Published on in Children's View
Erin Gallagher, MA, BC-DMT, has worked in the Creative Arts Therapy Program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia since 2017. A dance/movement therapist, Erin supports patient health and healing through creative movement-based interventions that encourage mind-body connection. This is a day in her life.
Out of bed to feed her cat, Tucker, and eat breakfast — cereal and apple juice.
Catches the train to CHOP’s Philadelphia Campus.
Arrives at her office. There are emails to respond to — a 10-year-old in the Rehabilitation Unit is receiving creative arts therapy, and Gallagher thinks she may also be a fit for her afternoon group.
Works on a presentation about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on many patients’ mental health and the need to provide specialized training to the Child Life department members who support these patients.
Sanitizes the various items she’ll use in therapy today — including balls, sensory toys, a parachute, scarves and bean bags. Unlike “traditional” dance, dance/movement therapy (DMT) can take many forms depending on the developmental age of the patient, their willingness to engage and their therapeutic goals. “DMT uses what comes up in a movement and helps interpret it or turn it into a strategy that could be useful in another scenario,” says Gallagher.
With her bag of props in hand, Gallagher heads to her first session. The patient is a 12-year-old boy who spends most of his day in a wheelchair and struggles with aggression. Through DMT, he’s developing greater body awareness to support emotional regulation. Today, an interactive game prompts him to use his body in creative ways.
Gallagher’s next patient is a teenager with an eating disorder. In DMT, she’s learning coping strategies — grounding movements to reduce anxiety and help her tune in to her body’s needs. Gallagher introduces the concepts of understanding and resilience and asks the patient to come up with a movement that embodies them. “Resilience is something that happens in your brain,” says Gallagher, “but how can you bring that into your body?”
Grabs lunch at a downstairs café — a hummus and veggie sandwich with chips — then cleans the props used in her morning sessions.
At a session with another teenage patient, a favorite game of bean bag toss encourages participation in a less-preferred activity: talking about feelings. Gallagher helps the patient explore challenging emotions with her body. The patient illustrates “anger” with clenched fists and “calm” with deep belly breaths.
Returns to her office for more prop cleaning and then heads to the Rehabilitation Unit, where she’ll round up patients for her afternoon group session.
Group starts with a game: Each patient introduces themself and then tosses the ball to the person beside them. These children range from 6 to 12 years old with varying physical limitations, and the group is largely focused on increasing movement and expression. Today they fold colorful scarves into shapes — a dog, a flower and even a horse! This activity gives Gallagher a sense of each child’s creative problem solving ability and self-efficacy. “Clippity-clop,” one patient sings.
In her office, Gallagher works on documentation.
Catches the train home.
Dinner with her husband. They spend time planning a much-needed vacation for when COVID-19 restrictions lift.
— Abbey Nash