Right Brain, The Unconscious and Uncovering Metaphorical Meaning Through Movement

Dr. Megha Deuskar

Assistant Professor, Dept of Psychology,

Fergusson College, Pune

E mail: drmeghadeuskar@gmail.com

Recent advances in Neuroscience have begun to draw parallels between the functioning of the right brain hemisphere and Freud’s conception of the unconscious mind. The holistic processing of the right brain as against the linear processing of the left brain, the tendency to gain knowledge through acquaintance rather than through verbal processing and the capacity of the right hemisphere to be creative liken it to the concept of the unconscious mind. Analytically speaking some of our most deep seated distresses and emotional material from the remote past lie buried in the unconscious mind, alternatively, the right brain. It has also been found that the left brain, which is the seat of logical thinking, verbal processing and the conscious mind exerts an inhibitory control over the right brain.

Most psychotherapists have to spend substantial time and effort to access the deep seated wounds of their clients. One reason for this is that the memories associated with the painful emotion have been suppressed, or in psychotherapeutic language repressed by clients years ago. This is a mechanism of the human mind to ward off pain. Most clients will resist expressing events or feelings that are associated with shame, anger, fear, hostility or guilt. Nevertheless, at some point in life, it is indeed useful to uncover these distresses, because, however deeply buried, they continue to affect the client and keep them from leading full, rich and liberated lives. Since the right brain is supposed to be the seat of stored images, emotions, metaphors and meanings, it becomes much easier to access occluded material if this hemisphere can be actively involved in the process of psychotherapy.

Dance can be particularly helpful in uncovering such deep seated distresses and meanings.  Movement activates the right brain and allows clients to express themselves symbolically. In her book titled “Dance and Movement Therapy”, Bonnie Meekums presents a succinct model of the movement therapy process. The model posits four steps involved in the process of psychological integration. The first step is the assessment process, wherein the dance movement therapist together with the client verbally processes the need for therapy. This is largely a left brain activity. The second phase is the incubation process. In this process, the therapist allows the client to express themselves non-verbally, often with the help of props. The client enters a phase of “not-knowingness”. They spontaneously sway to music, or respond to their partner’s movement or express themselves through props. It is in this phase that the right brain is activated. Spontaneous discharge of emotions in the form of tears or angry vocalisations or other body movements may occur at this stage. The movement therapist has to stay fully attuned to the client’s intense self expression as well as to metaphorical meanings. At the end of the session, the therapist and client sit together and discuss the meaning of the movement. This stage is called as the stage of illumination, and this is the stage where the insights that have emerged from the right brain activity are transferred to the left brain. The last stage is that of insight, the completion of verbal processing, wherein the realisations are allowed to be integrated completely in the left brain. The completion of this process brings about lasting changes in the person’s personality. Gain in self confidence, reduction in long standing health issues, reduction in depression and an increased capacity to unconditionally accept the self are a few of the most notable gains achieved through movement therapy.

Success of movement therapy depends on the extent to which the therapist can understand and stay attuned to the metaphorical meanings that emerge through movement. In one session, the client, a 23 year old woman was expressing herself through lying down in the foetal position. She spontaneously experienced an urge to struggle her way out, made violent movements and then felt a deep sense of frustration. It was as though she was being helped when she felt she did not need any help. It was confirmed after the session that she was born to a c-section, a decision that doctors took because her mother had already had a c-section delivery before, inspite of the fact that the baby (the client) was on her way to be born naturally. The client later described how this exercise helped her to realise how her prenatal feelings of not being trusted enough for her capacity to do things on her own played a part in her ongoing struggle for autonomy.

Semi structured movement exercises help clients look at their past, present and future lives while being in touch with the metaphorical meanings that arise from their unconscious mind.


Tucker, D.M. (1981). Lateral brain function, emotion, and conceptualisation. Psychological Bulletin, 89, 19-46.

Buck, R. & Duffy, Duffy, R. (1980). Nonverbal communication of affect in brain-damaged patients. Cortex, 16, 351-362.

Meekums, B. (2002). Dance Movement Therapy: A creative Psychotherapeutic Approach. London, UK: Sage Publications Ltd.


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