Applying effective public speaking skills to engage people with dementia
Two years ago, I provided a webinar for the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) entitled Cultivating Engagement: Effective Communication Skills for Dance/Movement Therapy with People with Dementia. In the webinar, I intertwined effective public speaking skills as advocated by Nido Qubein with dance/movement skills necessary to engage people with dementia because it seems to me that the skills are very much the same.
I was particularly drawn to Qubein’s idea of the importance of images in communicating. He says, “We talk in words, but we think in images.” According to Qubein, we communicate our images through words, pictures, sounds and gestures. I certainly know the effectiveness of imagery to prepare the body for dancing. In Joan Green‘s improvisational dance class, Dancing Outside the Lines, Joan often warms us up using her version of Skinner Releasing Technique.
According to dance/movement therapist Susan Sandel, whose book Waiting at the Gate: Creativity and Hope in the Nursing Home was seminal, using imagery can shift a client’s movement from a simple action to a symbolic act. In Sandel’s chapter “Dance therapy groups: A developmental approach” in Foundations of dance/movement therapy: The life and work of Marian Chace, Sandel shares Marian Chace’s ideas that (1) image making stimulates connection between feeling states and symbolic representation, and (2) thought exists on a continuum from physical movements and sounds to images to words.
As a dance/movement therapist for 40 years helping people ages 3 to 108 y.o. cope with myriad difficulties, from mental illness to physical rehabilitation to dementia, I have found that as the group leader, having an image of what it means to be a psychotherapist in the specific instance, is invaluable to the effectiveness of the outcome I am aiming for. The image can change during the course of an interaction or over time. Some of the images I have had over the years have been captain of the ship, life guide, fellow traveler, clown, and always, as one of the simultaneous images, container of the group.
Of course, the clearest and most compelling image I have had, motivated by trying to engage people unable to relate to anyone but the group leader, was of therapist as hub of the wheel and the interaction as spokes. It is this image that is manifested in the Octaband®. As I began using the prototype of the Octaband®, my image changed from a wheel to an octopus. The image of an octopus reaching with its arms into the environment to feed its mouth in the center symbolized the group synergy I experienced in a DMT group.
Qubein suggested that we need to send and receive clear, accurate images. We do that by fixing images clearly in our own minds so that they are vivid, clear and concise. And to do that, we may need to first play with the images, then choose the most effective images, and finally accurately convey the images. Of course, that shouldn’t be difficult if we are clear about our intention, for as Irmgard Bartenieff said, “Intention organizes the neuromuscular system.”
Dance for Connection’s vision is for all older adults, and particularly those who are living in facilities other than home, to be offered dance and embodied caregiving daily. Toward that end, I provide trainings and supervision to teach and support others in bringing dance to people with dementia. The scale is beginning to tip as far as my balance in providing direct dance programming to people with dementia and providing trainings and workshops. This is as I hoped it would be. I am pleased to announce the upcoming 15 hour training at Atria Marina Place in Quincy, MA on October 21 and 22. You can register here. Please note that registration is limited, and Earlybird registration ends September 21.