I met Tina Stromsted more than ten years ago while I was completing a Masters program in dance/movement therapy and participating in an Authentic Movement intensive training group with Janet Adler. I had heard Tina speak at a number of events and professional conferences and decided to work with her privately, integrating movement, creative arts, and Jungian Depth Psychotherapy.
I recall the first day I walked into her studio on Cole Street in San Francisco to meet her. My body can still remember the permission I found to be myself. Tina’s caring, patient work and focused attention helped me learn to differentiate between archetypal energies and more personal, developmental material. Discerning the interrelationship between the two became an essential part of our work, as was learning to feel more grounded, with the ability to both contain as well as find more authentic, creative ways to express my feelings. This was particularly important when the upwelling of archetypal energy emerging from my Authentic Movement explorations became too threatening. Tina’s capacity to sense and receive what I was not yet ready to hold was palpable. Her love and trust in the process allowed me to become more open, and to recognize and accept my own embodied truth.
Also known as “active imagination in movement”, Authentic Movement is an embodied, therapeutic approach. In this practice, the client/mover closes her eyes, allowing herself to listen for and be moved by sensations, movement impulses, feelings and images that emerge from deeper layers of the unconscious. As the mover follows her experience, her witness sits to the side of the space, with eyes open, attending to her own experience as she tracks the movement of her mover. Drawing or writing often follow the mover’s experience, then mover and witness speak together, without judgment or interpretation. This process assists the mover in bringing more consciousness to what is emerging than can often be reached in strictly verbal psychotherapy.
Ten years after completing my studies and work with Tina, I returned to the San Francisco Bay area to visit friends and teachers and to reconnect with my roots in Authentic Movement, having since become a teacher of this discipline in my native Argentina. Sensing this as a turning point in my own life and work, I wanted to better understand the influences of my mentors, and interviewed Tina about the development of her work as a dance and somatic psychotherapist and teacher of this work.
Now, on this cool winter afternoon, I returned to the same studio on Cole Street, walked up the stairs and entered the warmth of Tina’s movement space, which is surrounded by musical instruments, drawing materials, and books. Having completed my therapy a decade before, Tina received me graciously, pouring tea as we began our conversation. Wanting to understand the roots of her approach – how her life experience had led her to this path – I asked her about her earliest beginnings with dance.
“I don’t ever remember a time without dance” she responded. “It was an important part of my childhood and adolescence. Expressing my feelings through movement gave me an enormous sense of freedom and well being. Now I understand that it was soul-work, connecting me to what was most truthful in myself, and simultaneously to all of life.”
Tina explained that she entered the scientific world of psychology through the body as many dance/movement therapists have done. She studied with dance therapists Trudi Schoop, Tamara Greenberg, and many others, while at the same time exploring the world of body and psyche from other perspectives with Somatics pioneer, Stanley Keleman, Riechian analyst Myron Sharaf, breathworker Magda Proskauer, Process-Oriented Jungian analyst Arnold Mindell, and mythologist Joseph Campbell. Later, through dance therapist and Jungian analyst, Joan Chodorow, she was introduced to Authentic Movement.
Feeling completely at home with this discipline, and recognizing the depth of what emerged, she pursued nine years of intensive training with dance therapist, Janet Adler. This brought back resonances of Tina’s early days with dance, reconnecting her with important developmental material, as well as the mystical core of the practice. Subsequently, Tina co-founded the Authentic Movement Institute with Neala Haze in Berkeley, California, a comprehensive program for the study and practice of Authentic Movement. She also offered course in other parts of the U.S. and in Europe, while integrating it into her private psychotherapy practice in San Francisco. Since the late 1980’s she has continued to deepen her experience and understanding of related work in developing embodied feminine consciousness with Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman, and her team of movement and vocal specialists, Mary Hamilton and Ann Skinner, and is now on the faculty of the Marion Woodman Foundation.
Through discovering her own voice and standpoint, Tina continued to find ways to bridge the worlds of mind, body, and spirit. As her work grew, she began to offer her unique contribution to the fields of Somatics, Depth Analytic Psychology, and dance and creative arts psychotherapies.
Sipping tea together, our conversation explored her early beginnings:
Karin: Where are your roots? What do you recognize as the source of your work?
Tina: I think our work, if it’s a genuine calling, is rooted at a soul level in our earliest beginnings. My childhood was spent in nature, in rural Massachusetts.
Some years ago I remember asking students in a supervision group in Rome,“ Who was your first witness?” Many responded, “My mother was my first witness”, which I think is true for many people. My own sense is that Nature was my first witness. It was there that I felt most whole, most inspired, most myself and most directly connected with something larger. Whenever I needed to touch a place that was true in me, I would go into Nature, swimming in the pond, dancing in tall grass in the fields across the street, or in the woods among the birches and oak trees. I remember a special tree… With my back against its study trunk and a sense of my roots in the ground I would read, cry, write my dreams and feelings, create poetry or simply connect with the silence… the potent presence of nature, within and around me. When things were difficult in my family I sought solace and companionship outdoors, often accompanied by my Irish Setter, Golden Retriever and/or my longhaired, calico cat, with whom I could express myself without censorship.
