During a professional gap in my career as a eurythmist, I was briefly a carer at a school with some leanings towards anthroposophy for children with severe and multiple learning disabilities. In my daily work, I struggled to communicate with the children, especially when they were distressed and expressed violent or withdrawn behaviour. I missed having a tool-set that was appropriate to be used in the care of non-verbal people and was practical in its application in daily life. I experimented using some basic eurythmy movements while caring for the children and found that the latter responded remarkably well and began to engage with me following a eurythmy exercise.
Seeing my colleagues struggle to connect with the children and not having access to an effective, hands-on method first gave me the idea to develop a practical programme based on eurythmy exercises that professional carers could use in their work with people with diminished or impeded brain capacity.
A few years later I trained as a Eurythmy Therapist, and after graduating decided to develop this programme where eurythmy could become a care tool. In my work as a carer I had experienced what a marginalised group carers were – under-appreciated, underpaid and easily replaced – and wanted to provide them with a practical method that would make bonding with their clients easier.
The care home I approached, a private organisation for around 17 young adults with severe, multiple learning disabilities, had connections with the school I had worked in previously, and the founder valued the humanity of anthroposophical principles. The home was run according to the model of person-centred care and staffing was one-to-one.
Management offered me a three-month trial period to ascertain whether the carers liked using eurythmy exercises with their clients, seeing that they had no knowledge of it. We experimented with weekly group sessions where I taught between two and five carers with their clients basic eurythmy exercises and approaches. Just as when I had tried it myself as a carer, the clients responded to eurythmy straight away and found their inner balance. If they had come in hyperactive, they calmed down, and if they had come in withdrawn, they opened up. In either case they became ready to engage with their environment. The carers were amazed by the unexpected results, and I was then formally employed as the movement therapist of that organisation who would help carers bond with their clients.
Over the next six years I kept refining the programme and adding more exercises that carers with no formal training in eurythmy could do. As long as they were willing to open up to the method it worked, whether they had an already established relationship with their clients or were new to organisation or even only temporary agency staff.
While it was clear that the method was working, I did not know beyond an initial instinct why it worked. For my Research Master’s in Eurythmy Therapy (2016, Alanus) I explored this question, and over the course of a year asked the carers for their experiences. I asked them about their work as professional carers, how it felt using eurythmy exercises in their daily dealings with their clients and what kept them motivated to do it. The results concluded that using eurythmy as a care tool created connectedness on three distinct yet interconnected levels:
Between carers and their clients
Within the care team, i.e. carer colleagues with each other
Within the individuals themselves
clients calmed down or opened up
Apart from the carers’ own experiences of their work and of using eurythmy as a care tool, my thesis also described the exercises I used and the methods I employed to make eurythmy accessible and practical to the carers while safeguarding its essence. The accompanying poster is a summary of the thesis. It explains why I believe such a programme for carers is necessary and shows the results of my findings.
The general feedback I get from carers is that they find doing eurythmy with their clients a relaxing and positive experience for both. They often talk about tension ‘melting’ away. Carers also report that after doing eurythmy, their clients are more open to their environment, more engaged and more communicative in their own ‘language’. The trust clients grow towards their surroundings develops their social faculties.
I currently call the programme ‘Sustaining Empathy in Long-term Care – Eurythmy Movement Therapy as a Care Tool as empathy is the bridge which enables carers to meet their clients on a level beyond intellectual abilities – that of a shared humanity.
Since completing my Master’s Degree, I have told people about my programme whenever possible. At the end of 2018 I was approached by the Helios Trust at the Helios Medical Centre in Bristol where I work as Eurythmy Therapist. They offered me a grant to do further research in 2019 to see whether my project can be applied in a wider variety of care homes with a wider variety of vulnerable clients, for example people suffering from dementia. My plan is to explore which factors make the programme effective – is it one-to-one staffing, is it leanings towards anthroposophy in management, or is it when the organisation operates according to the person-centred care model?
I call my method Eurythmy Movement Therapy (as opposed to Eurythmy Therapy) to guide the general public’s mind immediately towards this therapy having to do with physical exercises and to avoid possible early alienation before an explanatory conversation can be had.
Editor’s note: the very impressive full-size A4 poster is available from Rebecca by request.