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Helping heal trauma patients through dance

Katie Cowart

During Julia Turpin’s freshman year, she participated in the University of Georgia’s Theatre in London study abroad program. This is where she first learned about performing arts medicine, a practice that emerged in the late 20th century. Much like sports medicine, the medical professionals who practice performing arts medicine are artists themselves and therefore more familiar with the types of injuries that artists sustain.

“Julia represents so much about the power of the London Program and what it offers. She said ‘yes’ to everything and because of that had wonderful opportunities become available to her,” said George Contini, a professor in the theatre and film studies department and director of the London Study Abroad program. “A successful study abroad experience should shake [students] up a little and make them question their passions. Every student that has ever gone on the London trip has come away reinvented and that is very satisfying.”

Creating her own path

Because performing arts medicine is not offered as a degree at the University of Georgia, Turpin created her own course of study. Interdisciplinary studies require careful planning and rigorous academic work. To earn an interdisciplinary degree, students must design a program of study and write a senior thesis under the supervision of a faculty advisor and an advisory committee.

For her senior thesis, Turpin presented a pilot study with sexual assault victims. Dance movement therapy is one of the many forms of treatment therapists can provide. Turpin’s pilot study examined how the dance movement therapy community treats sexual assault survivors; she plans to use these results to create a more specific treatment plan for trauma victims.

This spring, Turpin graduated with a degree in interdisciplinary studies focusing on the Principals of Dance Science and Movement Education. She will be pursuing her master’s degree in dance movement therapy at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.

She hopes to expand on the study she did for her senior thesis at Naropa University by treating trauma and PTSD with dance therapy. Naropa University is known for its nontraditional learning structure, where classes combine Eastern and Western practices to create a unique learning environment. It is one of only six schools in the country that offer a degree in dance movement therapy.

“Julia is one of the most enthusiastic, passionate and hardworking students I have worked with at UGA. In my “Principles of Dance Science and Somatics” class, I was fortunate to witness her not only begin to appreciate but fall in love with the ideas she was introduced to regarding safe dance practice, and science-based dance pedagogy (a professor’s dream),” said Rebecca Gose, an associate professor in the UGA dance department. “She has really taken charge of her education here and I am so proud of her.”

A Nuci’s Space for dancers

During Turpin’s time in Athens, she interned with Nuçi’s Space, a nonprofit organization with a focus on musicians that advocates for and helps alleviate the suffering of those living with mental illness. Nuçi’s Space provides a health and resource center for musicians to receive professional care as well as a space to practice their craft.

“I really admire Nuci’s Space and I want to open a place like that for dancers with studios for therapy and general dance lessons,” said Turpin. “I would also like to have a physical therapist on staff so that we could cater to the dancers’ mental and physical needs in one place. I want dancers to know they have a support system and people to lean on.”

Turpin hopes that her work can influence the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,” the handbook used by health care professionals to diagnose and treat mental disorders, to recognize dance therapy as a viable and more widely recommended alternative to traditional treatment plans.

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