An important element is that I later discovered that my mother had lost her first baby – a son – to infant crib death while I was in her womb. This was a devastating experience that made it hard for her to welcome me or be present during my early years. Emotional and creative, she could also be unpredictable and frightening at times. When I was seven years old, she left my father and her three eldest children. A year later, he married a woman who, though something of a genius, had trouble accessing her own needs and feelings and the instinctual feminine warmth of her body.
I found myself feeling “homeless”, while still carrying the responsibilities of the eldest child in a growing household. So you see, my earliest questions gave rise to my work, which I call “re-inhabiting the female body.” This feels meaningful to me because my sense is that, given the biases of our patriarchal culture, the women I grew up with did not feel good about being a woman – about life in a female body.
One of the things that I discovered some years ago in my dissertation research was that most women who are drawn to Authentic Movement are often working on their mother problem. Most of the practitioners are women, and the leading teachers are women. Though, fortunately, more men are now entering the field, I experience this approach as a way to develop the feminine, receptive, and relational element within both women and men. The practice engages our capacity for sensing, for listening deeply to the body’s wisdom. It teaches us how to hold the tension between will and surrender, intention and receptivity, moving and being moved. This involves softening one’s defenses and the ego’s need to control, surrendering to a deeper source of guidance, by what Jung called the Self.
Mary Whitehouse, the grandmother of Authentic Movement, said, ‘Movement, to be experienced, has to be “found” in the body, not put on like a dress or a coat. There is that in us which has moved from the very beginning. It is that which can liberate us.’
(Whitehouse, 1963/1999, p. 53.)
On the deepest level it’s about the development of embodied consciousness: bringing out the light in the cells; awakening spirit in matter. This is a departure from the old religious idea that matter is dense, dumb and without consciousness. That God is distant from us and that spirit must descend into the body through the head.
The practice of Authentic Movement encourages us to bring a new level of receptivity and openness to our experience – a special quality of attention, and an enhanced awareness of what is occurring in us, as witness, and what we experience of the person who is moving. Over time, the process allows the light in the body to become aware of itself, and to develop. As movers and witnesses, we begin to feel more porous on a cellular level, more open, spacious and better able to tolerate a deeper and wider range of emotions and energetic experiences, as we discover previously unknown or “shadow” parts of ourselves. The essence of the process is about being open to the unknown – embracing mystery. Over time, we become better able to live with ambiguity, developing a more compassionate, symbolic attitude, rather than seeking refuge in concrete ways of thinking, polarizing our perceptions into categories of black and white, right or wrong. Life becomes more spontaneous, creative, and nuanced, more deeply personal, as each woman and man allows herself or himself to become authentic to their own nature – more genuinely who they are.
The amazing thing is that the more authentically ourselves we become, the more readily we can connect with something deeply universal. So there’s the paradox: the deeper we go into our personal material, the more we connect with the archetypal energies in the collective unconscious. Janet Adler describes this as the “collective body” (Adler, 1999) and Marion Woodman speaks of it as the “communal body” (Woodman, Lecture, January 29, 2003.)
So you see, many different threads have contributed to my own understanding and work. Perhaps a good way to say it is that through my own experiences as a dancer I found that movement was transformative, because it allowed me to discover and to express my emotions, and to give symbolic form to my dreams and inner life. After my parents’ divorce and my father’s marriage to his second wife, the family atmosphere swung from being unpredictable and emotional, to highly intellectual and controlled. The dinner table became a place to talk about books, politics and other people, but not about our own feelings, nor what was going on between us.
The experience of being witnessed – of being received and understood – in deeply emotional places, was something that I experienced rarely while growing up. Though I longed to been seen, understood and accepted for who I was, it did not feel safe to be visible, without risking criticism or inappropriate attention; at times in the early years I even feared for my physical safety.
And yet I loved to dance, and sought the sanctuary of nature to freely express what was in my body and soul. For me to take the role of the personal witness that I’d bestowed on the natural world, and to risk moving deeply and freely in the presence of a human being, was an essential step in my development as a woman and as a future therapist and teacher.
Karin: You said that many of us are drawn to Authentic Movement because of our mother issues. I learned from my own experience that although I could relate to my mother as a witness, there were also other themes to work through; themes that I can track back through the generations from my mother to her mother’s mother… I think that this multigenerational theme is something that touches us all.
Tina: Yes, exactly. And some of us decide to explore it more deeply. Though this journey is essential to living a more conscious life, not everybody chooses it. It’s not an easy path, because it involves being willing to uncover deeper feelings and beliefs and to face the issues directly. In the process, we can develop a more receptive feminine attitude. This includes developing a healthier, less critical and more discerning inner masculine – what Jung called the “animus.” This is challenging, as we live in a society that values speed, efficiency, technological advances, consumerism, hierarchal power relations, control and the unchecked use of natural resources. You can imagine the effects such a patriarchal system has on our experience of our bodies, our creativity, imagination and our relationships with one another and with the planet!
