Dance . . . “It has been the one constant throughout my life.” Aditi Subramaniam, a dancer, clinical mental health counselor, and registered dance/movement therapist from India, has lived a life full of experiences, study, adventures, and opportunity. Her early and life-long participation in Indian classical and folk dancing, and its positive impact on her own mental health, sparked her curiosity and propelled her to explore the powerful relationship between dance and psychology.
Looking back at Aditi's life is like glimpsing puzzle pieces falling beautifully into place each step of the way. She began dancing in India at four years old, and with the support of family and dance teachers, made dance a priority as the years progressed. “Even if I was feeling feverish or upset or busy with other things, I would always try to fit in dance classes. I always felt better after them.” Intent to discover the connection between well-being and dance, Aditi earned a Bachelor's degree in Psychology, a Master's in Clinical Psychology, and a Post-Graduate diploma in Management of Learning Disabilities. It was while earning her Master's degree that she consciously sought to marry dance and psychology. During her thesis research with mentally challenged children and their experiences through dance, she discovered dance therapy and the ADTA. While she knew she would find a way to pursue this field of study, she remained in India and began working as a psychologist in two different schools. In one school, she applied her love of movement and dance, music, and play in her therapeutic work with children with emotional behavioral difficulties and special needs. After four years of working, her plan to pursue DMT materialized. She moved to Boston to study in the Dance Therapy and Mental Health Counseling program at Lesley University where she graduated in Spring 2010.
From India to Boston, Aditi set about dropping another exquisitely shaped puzzle piece into its place. “In this field, passion comes together with work.” She describes her experience at Lesley as “bringing the inside out.” This personal unfolding has inspired an evolving introspective and reflective inquiry into her self as it relates to her identity as a dance/movement therapist. “I am always thinking about using the self as an instrument in therapy. The person in 2008 and the person I am now is totally different. It has made me literally believe in why I am doing this work, why I am drawn to this work.” Aditi's love for dance therapy is unquestioned as she continually asks, “What contribution can I make to the field, to the community? Both in the U.S. and in India. In India, we have the arts and we have therapy, but we don't have arts therapy.”
As she contemplates these questions, and many others, Aditi has already contributed much to the community in the United States. In school, she used DMT and expressive therapies with the elderly, with those dealing with dementia an Alzheimer's, and with children with social, emotional, and developmental difficulties. Her current work as a mental health clinician and DMT in the early intervention program of a children's hospital brings together all of her passions – children, dance, therapy, attachment theory, and neuroplasticity. “This is exactly what I wanted to do when I started school. It is really inspiring to know that this is exactly where I wanted to be.”
In her current role, Aditi works with a team of physical, occupational, speech, and mental health therapists to create multi-disciplinary treatment for children. She works with children both in their homes with their families, and in the hospital by co-leading developmental play groups. As a dance therapist, she focuses on using the nonverbal aspects of attachment and attunement, always mindful how she is using herself as a body-based model of attachment. “I am extremely interested in parent child psychotherapy and drawn to attachment theory – I show up every week, mindful of creating this relationship. I am always asking 'What is my goal in this relationship? How can I create a model or experience a different relationship that will support the family?'”
Her work is layered as she meets with children and families in their natural home settings, as well as in the structured hospital environment. She conducts home visits throughout the week and enjoys how this work resonates with her worldview. “I really appreciate (going into the client's home), it breaks down the power dynamic. I see the value in a natural setting. You are on their ground and in their energy.” As part of her self-reflective nature, Aditi is also mindful of her presence and role as a part of the relationship and dynamic. In the family's space and on their turf, she searches for ways to use her presence to meet them where they are at and to support them in their strengths.
In the hospital, her work with little ones (ages 0 to 3) during developmental play groups gives her the chance to tap into the power of neuroplasticity and attachment, as she strives to repair relationships and support early interventions. These groups contain more structure as she encourages play and expressivity to support and encourage developmental growth. The groups include free play with musical instruments, parachutes, art materials, sensory tables, and toys. This is followed by snacks, explorations of gross motor movement, and usually ends with a structured group activity like circle time, singing songs, etc. Within this framework, careful attention is paid to the way children are moved through transitions, and Aditi uses body-based cues to facilitate smooth and healthy transitions.
Aditi acknowledges the many hats she wears as she flows from situation to situation, from house to hospital. Ever mindful and cognizant of her evolving presence and important contribution to the therapeutic relationship, she diligently practices self-care through journaling and engaging in her own expressive outlets. She views her personal exploration necessary to her work as clinician. “I am constantly evolving. Every day brings a new situation. My training in the expressive therapies has been really helpful as I write in my journal . . . this sheds a lot of light on myself both as a clinician and personally.” Aditi also finds grounding and self care through her relationship with her husband.
Diving into the unknown of the work is the most challenging, inspiring, and rewarding element of Aditi's job. The ability to come in with a plan and let it go has been a difficult process, but one she believes has helped shape her into the clinician she wants to be. She holds the humility that comes from entering a client's home, supporting their strengths, while sitting with them in their struggles and difficulties. Aditi finds inspiration in witnessing and being a part of incremental growth that happens as both child and parent take those first steps into well-being. “Empowering and supporting families. There is growth in being able to meet people where they are.” In addition to these little gems, Aditi also speaks to the inspiration that comes from working with a talented, dedicated team of professionals.
Aditi's exquisite, mindfully shaped puzzle pieces continue to fall into place as she brings her lovely energy and passion to those she works with, and to the communities she is a part of. It seems she has found her life's work . . . “My DMT work resonates with my life philosophy so much. I really love what I am doing.” As she continues to shape her pathway in Boston, she has expressed the desire to return to India, and to share dance therapy and her interest in infant parent mental health with her country. Guided by her curiosity, passion, and her commitment to self-reflection, Aditi's life continues to unfold, piece by beautiful piece.