Alumni Highlight

On the Leading Edge of Dance/Movement Therapy

Home to nearly one-third of the world’s current roster of wars, Africa owns a significant claim on the global conscience. Several CNHP alums are taking action.

One of these, David Alan Harris (MA ’02, Creative Arts in Therapy), is proving that Dance/Movement Therapy can help former child combatants. In a remote corner of rural Sierra Leone, David established a program under the aegis of the Center for Victims of Torture in 2006—probably the world’s first DMT group for child soldiers.

Following David’s presentation to the International Symposium on Torture, the Copenhagen-based International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims will publish his “Dance/Movement Therapy Approaches to Fostering Resilience and Recovery among African Adolescent Torture Survivors” in the Journal on Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Prevention of Torture. The article discusses David’s Sierra Leone initiative as well as a program closer to home. Right at home, in fact: the Dinka Initiative to Empower and Restore (DIER—dance in the participants’ language) provides psychosocial support for South Sudanese youths resettled to the Philadelphia area.

Southwest Philadelphia hosts one of the largest communities of expatriate Africans in the United States, and the need to address their post-traumatic difficulties and help them adjust to a new culture led David to found DIER with support from the Creative Arts in Therapy program while he was a Hahnemann/Drexel student. Director of Dance/Movement Therapy Education Ellen Schelly Hill expresses her delight with the attention David’s work has earned.

“He’s stretching the boundaries of dance/movement therapy on an international level. I can’t wait to see how these programs develop over the coming years.”

Therapist with Group in Africa

Photo: David Alan Harris '02 (second from right) with a team of trauma counselors in Liberia.

Serving Those Who Serve

The Department of Defense reported that 23,417 U.S. military people had been wounded in Iraq by February 2007. The precision of that statistic obscures individual sagas of courage, determination—and the skill of at least one recent Drexel alumna.  At the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Angelique Ruiz DPT ’01 is helping to rebuild the lives behind the headlines.

As Lieutenant Ruiz of the U.S. Navy Medical Corps, she cares for men and women wounded in Iraq. Their injuries would challenge any therapist, let alone one just a few years out of graduate school. But Angelique relates her experiences with a confidence that she credits to her Drexel education.

“We see traumatic injuries involving more than just one body part, and sometimes brain injuries that add a layer of complexity. The esprit de corps that attracted Angelique to the military entails emotional issues as well.

“ You’d be surprised at how many badly injured people we see who want only to be with their buddies,” she reflects. “They keep asking you, ‘When can I go back? When can I go back?’” Angelique’s experience has taught her the value of patience. “Sometimes your patients aren’t responding as well as you hoped . . . and they may be as frustrated as you are.

“Programs like Drexel’s that are strong in multiple aspects give you the best preparation for what actually happens in a complex real-world working environment. The Drexel DPT program stresses an interrelated approach, and I’ve learned that you need all the knowledge you can bring to a case.

“I recently emailed [Professor] Patty Rubertone to thank her for the education I received,” she smiles. “I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of my classmates and teachers, and I always will. I had a great experience there.”

PT alum smiling with patient on crutches

Photo: Lieutenant Angelique Ruiz, DPT, USN '01 cares for US military personnel wounded in Iraq.