The process involves acknowledging the gifts and limitations of our mother’s and other primary caretaker’s capacity to witness us, which is often a direct expression of how she was seen and “held” as a feminine being while growing up. As we grow and mature in the world, we seek witnessing from our teachers and mentors as well. They, too, can reflect, encourage, and acknowledge our essence and our development. Though at first we often model ourselves after them, we later become more differentiated, as we find our own style of living and working.
As women possessing female bodies, we need to experience what it means to be guided by our conscious feminine nature and to be an active participant in our destinies. And when I say “feminine” I’m not speaking only of women, but of the inner, instinctual feeling part in men as well, because of course men suffer from this, too. Along the way we become more rooted in ourselves and better able to differentiate our own experience from the collective messages we are bombarded with – about body image, self-worth, and so forth. We are then in a better position to acknowledge and claim what we have received from our mothers (and fathers), teachers, and others while developing our own unique standpoint. This is an essential part of the process of becoming a more conscious, mature individual. You are then, paradoxically, freer to participate in a contributing way within the culture.
Karin: How does this developing process occur in Authentic Movement?
Tina: Moving safely with a non-judgmental personal witness can invite a regression to very early, often pre-verbal material. This is one of the benefits that Authentic Movement can offer, which is often beyond the scope of verbal psychotherapy. We cannot talk about the things that we experienced before we had language, but our body remembers. When the mover feels safe, the intimacy of the mother-infant dyad often reemerges; unresolved issues tend to surface, and the mover again experiences a longing to be seen as she is by her witness.
If we practice in the context of a psychotherapeutic relationship we have the chance to revisit, explore and support the slow, careful work of exploring the memories, dreams, feelings and fantasies that emerge. These experiences can also emerge in the context of a group, resulting in inevitable transferences onto the group leader and to other group members, but there often isn’t the same opportunity to work it through. In the “collective body” work there tends to be more emphasis on sibling relationships, a sense of “belonging,” of membership within the group. Inevitably, however, there is often parental or spiritual transference onto the group leader, but with less emphasis on each individual’s personal history. Rather, the focus is often on the stories and themes that group members discover and co-create together. Sourced in the depths of the body-psyche connection, these stories often mirror myths and fairy tales from many periods in history, reflecting human dilemmas, roles, and collective energies that seek form anew in each generation.
Karin: What do you think about the psychotherapeutic aspect of Authentic Movement?
Tina: It’s potentially transformative. After working with many people over the years, it feels increasingly important that the leader of an authentic movement group be a therapist, someone trained to work with the transference, because the corrective experience in the relationship is an essential element in the ability for healing to occur. We need to know how to hold a safe container and be present for the mover when unconscious material emerges. Impressions, beliefs, feelings, self-definitions – so much is stored in the cells and finds form through the person’s movement. Then the mover has an opportunity to explore and find words for what is being expressed in the movement. Otherwise, her feelings, images, memories and associations can recede back into her body, where they continue to create disturbance, hold back her development, or perhaps even become further concretized through body symptoms and illness, as the system loses balance.
For years, those of us practicing Authentic Movement thought that if people resonated with the form, and committed to practicing it, that practitioners from all backgrounds should be able to teach it. As you know, the practice has many benefits and applications; artists use it as a source for their art, dancers for their choreography, others for sacred dance or meditation. All of these offer rich avenues for growth and development; however, I do think that is important for the artist, the dancer and others who are not trained in psychotherapy to be clear about the framework within which they are offering the work. A wide range of complexities naturally emerge when the body/psyche begins to open and the practice deepens, and these seek expression and further development within the dynamics of the relationship.
Karin: You mean that it’s good for people teaching Authentic Movement to be clear about their intention, about the purpose of their practice?
Tina: Yes, that they not only find personal value in practicing it for themselves, but are clear about the particular elements of the form that they wish to bring into their teaching. These include both the resources and the limitations of what they’re offering – what professional ethics codes call the “scope of practice” that their training and experience prepare them for. For example, in doing supervision I inevitably hear about workshops that were difficult and even wounding. Though this can happen for any of us, it brings home the point that it would be helpful for the group leader to understand something of the dynamics of the transference relationship. Unless the teacher/group leader is a kind of natural mother and healer, who is able to reflect on her issues and what she, too, brings into the intersubjective field that they co-create together, it can get very muddled and even re-wounding. Without this orientation there can be an unconscious tendency to ward off that material, or to project one’s discomfort or judgments back onto the client/mover or the group. If the witness is not able to receive the mover’s experience in a more differentiated way, some of this material is likely to get blocked in the mover. In essence, the mover often does not feel safe enough to go any deeper than the witness has gone. You can sense this when you move with different witnesses; the alchemy in the relationship of the two people’s unconsciouses allows for different material to emerge.
