MA, LCPC, BC-DMT, GL-CMA
Spotlight on Sondra Malling, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT, GL-CMA
A dance/movement therapist and a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), Sondra Malling has been working in an outpatient program at Mount Sinai Hospital for the past two-and-a-half years. Within this program, she has served adults with a wide variety of clinical mental illnesses, from chronic depression to chronic schizophrenia. A graduate from MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling (DMTC, now Creative Arts Therapies) from Columbia College Chicago (CCC), Malling has always shown passion and need to use dance as her own healing power. She particularly found inspiration at 16 when she went to a lecture by Susan Imus, now chair of the Department of Creative Arts Therapies at CCC, one of the six certified Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT) programs by American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). Malling learned about the lecture presenting “alternative therapy” by a bipolar support group from her cousin, who suffered from bipolar herself. She described the experience “everything clicked! It all made sense to me.” Thereafter, Malling tailored and planned her studies accordingly, taking dance and psychology double majors to meet the DMTC application requirement. She worked at a psychosocial rehabilitation program at Anixter Center before arriving at her current position.
Malling conducts 1:1 sessions and leads DMT groups from day to day based on her belief and value of how trauma and mental illness interplay, and how those struggles are manifested in the bodies. She mentioned the prominence of intergenerational work with chronic mental illness, in which ingrained trauma is embedded. That being said, she constantly brings awareness to the implicit signs of ingrained trauma in her patients and supports patients by using a strength-based approach to empower them in their own recovery. Other than the DMT models, Malling’s work at Mount Sinai also highlighted her fluent use of American Sign Language, as well as her knowledge in Deaf Culture and hard of hearing populations due to personal connection.
Malling usually enters a group with no particular plan because she believes in the importance of organic therapy process. She begins with observing and attuning with patients, taking cues from them, whether it be a verbally expressed need or metaphorically presented one on the body level. For example, one time she had a group that started with Chacian group warm-up where participants mirrored each other’s movement and engaged in body parts articulation and connections. Later participants requested calmer music, which they danced to spontaneously under Malling’s guidance. As they moved together, Malling noticed an active spinal movement, including undulation, swaying, and spiraling. Malling took this cue and encouraged the participants to emphasize those movements, to explore their spines imagining their spines being this long, strong, and tall trunk that supported their moving and interacting. Suddenly, “there were all these six and seven feet tall women moving and dancing around me!” A palpable head-tail connection filled the room, the participants moved with ease and comfort with their later reporting feeling much more “confident”, “energized”, ”like I can carry myself out the room differently than when I first entered.” Malling was really using images and spontaneity to guide her patients to resource themselves.
Another time, a group with schizophrenia began when everyone was responding to internal stimuli instead of being present. Malling saw the need to use a tangible object for her patients to develop focus and cohesion; she used this opportunity to introduce a ball, asking participants to pass the ball around. The participants thus had to direct eye contact with each other, saying names before passing, interacting in a way that allowed ball passing to be successful. This intervention helped the participants come out of their internal enclosure at present and build inter-relationships. As group progressed, Malling observed a shifting energy in the room, from more dispersed and as-a-matter-of-fact task-oriented nature to more channeling and nurturing with all eyes and focus on the ball like it is a baby that needs care. Malling again, supported this shift and in turn allowed the group to develop its own trajectory and held the group with care.
Through these examples, we learn that being a dance/movement therapist really requires mindful observation skills, understanding of psychology and DMT theoretical frameworks, as well as authenticity, empathic attunement, and effective interventions.
Although a small team, Malling works cohesively and collaboratively with another dance/movement therapist and art therapist in providing the best care for their patients. By engaging in her own practice of Authentic Movement, Malling continued to find ways to self-care and enhancement in her service. According to Malling, the trained dance/movement therapist is expert in detailed observation, and through the process, further supports and models for people how to build healthy connections. She noted, “the most important distinction between DMT and dance class is that DMT is to use body as the channel for psychosocial goals.” And this is what all DMT believes.
This article credit goes to: Chih-Hsien (JoAn), Lin