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Choice - When Kickboxing Becomes Truly Empowering

choice dance movement therapy dramatherapy ptsd somatic experiencing the body keeps the score trauma informed trauma sensitive yoga Oct 14, 2020


Trauma such as childhood or sexual abuse involves what can be referred to as an extreme lack of choice. (2) When violence happens to us, we lose control over our bodies. (3)

This manifests in two ways:

1. No person would willingly choose to experience trauma (4)

2. Trauma responses are involuntary (5)

I will use a fictional example to illustrate this point.

Lara is a 28 year old woman who lives with her boyfriend and their 2 year old son. Her boyfriend becomes extremely angry when drunk and regularly beats her. He insists that she must look after their son full-time and therefore not work. He has full control of their finances and uses this fact to manipulate Lara often. He bullies Lara and tells her over and over again that no one else would want her and that no one would ever hire her anyway.

Lara has no money to leave her boyfriend, she believes she is incapable of existing without him and does not want her son to grow up without a Dad.

Lara is NOT willingly choosing to experience this trauma.

When her boyfriend approaches her at night after several beers her body responds automatically (5). She will not risk using her social engagement system as she knows that reasoning with him has never worked before (5). She will not risk fighting him because he is much bigger than her and she will not risk running because she feels she has nowhere else to go. Her body automatically shuts down and she dissociates (5). She watches her body from above where she cannot feel any pain and she feels safe (1).

Lara repeats this survival strategy over and over until being 'zoned out' is part of her personality. While she feels no pain she also feels no joy or love or any other emotion. She cannot connect to her son because she cannot feel anything.

Lara's trauma responses are all involuntary.

Countering experiences such as Lara's that are an extreme lack of choice with opportunities to make choices is extremely therapeutic for trauma survivors. (2)


Trauma Sensitive Yoga

Trauma Sensitive Yoga teachers use invitational language (e.g., “when you are ready,” I invite you”) to create a safe environment to notice, explore, and observe physical experiences. (6)

Making every cue an invitation rather than a command is empowering (2)

Invitational language is the key to bringing choice into therapy. This is done using words such as “notice” and “allow,” as well as invitational phrases such as “when you are ready” and “if you like.” Bodily control is practiced, such as making choices to modify a posture, to stay in a particular posture, or to let the posture go. (7)

One Trauma Sensitive Yoga participant explained that being able to make choices with her own body based on how she feels allowed her to: “Confront...anger about having been abandoned as a child” (6)

Choices are critical in making Trauma Sensitive Yoga effective.


When emotions are being expressed, it will eventually reduce the pain. Dreams can be used to express things that are not easily expressed directly.

Whereas in dream the individual cannot make choices about what is dreamt, in the dramatherapy space clients can actively explore their own images and expressions. The client can have agency in making decisions about what emerges. (8)

Choices are critical in making Dramatherapy effective.

Dance Movement Therapy

Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) is a creative form of psychotherapy (9)

Participants choose which props to use, which music, the title and the movements to incorporate in their dance (9). Without choice, DMT wouldn't be an effective intervention in the treatment of adults with depression (10)

Participants would merely be learning dance routines, not choosing how to express emotions.

 Choices are critical in making Dance Movement Therapy effective. 


Boxing is a body-centred practice that enables you to bring your body back under your own control. (2)

I draw heavily on Trauma Sensitive Yoga by also using invitational language in the place of commands. I suggest activities which are open to interpretation by participants. I frequently remind participants that in addition to all movements being voluntary they can also choose the speed, intensity and sequence.


By creating an environment where clients are empowered to practice choice (2) they are exposed to first hand evidence that they are allowed to make choices. This in turn shifts their subjective reality into a world where they are in charge of their bodies and facilitates nourishing healing.



1. Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Viking.

2. Emerson, D. (2015). Trauma-sensitive yoga in therapy: Bringing the body into treatment. W W Norton & Co.

3. Cathy van Ingen (2016) Getting lost as a way of knowing: the art of boxing within Shape Your Life, Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 8:5, 472-486, DOI: 10.1080/2159676X.2016.1211170 To

4. Corso, P. S., Edwards, V. J., Fang, X., & Mercy, J. A. (2008). Health-related quality of life among adults who experienced maltreatment during childhood. American journal of public health, 98(6), 1094–1100.

5. Ogden, P., & Fisher, J. (2015). The Norton series on interpersonal neurobiology.Sensorimotor psychotherapy: Interventions for trauma and attachment. (D. Del Hierro & A. Del Hierro, Illustrators). W W Norton & Co. 

6. West, J., Liang, B., & Spinazzola, J. (2017). Trauma Sensitive Yoga as a complementary treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: A Qualitative Descriptive analysis. International journal of stress management, 24(2), 173–195.

7. Van der Kolk, B. A., Stone, L., West, J., Rhodes, A., Emerson, D., Suvak, M., & Spinazzola, J. (2014). Yoga as an adjunctive treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder: a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 75(6), e559–e565.

8. Phil Jones (2015) Trauma and dramatherapy: dreams, play and the social construction of culture, South African Theatre Journal, 28:1, 4-16, DOI: 10.1080/10137548.2015.1011897

9. Meekums, B. (2002). Dance movement therapy: A creative psychotherapeutic approach. Sage.

10. Karkou, V., Aithal, S., Zubala, A., & Meekums, B. (2019). Effectiveness of Dance Movement Therapy in the Treatment of Adults With Depression: A Systematic Review With Meta-Analyses. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 936.


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