For example, if the witness has a hard time dealing with her fear, her rage, silliness, sexuality, awe, or doubts about whether she was seen and accepted by her own mother, all of that is going to be present in the energetic field between them. Therefore, as witnesses, teachers, and psychotherapists it’s important to seek training and to do a good deal of deep exploration ourselves in these territories so that we’re familiar with our own issues and don’t confuse them with others’, at least to the best of our human ability. Simply talking about them is not enough to fully ‘know’ them, as they are wired into our nervous system and encoded into the very structure of our cells. We, too, need to stay rooted in the practice.
As you can see, the witness also needs to have a fairly well-developed ‘inner masculine’ function that can provide a clarifying, constructive, supportive framework for the witnessing process. Overtime, as the mover develops, the witness becomes the ‘verbal mother’ that can help the mover bring his movement experiences toward words, toward consciousness, building on his earlier experiences of moving in the presence of the ‘nonverbal mother’/ witness.
Karin: What do you see coming into your own work from the experiences and training you have had with Trudi Schoop, Joan Chodorow, Janet Adler and Marion Woodman?
Tina: I was able to surrender some of my rational, protective, “independent” stance with Tamara Greenberg, who was my first therapist. Our work together helped me trust my kinesthetic experience, my somatic ‘ground’, not only in nature but also in relationship to myself and to others. Trudi Schoop brought more access to a wide range of affects and imaginal experiences. She was an inspiring teacher, and encouraged us to fully engage our feelings through expressive movement. She also helped me discover the ‘dreams’ that my psyche was trying to express, moment by moment, through ordinary movements, such as walking, sitting and for forth, and to embody these more fully in my life. Trudi was a professional mime and dancer in her early years, and used her art to illuminate political issues and social injustice, which has always been important to me, as well.
Then I experienced Authentic Movement for the first time in a course with Joan Chodorow and continued to deepen my practice through many years of in-depth training with Janet Adler, eventually becoming her assistant and colleague. Trusting a woman to be able to see me, without judgment, criticism, envy or blame – without projecting her feelings onto me, to the best of her ability – was really a new experience. Both women were able to do this. Though very different in their styles, each was able to hold presence in ways that allowed me to explore my own experience at greater depth. As a Jungian analyst, dance therapist, and theorist, Joan has expanded my understanding of the psychological dimensions of active imagination in movement –the interpenetration of body and psyche. Together with her late husband, Jungian analyst Louis Stewart, she has made pioneering contributions to the study of affects, and the body’s role in the healing process. Joan has a global perspective and is committed to working cross-culturally, which is an essential part of my work, as well.
Janet supported my investigation of direct, embodied experience. Her profound interest in the pre-symbolic dimensions of the mover’s experience as well as the energetic, spirited phenomena that often develops over time in the practice mirrored my own early questions. These long-term, evolving relationships provided a foundation that I could trust, and now draw from, internally, in my work with others. Incidentally, both are mothers as well as professional women. Their personal experiences, questions, and authenticity have been deeply integrated in the work, another invaluable aspect of what they’ve modeled for me.
My studies with Marion Woodman have helped me continue to bridge Jung’s analytic work with bodily experience, artistic process, and vocal expression. In the process, I have found more of my own voice and standpoint in the world. Marion’s work with dreams is profound. Like Jung, her life is guided by them. In addition, her honesty in modeling a path of healing from an early eating disorder and a gripping addiction to perfection has helped me better understand the ways that our culture ravages the feminine. Her love of the sacred feminine and her commitment to supporting its embodiment in our world continue to inspire me, personally and professionally.
Dance therapists like Trudi, Tamara, Joan and my first supervisor, Judi Bell, taught me about using structured, directive movement therapy interventions. Later I understood that this is what I’d been exploring in my own way, both in my dance classes and with the patients in the hospital groups I facilitated. However, after studying many different dance forms and practicing zazen sitting mediation, I felt most drawn to the self-directed experience of Authentic Movement. There, I did not have to follow outer direction, nor perform, but could touch something fresher, more unknown and genuine within myself. This felt radical to me; it was a pathway to the Self, the deeply embodied feminine soul that had survived patriarchal programming and was longing to emerge. Authentic Movement provided a way to get in touch with something more vulnerable – parts of myself that lay beneath all of my conditioning – forgotten, unfamiliar, or underdeveloped. It also became my spiritual practice.
Years later, I developed a course to support women in embodying this material, while participating with other faculty in designing the curriculum for the newly forming Women’s Spirituality Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. In working experientially with the students, it was remarkable to see how when they started exploring their inner experience through their bodies, they felt directly connected to a sacred source that was deeply feminine. They were amazed to discover images of the Goddess emerging from their bodies, through movement, art and song. Some of them found specific goddess images in particular energy centers or charkas. Though they’d seen images of these goddesses in books, it had not occurred to them that these energies were their birthright, resonant in their flesh, if they could only drop into their experience enough to listen…
Karin: This is a source that lies beyond all conditioning, that cannot be contacted by will alone.
