I knew my first graduate-school internship at an inpatient psychiatric hospital would be difficult. I didn’t know how much it would make me question my sense of self.
When I was in graduate school, working toward becoming a dance/movement therapist, my program placed me in an inpatient psychiatric hospital for my first internship, right out of the gate. This was a struggle for me because I had no psychiatric experience other than my own journey with bipolar II disorder and PTSD—and I had no identity as a mental health professional.
a dance/movement therapist, I use movement in the therapy process to aid in
self-expression. I also help clients find new coping skills through
experiential movement exercises. Dance/movement therapy is considered one of
the creative arts therapies and is often used as an addition to traditional
psychotherapy in a hospital setting.
person’s movement qualities and choices can inform a dance/movement therapist
about their diagnosis and relational patterns. Certain diagnoses are related to
different qualities of movement. People who are living with schizophrenia, for
example, tend to move in a very fragmented and disconnected way. Someone with
bipolar disorder might use a lot of quick, high-intensity movements, and
someone with severe depression may lack energy and shape in their movements.
Risk of “Somatic Countertransference”
dance/movement therapy, the therapist uses his or her own self actively in the
therapy process. This makes the therapist vulnerable to what’s called “somatic
countertransference” from clients. Countertransference
occurs when a therapist projects his or her feelings onto a client, it and can
be reciprocal if the client feels a sense of transference toward the therapist. This process can be helpful in
therapy when used properly and with purpose. Somatic countertransference refers to the experience the therapist
has in this client-therapist relationship as felt in the body. Somatic
countertransference is often an involuntary, physical reaction to a client.
Struggling to Identify as a
I have a psychiatric diagnosis, I knew that being in this type of setting would
be difficult for me, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I would struggle with
my identity. When I was a student first starting out, I did not identify at all
as a therapist. My only identity was as a student (who has bipolar disorder)
learning to be a therapist, and often I identified with the clients in the
hospital more than I did with the therapists.
My Diagnosis Made Me
the beginning, I used my own lived experiences to guide the decisions I made in
sessions, which sometimes worked well and sometimes backfired. One time, I was
participating in my supervisor’s dance/movement therapy group session. We were
taking turns leading one another in the group in expressive movements, and when
it was my turn, I did whatever came to me that expressed how I was feeling at
the time. My supervisor, who did not know about my diagnosis, pulled me aside
after the group and told me that I needed to expand my movement repertoire
because “only people who are manic can relate to your movement.”
conversation was very upsetting to me because I began to question whether or
not I could be a therapist to all. It also made me feel “othered.” My
supervisor didn’t know that I had bipolar II disorder, but if she did, what
would she have thought of me? Would she have thought I was capable of being a
also felt incredibly vulnerable. Would my movement choices “give away” my
diagnosis to clients? If so, would clients find me difficult to relate to, or
would they feel seen and understood? Did my diagnosis make me an unfit
candidate for my chosen career?
Disclosing My Diagnosis as a Defense Mechanism
During my second year in graduate school, I
interned at another psychiatric hospital, and this time I told my supervisor
about my diagnosis before we even began. She seemed intrigued by my decision to
share this part about myself, but I thought it was the obvious move,
considering how vulnerable I felt when sharing my movement with the group.
By this time, I had a year of school under my belt and had spent 20 weeks interning in the first psychiatric hospital. I identified more like a therapist now, but I still struggled with my identity as a therapist with bipolar disorder. I thought that my supervisor would be able to “see through me” by watching my movement choices and therefore felt it was important to notify her before we started that I had this diagnosis. It was, in retrospect, a defensive move.
Identity Shift When I Became a Professional
I worked in inpatient psychiatric hospitals
for over 4 years and eventually left due to an adverse reaction regarding my
own mental health. I wasn’t taking care of myself and I was letting the job get
to me. I hadn’t developed a thick-enough skin when it came to managing my own
countertransference, specifically my somatic countertransference.
I also continued to struggle in my
professional career with my identity in this world of the hospital. Once I
became a professional therapist, I thought that this issue would sort itself
out, but it didn’t. If anything, it got worse, because at this point, I was
no longer the student learning how to be the therapist, but I was the
professional who was supposed to have the answers.
I was still struggling to feel like I should
be sitting in the room as the therapist and not one of the clients. It was very
easy to see myself on the other side of those doors, and I identified way too
much with my clients in order to do my job properly. In the end, I left the
hospital setting completely.
How I Identify Now
In the two years since I left the hospital
setting, I have spent a great deal of time working on managing my mood and finding
a stable balance in my life. I spent a year working with children and teenagers
with autism, which provided me a very different experience than those I had working
in a hospital. Eventually, though, I left that career entirely to become a
writer and write about mental health.
I’ve decided that it’s okay to share that I
have bipolar disorder, but that fact doesn’t need to be my identity. I am Allie
Linn, daughter, sister, wife, dog mom, dancer, yogi, former therapist, and
writer. My diagnosis doesn’t define me, and neither does yours.
Allie Linn is a mental health professional, freelance writer, registered dance/movement therapist, practicing yogi, and dancer. As a writer, Allie uses her platform to spread awareness about mental health conditions; she hopes that sharing her experience living with bipolar disorder will both help others feel less alone and educate loved ones of people who are managing bipolar. After earning her master’s degree in dance/movement therapy and counseling at Drexel University, Allie spent several years working in inpatient psychiatric hospitals, including Friends Hospital in Philadelphia, PA, and Northbrook Behavioral Health Hospital in Blackwood, NJ. She has worked with adults and adolescents living with a variety of brain-based illnesses, including mood, personality, psychotic, and substance use disorders, as well as suicidal ideation. Allie also spent a year working as a group therapist for children and teenagers with autism, using movement and dance to help facilitate increased body awareness and safe self-expression. Allie’s main goal with her writing is to smash the stigma associated with mental health conditions. Her website is AllieLinnWrites, and she can be found on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Medium.
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