally fun!

So how does this all link to people with dementia?

Movement taps into the earliest connections a person forms as a baby, where relationships are built on touch and being held or rocked. The focus is not on the words and language people use, but the sounds and tones that are made. Even when people have advanced dementia, these fundamental aspects can still provide a way for people to communicate and sustain relationships.

Can people with dementia still do this sort of activity though?

While cognitive skills may decline for people with dementia, movement activities need not be reliant on having a specific level of cognition. A strengths-based approach focuses on what people are able to do rather than highlighting what they can no longer do. Using spontaneous movement activities or responding to objects or music avoids the need for complex instructions. Additionally, some of the play-related aspects of different activities can tap into people’s long-term memories from childhood.

So how do I know if a particular activity is based on principles of psychomotor therapy?

It’s not about certain types of movement being ‘psychological’ and ‘therapeutic’ and others not, it’s about thinking more broadly about the approach used when developing the activity. It’s not necessarily about the activity you do, but how you think about it and plan it.

What do you mean?

When you are thinking about an individual that you want to engage in an activity, you might consider the type of activity or the role of that person within the activity to make the most of their strengths and provide a psychological benefit. For example, if they have lost confidence following a diagnosis of dementia, you could try an activity that gives a sense of achievement or provides the opportunity for them to help someone else by working in pairs. This will enable them to feel like they have been useful and have value as a person, helping to raise their confidence and self-esteem.

I’m not a qualified therapist though, does that mean I can’t run such activities?

From our perspective, this shouldn’t stop you from running activities. Being a Psychomotor Therapist qualifies you to deliver movement activities as a form of formal therapy, so it would be important not to claim to be providing ‘therapy’ without this qualification. However it is still possible to use the principles of Psychomotor Therapy to deliver movement activities that will benefit people psychologically. Having an underlying appreciation and more holistic view of how movement and psychology interconnect means you have the opportunity to use movement activities to improve mental wellbeing rather than just focusing on the physical benefits of an activity. This is something we would love to see more of, and would be interested in anyone who currently uses movement activities in this way.

You may also be interested in this article and the UK Association of Dance Movement Psychotherapy.


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