Tina: Yes, and to reconnect with it we have to risk opening to and softening the many layers of accommodation and defense that we have organized, psychologically and somatically. Along the way, there are often periods of profound grief, rage, fragmentation, dissolution, reorientation, new form and renewed hope … because if I am not only that which I learned was “woman,” then who am I? One can also see these phases in the ancient practices of alchemy and Shamanism – they seem to be universal stages in the transformative journey, though they are experienced by each individual in unique ways. In the process, we have to feel contained enough, supported enough, and loved enough to let the outer layers begin to melt in order to ask that question. That’s how healing and growth occur. It’s a very rigorous and humbling process, and I continue to learn a great deal from witnessing other women who are strong enough and flexible enough to go through it themselves. I also have enormous gratitude for my teachers, colleagues and friends who have lent their guidance, support and presence at different times along my path. This way of learning is a natural part of feminine development, as well. It’s about relationship.
Karin: Yes, I think it is about the relationship with the feminine, and sometimes women forget about it, too!
Tina: Absolutely. In fact, in some ways it is worse for us because we have a feminine body and a feminine nature within a culture that rewards patriarchal procedures, norms and values. If we try to live according to these ideals, we have to disconnect from our bodies and contort ourselves to fulfill the culture’s definition of what a “woman” is. These “feminine” images are advertised everywhere. Like it or not, we ingest them at very subtle levels, moment by moment. Before long, we don’t even notice them; they simply imprint themselves upon the body, becoming an unconscious, cellular message that we live out, and pass down to our daughters and sons. Capitalism sells products and services that pander to these insecurities – such as diet plans, liposuction, unnecessary plastic surgery and so forth. Some of these even carry serious potential risks to the health and well being of an increasing number of women and teenagers who get caught in the illusion of achieving the “feminine ideal” through external, profit-driven means. In a room full of women, you’re hard-pressed to find even one who is completely satisfied with her body. These images are not in accord with our nature, but rather a projection of man’s image of the perfect woman– his anima.
Karin: As I hear you, and think about your dissertation research and the masculine principle that is necessary to carry forward such a writing project, the image of a bridge comes to me. Thinking back to your early years when you were raised in an intellectual family, how did these inner “masculine” elements develop for you?
Tina: My understanding of the healthy ‘masculine’ principle derives from Jungian thought; it’s that part of women and men that is focused, differentiated and discerning. When I participated in Authentic Movement training with Janet Adler, I was already a practicing therapist and graduate schoolteacher – of somatic psychology, dance/movement therapy and creative arts therapies. I started out with a lot of questions and Janet would often say “Tina, what do you think about this?” As a result, I found myself articulating and writing a great deal, reflecting on the theoretical and clinical elements of what we were discovering in the moving and witnessing practice from a psychological, and often mythological, point of view. ‘What could this mean personally, culturally, and collectively?’ I often wondered.
Then there came a period when I moved but could not talk about my experience afterwards. I grew very quiet, feeling that I wanted to stay close to my body experience. I did not trust all the “ideas” that I’d previously had. I didn’t even want to hear a response from my witness; I let go of everything. This came not as a decision, but as a natural process. Then, at a later point, a very funny thing happened. We were all sitting in the witness circle, sharing our experience after the movement session. I didn’t say anything but remember feeling very excited when I opened my eyes, sensing that I was ready for words. When my turn came to speak and I at last opened my mouth a loud “MOOO” came out, like the sound of a cow — it was pre-verbal! Though strange, I felt very connected to it. Gradually words started to emerge, but from a new place in myself. What emerged was direct, spontaneous, and sometimes surprising; it conveyed its own wisdom – from body-to-word.
Reflecting on the process later, I understood that I had to put aside the intellect, the ways I’d configured everything I’d previously known; that is, a more linear, masculine approach. Though I still found ideas fascinating, I did not trust them immediately, without first grounding them in my direct, sensed experience. I needed to experience their truth in my body, come to them in my own way, and then reintegrate them. Words became a fresh outgrowth of what I’d learned, and wanted to continue to learn, from a deeply embodied source. Through that experience, masculine and feminine, verbal and non-verbal, solar consciousness and preverbal darkness became more integrated at a deeper level in me.
As you suggest, the development of the inner masculine is a very important component in women’s development. It can often express itself quite negatively in the beginning, appearing as the voice of the “judge” or the “critic”, measuring your experience against internalized patriarchal standards of rightness, goodness, and beauty. One then tries to conform or live up to these expectations, despite the truth of one’s own experience. Perfectionism comes in here. And as we know, this is often coupled with body image problems, self-doubt, and even self-hatred, manifesting in eating disorders, addictions, relationship problems, spiritual disillusionment, and a lot of other issues. Through Authentic Movement practice and personal analysis, the inner masculine gradually becomes more differentiated, developing into a kinder, more discerning source of inner guidance, creativity, and support. The woman’s intellect becomes less opinionated and more differentiated. Her life becomes grounded and creative, enabling her to live more fully and to feel a sense of agency in the world. She can then contribute in a way that feels profoundly connected to who she is.
My Authentic Movement practice, research, and writing, together with my analysis and ongoing analytic and somatic training, work, and relationships have helped me continue to develop and further integrate my masculine and feminine elements. And the learning continues; this becoming more conscious and human is a life-long process!
