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Movement and Healing

At the Rape Recovery Center, we understand that self-care, coping and wisdom extend beyond the survivors we serve, but must also include the advocates who accompany survivors through their healing journey. As a way of fostering a space for staff to explore their own self-care and assessment of burnout, we sought out some support from Dr. Shannon Simonelli, who is an Integrative Creative Arts Therapist. She led a group process for a staff retreat creating a connection through imagery and movement.

Image source:

Image source:

Through Dr. Simonelli’s facilitation staff had an opportunity to pause from work in this field and cultivate self-care by creating a group language and awareness of the importance of being in the body. This helps us to navigate stressors and have a common language together. We fundamentally believe that as we care for ourselves, we can remain engaged in a fulfilling way -- doing the work we are so passionate about. Coming together to do personal work and collective work has been a powerful tool for organizational cohesion.

We asked Dr. Simonelli to share some information about how she found this work and to answer some questions for those at home wanting to cultivate pause and self-care at home.

What motivated you to get involved in the work you do?

Doing this work is an outgrowth of my life experience from my training and pursuit of a doctorate degree. This was an evolution from the beginning of my life where I grew up in a family that experienced mental health issues. To learn how to navigate this, I was drawn to explore my inner world and therapy process to make sense of my life experience. This is part of what drove me to be a therapist and do this work.

The second part of that, the way that I learn, is by moving and by being engaged —not just talking about it. I like to use imaginal, creative expression, and body engagement in my learning experience. When I was younger, I was diagnosed with learning disabilities, which is a huge part of why I pursued the work that I do. I explored the things that made meaning for me which supported my learning process when I was younger.

What have you enjoyed most about using movement and art in spaces of healing?

I find that engaging through the creative arts is generally a non-threatening way to get to more in-depth material. Movement elicits the body in ways that we may not always have words for. It is a powerful way for individuals and groups to express what is troubling them, even if they don’t have the words or cognitive understanding of what it is. It is a very direct language using imaginary, art making, and moving the body. It helps to bring awareness to the body which is critical for integrative healing.

What is most challenging about the work you do?

I have to say helping people understand that I am a therapist that uses art-making, movement, and creativity to access deeper meaning into life. Secondarily, encouraging people to take the risk to try something new in different ways that may feel uncomfortable is another challenging thing that I do.

What is your message to others looking to explore movement and creativity as an avenue of coping?

DO it! Really follow your own creative expression. Give yourself permission to explore and engage in the creative process, using different materials that you feel called to use, and participate in movements that your body needs. Follow what you love and what feels right. It is always a good gateway. I also encourage you to find a trained creative or expressive arts therapist that uses these modalities to help you engage in your inner work.

What are small everyday ways someone can increase awareness of how healing intersects with movement and creativity?

I am going to approach it from imagery and the body. I encourage people to focus on images that they are attracted to as they move through life. I remember a time in my life; I just kept noticing stop signs as I was driving. I got curious about why I was noticing stop signs in my life and started to realize that there were places and behaviors in my life that I needed to set boundaries in. I got curious about something symbolic in my life that was trying to get my attention. So, that’s one thing that’s fun to play with — to notice what symbols, images, and signs you are paying attention to.

From a body-based perspective, building awareness in the body. You can play with it in the same way. You can scan your body and notice sensations you feel. Perhaps you are feeling pain in a certain area of your body. Notice how that may be a metaphor for what your inner life is trying to tell you about that symptom. For example: if you are feeling nauseous, maybe ask yourself “what am I sick of?” Using the engagement of the body both metaphorically and materially, signaling what you may need to attend to. What is the body trying to tell you? The next step is, what do I need to do to tend to this and honor this pain? This really allows the body to speak to you in a direct way.

For more information: Please see Dr. Shannon Simonelli’s website. She sees individual clients and facilitates group retreats.

We are excited to share that this April, during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, our clinical team at the Rape Recovery Center and community partners will be curating an event centered around movement and artistic expression. Our community partners include: Trauma-Informed Care Network, Multicultural Counseling Center, Full Circle Yoga, The Women’s Resource Center, WeCan, and community therapists.

This event is open to the community. For more information, please see our website for details and ways to RSVP for the event.