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Treating Chronic Pain Through Dance/Movement Therapy

October 27, 2016

Chronic pain is a constant reality for millions in the United States and around the world. It can be a physical, mental, and emotional struggle to lead a fulfilling and healthy lifestyle. Physical health and fitness can deteriorate, and personal and professional relationships may become tenuous and strained. 
It has been widely debated what the best method may be to help people with chronic pain to better manage their pain. A more traditional approach can be found in using prescription medications, such as opiates, to inhibit the symptoms. One recent Drexel alumna, however, has taken a different approach.
In June, Minjung Shim, PhD (MCAT ’03, PhD ’15) traveled to Durham, UK to present her doctoral dissertation entitled "A Model of Dance/Movement Therapy for Resilience-building in People Living with Chronic Pain: A Mixed Methods Grounded Theory Study.” Shim also won the 2016 Dissertation Award from the Mixed Methods International Research Association (MMIRA) for her multi-phase mixed methods grounded theory study. 
“Mixed method grounded theory (MM-GT) enables us to develop and test a model or theory based on both quantitative and qualitative data.”  Shim explained. “The goal of my dissertation study was to develop a theoretical model that explains the therapeutic mechanisms of dance/movement therapy (DMT) for building psychological resilience in patients with chronic pain. The findings showed that MM-GT is indeed a fruitful method to generate and test a complex theoretical model."
As a part of her dissertation, Shim conducted a 10-week group DMT study with people with chronic pain at the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services of Drexel University and the Neuromuscuolosketal Institute of Rowan University 
"My research also examined the initial effectiveness of DMT on pain and psychological outcomes in people with chronic pain," said Shim. She found that people experienced increased self-efficacy for movement and perceived control, reduced pain and fear of movement, and improved emotional health and social connectedness from participating in the DMT treatment.. 
Shim's advisor, Joke Bradt, PhD, an associate professor in the department of Creative Arts Therapies, describes what went into such a complex and thorough dissertation. "It took years to compile the data and create a model. Through it all, Minjung showed a wonderful work ethic and amassed incredible data. Sometimes being faced with such a large data set can be challenging but she was always able to find inspiration in the how well the participants responded to the dance/movement therapy intervention."
Shim notes that she would not have been able to finish this challenging project without the help and dedication from her advisor and dissertation committee members. “I am grateful for Dr. Bradt who allowed and encouraged me to think outside the box and guided me throughout the whole process.” Burke Johnson, PhD, a leading expert in mixed methods research, also played a key role in Shim's success. While at a previous MMIRA conference, Bradt helped to put Shim in contact with Johnson, who provided guidance and acted as a methodological mentor throughout her research process. 
"One of the most valuable lessons I remember learning from Johnson was that when designing a research study, don't pick a dish from a menu when you can create your own recipe." Shim recalls.
Johnson still raves about Shim's work, citing it as a prime example of mixed methods grounded theory, and introducing it to students from various backgrounds he teaches internationally. Susan Gasson, PhD, an expert in grounded theory also provided critical guidance and support for her research. In spite of the fact that Gasson had never taught Shim, she took Shim under her wing, teaching grounded theory method and motivating her to continue her research after initial challenges. 
Shim is the first person in Drexel’s Creative Arts Therapies program to receive this award. Her recognition will help to propel Drexel’s program to the attention of other professionals both in and out of the health care industry. Shim would like to further refine her model and support her findings using randomized controlled trials, and is excited for what is yet to come. To learn more about Creative Arts Therapies at Drexel visit our site.