Karin: In a way, the animus or inner masculine in women sounds similar to the early stages of the “inner witness” in Authentic Movement practice. How do you see the relationship between the inner masculine and the inner witness?
Tina: Yes, that’s important. I agree with you in that they are both underdeveloped and undifferentiated in the beginning. What we call the “inner witness” in Authentic Movement – meaning our inner source, our embodied consciousness – often starts out being either quite unconscious, or judgmental. And yet, if we observe it carefully, we can often discern that it’s made up of all the introjected statements we learned from our parents, teachers, other important figures, and the collective messages of the culture in which we grew up. These impressions have often been programmed into the nervous system through repeated experiences; where they remain stored in the cells, below the level of conscious awareness. They are therefore fairly unexamined; we swallow them, accepting them as “the way we are.” At first we need these outer references to give us a sense of security and identity. Even if the statements are terrible, they seem better than nothing to the growing child, better than being completely at a loss, without signposts.
But I would differentiate the inner masculine from the inner witness. I think the inner witness is something much greater, what Jung called the “Self.” It is connected to a deeper creative source; that part of us that is guiding our development and needs to be made conscious. You could call it your inner Goddess or God. The ego can sort through experience, reflect, direct and discriminate, but a developed inner witness is that profound inner source that senses our connection to everything in the universe. As women, the inner masculine helps mediate our relationship to the unconscious, reflect on our experience, and guide our navigation in the world, but it is part of a much larger process. Women automatically often project it onto men, but need to reclaim these capacities for themselves. This, in turn, has the potential to free men to be more fully themselves, to open up to their inner feminine, if they can do the necessary work to examine their culturally assigned roles and live closer to their nature.
Karin: How was it to bring your voice from the body into the patriarchal academic world through your dissertation?
Tina: Very challenging! But in the end, it was a transformative experience. From time to time, over the last twenty years, I had investigated a number of Ph.D. programs but never found one that would allow me to pursue my own interests. In the end, it was good that I waited to apply, because by then the educational system had begun to open a little more to include the body, the feminine and the arts. This would not have been possible twenty years ago. This shift in the zeitgeist of culture allowed me to include experiences from my movement practice and feedback provided by my dreams within the research process itself. My body became a profound source of learning, included in every aspect of the study. I also tracked my dreams and did a lot of drawing, both of my dreams and my movement experiences. Though it was a lot of work – a long, challenging process that involved a lot of reflective thinking – it was passionate, too! The two strands – the analytic and the creative– continually wove together, in a way that worked on me, from the inside out.
Because the process took place in an academic setting, it was a delicate situation. I was continually challenged to remain connected to my truth, while standing up to outer authorities in order to defend the value of my organic, integrative approach. Although it was very difficult at times, I was able to substantiate the integrity of my research and process, without falling victim to the power complex – the well-known tendency to be the “dutiful daughter” who seeks approval from the “father” or outside authority figure – which is the sin qua non of the hierarchically-based academic system. I not only had to confront a very painful impasse with a male professor, but I had to take responsibility for my own internalized patriarchy: the inner voices that tried to direct my work or tell me that it was never enough, nor good enough. At times I felt doubtful or lost because what I was doing felt so new. The methodology that I chose was very much like Authentic Movement; it was not about trying to prove a hypothesis conceived ahead of time, it was about discovering something as I went along. All of this was fairly new at the time; I didn’t know anyone that had done it quite like that before so I had to have a lot of trust, and keep going back to my body and to my dreams as primary sources. In recent years, more and more researchers are choosing qualitative methods, and it’s heartwarming to see all the other women who are now including the experiences of body and psyche in their research.
Karin: Yes, the experience of being recognized as who we are, including our feelings, has not been common throughout history. In order to know, and to be ‘objective’, according to the positivist scientific paradigm, the inner world of the subject has to be closed off. In your dissertation, you speak about women who deny their sense of knowing, and identify themselves with patriarchal values. Could you say something about this feminine sense of knowing, or embodied knowing? A knowledge that is not separate from the body, but “comes in and through” the body, as in the transformative process you just spoke about?
Tina: Though there has been a lot of writing about the verbal psychotherapeutic process, and increasingly more about the role of the body in psychotherapy, what we have the chance to do in this kind of research is to deeply experience, reflect on and articulate how transformation is a cellular process. It’s not just something we think about, or read about but something we experience and live. For example, Marion Woodman was one of the women involved in the study. As I mentioned earlier, she’s a Jungian analyst and author who works a great deal with the embodied sacred feminine. During one of our interviews, Marion described a woman analysand with whom she was working who was crying and suffering deeply. Marion spontaneously reached out to take her client’s hand, feeling compassion and love for her, but the woman pulled away. It was a huge moment for both of them because the analysand realized that, though she thought she was feeling much better about herself, she discovered that the hatred of the feminine was lodged in her cells, and that it went back to her mother, her grandmother and her great-grandmother… all the way back through her feminine lineage. Marion then realized that it was not enough just to talk together but that her client’s body needed to have the experience of feeling seen and “held” by a conscious, loving witness.
