What is Authentic Movement?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Various types of body movements are prescribed to treat physical problems in people. One type of therapeutic exercise is known as authentic movement. Authentic movement is an expressive therapy that allows patients to use free association in their motions.


Also known as an expressive improvisational movement, authentic movement therapy was created in the 1950s by psychotherapist and dancer Mary Starks Whitehouse. During its conception it was called "movement in depth." Whitehouse created the concept by using dance when treating her psychiatric patients.

Akin to some Eastern philosophies, the idea behind authentic movement training is based on ideas made popular by Carl Jung. Whitehouse, a subscriber of Jungian theories, put his active imagination principles into her work. These principles involve using dreams, imagination, and fantasy to explore the mind; they can be seen in the spontaneous free association and creative expressive movements that are encouraged in authentic movement therapy.

Many practitioners refer to authentic movement simply as AM. During an AM session, patients begin with their eyes closed and bodies relaxed. Rather than responding to external directions or sounds, patients are encouraged to follow an inner stimulus stemming from a mind and body connection. They wait for cues from their bodies to begin moving impulsively in a free form of expression, without any guidance or steps to follow. This can be in the form of graceful dance, rapid jerks, hand gestures, or any other action.

This self-directed, manipulative therapy is not limited to movement. Sounds are also expressed during each session. Participants may call out, yell, or make any types of nonsensical noises while moving their bodies. As the patients are not limited or coached through their motions, their steps and calls are considered to be authentic.

Patients are encouraged to not think or analyze themselves during therapy. The process is not meant to be intellectual at all, but purely intuitive and simple. Participants should refrain from any conscious decision making during the exercise. They should, however, pay attention to feelings and what their senses experience to become more self-aware.

A witness is in charge of observing the patient's movements. This is to track the movements with the patient, without judgment or analysis. The participating witness should be passive and not physically involved with the participant's AM. This is known as a relationship between a mover and a witness, and can be carried out in pairs as well as in larger groups. The mover and witness may also switch roles, depending on their individual therapeutic needs.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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