Karin: Wow; that’s very moving…. I’d also like go back to something you said earlier about the research process. You said that the process was not so much about having to prove something but rather one of discovery. What have you discovered?
Tina: I learned a good deal about the body’s role in healing and change for women practicing Authentic Movement. This included essential elements in the practice, and stages that often occur in what can be a profoundly transformative process. To do this, I interviewed a number of advanced practitioners in Authentic Movement; each came from a very different background and theoretical framework. In the beginning, I invited each woman to speak broadly and openly about her experience, both personally and as a teacher and/or clinician in this work. During follow-up interviews, I asked them more specific questions. Over time, themes began to emerge repeatedly, which I then synthesized into larger categories.
During the process, I developed an even deeper respect for the importance of creating a safe, conscious container. What constitutes a “conscious container?” We can use that word easily, but how you actually co-create or prepare a container involves a very subtle combination of elements that need to be made conscious. Most importantly, it requires the presence of an experienced witness or group of witnesses who can observe and bring a quality of presence to the work, without judgment or interpretation. This “safe enough” container is essential for enabling the mover to surrender to the unknown. It’s what allows her the courage to soften her defenses, to give up her socially conditioned “persona” identity, in order to descend into unconscious material.
Like Inanna or Persephone – two important early feminine figures from the ancient myths – the mover is able to descend to the “underworld,” learn to integrate shadow material and emerge as a more mature, individuated person. She moves from the psychological position of a “maiden” or girl to a “woman,” through a profound process of descent and return.
My research questions had to do with discerning the conditions that were necessary to allow a woman to make this descent, to discover forgotten, rejected or pre-conscious parts of herself, and then bring them to consciousness. It’s like descending into a cave, discovering the treasure there, and bringing it back into daily life. This is a deeply embodied, transformative experience, echoing universal myths and initiation rites of passage, across cultures. I discovered that ancient initiation mysteries are still very much alive in us as modern people.
Karin: Returning to how we began our conversation, I think about how the earth is also suffering and in grave danger now. Perhaps connecting to and beginning the process of healing the Earth also needs to be through our relationship to our bodies?
Tina: Exactly. I think the way we treat our planet is a direct reflection of the way we treat our bodies – a macrocosm of the microcosm. If we can trash our bodies with junk food, profound self-criticism, addictions, liposuction, plastic surgery, dramatic diets, lack of movement, time-pressures, abuse, and/or other disembodied ways of living, starving them or denying them in myriad ways, then we can trash the planet. We plunder her natural resources, without giving back. Actions led by this kind of unconscious or malignant attitude rape the planet, and we end up living at Her expense. This power-orientation, insensitivity, and need to control have profound costs: we forget how to listen to our deeper nature and to live in relationship to other cultures and to other species. To the extent that we are willing and able to listen to our own body-nature, we can also begin to resonate with the joy and suffering of others, and with the cycles of earth. Embodied awareness is essential now. Trauma and fear work against this, breeding disassociation, numbness and isolation – a profound disconnection from self and other. Trauma also collapses our ability to imagine the future and to invest in a better world. These are challenging times in our world, as corporate interests and fundamentalist religious beliefs are steering the policies and actions taken by our national government. This, in turn, has an enormous impact on the global human community and on the natural environment.
Authentic Movement and other forms of depth-oriented, embodied healing work provide a way home. The practice can reconnect us with ourselves, with each other and with all of life. Numbness thaws and connection is reestablished in a dance of creation that can renew us. Sometimes I invite students to move outdoors, where they experience themselves more fully in contact with Nature. They then may choose a small object to bring back into the studio, and place it by their cushion/witness place before entering the circle as a mover. This is one of many small ways that we can bring consciousness to the presence of nature as our larger, “meta” witness. Then, in addition to the human witness who is sitting there, the mover can experience how she/he is held by concentric circles – spirals of connection and life.
Karin: Since we are talking about images, what image comes to you as you reflect on the relationship between you and this work?
Tina: There are many images, but two come most often. One is the Tibetan bowl. For many years, while sitting as a witness, I’ve had the sense of my pelvis as a singing bowl that resonates with deep, embodied knowing. The pelvis is the alchemical hearth, the place in the body where we receive and hold our mover. It also cradles all of our soft organs – the vitality of our lives. If we can be deeply grounded in our pelvis, in our own feminine nature, the mover can feel that much more held. Instead of being anxious, breathing high up in the chest, the witness is connected to the earth and to her own deep nature. The mover can then feel received, in a safe and embodied way.
The second image is of the lotus, a beautiful flower that unfolds over time, whose long root is planted deep in the mud beneath the water in which it floats. What begins in the mud, in that undifferentiated (and often undervalued) ‘prima materia’/elemental material, grows up into something magnificent and sacred. The two dimensions remain deeply connected throughout the process of growth and development. This natural image touches me deeply, reminding me of the organic wisdom inherent in the process, especially in moments when the work becomes challenging, cloudy or painful.
Karin: Here, again, we have the union of feminine and masculine elements, matter and spirit… the capacity for recognizing the light, by going in and through the darkness. The lotus embodies an integration of the opposites, the potential for new and more balanced relationships – with oneself, with one another, and with the Earth …
Tina: Yes! Yes!
Whitehouse, M. (1963). Physical movement and personality. Paper presented at the Analytical Psychology Club of Los Angeles. Reprinted in P. Pallaro (Ed.) Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler, and Joan Chodorow (pp. 51-57). Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1999.
Adler, J. (1994). The Collective Body. Keynote lecture for the International Clinical Conference on Dance Movement Therapy in Berlin: Language of Movement (Conference proceedings, pp. 3-12). September 1-4, 1994. Reprinted in P. Pallaro (Ed.), Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler, and Joan Chodorow (pp. 190-204). Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1999.
Woodman, M. (January 29, 2003). Lecture in the Leadership Training Program, London, Ontario, Canada.
Tina Stromsted, Ph.D., ADTR (Registered Dance Therapist) is past
Co-founder and faculty at the Authentic Movement Institute in Berkeley and is a faculty member of the Somatics Doctoral program at Santa Barbara Graduate Institute and the Marion Woodman Foundation. A founding faculty member of the Women’s Spirituality Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) she was also a longtime core faculty member of the Somatics Psychology program (CIIS) and teaches in Public Programs at the San Francisco Jung Institute, the C. G. Jung Educational Center in Houston, the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Esalen Institute, and other universities and healing centers. With a background in dance and theater, her clinical experience includes three decades of work in hospitals, community mental health clinics, and private practice. She leads annual workshops internationally and is a Candidate at the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. Her teaching, clinical practice, consultation, and writing integrate Depth Psychology, Authentic Movement, Woodman’s BodySoul Rhythms approach, creative arts therapies and other embodied approaches to reclaiming body wisdom and living a life of soul. Her private practice is in San Francisco.
For more information about Tina’s professional background and work see:
Stromsted, T. (in press). Authentic movement: A dance with the divine.
Stromsted, T. (in press). The dancing body in psychotherapy: Reflections on somatic psychotherapy and authentic movement. In P. Pallaro (Ed.), Authentic Movement: Moving the body, moving the self, A collection of essays. Volume II. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Stromsted, T. & Haze, N. (in press). The road in: Elements of the study and practice of authentic movement. In P. Pallaro (Ed.), Authentic Movement: Moving the body, moving the self, A collection of essays. Volume II. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Stromsted, T. (2002-03). Authentic movement as mystical practice: Janet Alder’s story. Somatics: Journal of the Bodily Arts & Sciences, XIV(1), 4-13.
Stromsted, T. (2002, Spring/Summer). Dancing body, earth body: Andrea Olsen’s story. Somatics: Journal of the Bodily Arts & Sciences XIII(4),10-21.
Stromsted, T. (2001-2, Fall/Winter). Dancing literature: Authentic Movement and re-inhabiting the female body. Somatics: Journal of the Bodily Arts & Sciences XIII (2), 20-39.
Stromsted, T. (2001, January). Re-inhabiting the female body: Authentic Movement as a gateway to transformation. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 28(1), 39-55.
Stromsted, T. (2000-1, Fall/Winter). Cellular resonance and the sacred feminine: Marion Woodman’s story. Somatics: Journal of the Bodily Arts & Sciences XIII(1), 4-11 & 51-54.
Stromsted, T. (1998). The dance and the body in psychotherapy: Reflections and clinical examples. In D. H. Johnson & I. J. Grand (Eds.), The Body in Psychotherapy. Berkeley & SF: North Atlantic Press & California Institute of Integral Studies, 147-169.
Stromsted, T. (Autumn/Winter ’94-’95). Re-Inhabiting the female body. Somatics: Journal of the Bodily Arts & Sciences X (1), 18-27.
Stromsted, T., Haze, N., Adler, J., & Chodorow, J. (1994). Excerpts from panel presentation, Authentic Movement Institute opens. A Moving Journal, 1(3), 3-7.
Stromsted, T. & Haze, N. (1994). An interview with Janet Adler. American Journal of Dance Therapy, 16/2/: Fall/Winter ’94, pp. 81-90.
Stromsted, T. (1992). Body Poetry: Listening for the Child’s Voice. In Proceedings of the JFKU Movement Symposium, Orinda, California.
Stromsted, T. (1991). Bright Dreams in a Dark Bowl: Bringing Out the Light in the Body. In Shadow & Light: Moving Toward Wholeness. Proceedings of the 26th Annual Conference of the American Dance Therapy Association (pp. 42-44). San Francisco, California.
Stromsted, T. (1989). Dreamdancing as a Healing Art. In Moving into a New Decade: Dance/Movement Therapy in the ’90’s. Proceedings of the 24th Annual Conference /2nd. International Conference of the American Dance Therapy Association (pp. 77-78). Toronto, Canada.