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Alumni Awards 2024

Embodiment lab

Welcome to the embodiment lab. We are a group focussing on embodiment in the contexts of psychotherapy, learning, research and the arts.

What do we mean by the term embodiment?

There has been growing attention in recent years to the concept of embodiment. From a phenomenological perspective embodiment stresses the agent’s lived body experience and the role of the animate.

“the affective and the kinetic are clearly dynamically congruent; emotion and movement coincide. If they did not normally coincide, there would be no possibility of feigning by kinetically enacting emotional dynamics. The word enacting is precisely correct in this instance, for it is a matter of putting something into a form of a specified kind, in this instance, a kinetic form, which means going through the motions of X, that is, putting a non-felt feeling into a performance, as in, for example, shaking hands with, and smiling at someone whom one actually detests” (Sheets-Johnson, 2009: 377).

The dynamic body is fundamental to life rather than forms of cognitive involvement with movement. Embodiment holds that the attribution of meaning to movement is action-based and enactive involving the motor-knowing of the observer and performer. Embodiment phenomena are related to bodily states such as postures, arm movements, facial expressions that play a central role in information processing (Barsalou et al., 2003).

Embodiment could refer to the biological and physical presence of our bodies, as necessary preconditions for subjectivity, emotion, language, thought and social interaction. Merleau-Ponty (1962) distinguishes between the objective body (the body as a physiological entity/having a body) and the phenomenal body, my (or your) body as I (or you) experience it (being a body). Thus, although there is an experience of our body as a physiological entity the tendency is to experience our body as a unified potential or capacity for doing things/responding to a need via movement. Motor capacities (expressed as bodily confidence) do not depend on an understanding of the physiological processes involved in performing these actions. Embodiment therefore refers to the phenomenal body and to the role it plays in our object-directed experiences.

With reference to dance movement psychotherapy, for example, from creative arts therapies the emphasis is on the subjective experience of the lived body. Embodiment denominates research where the reciprocal effect of the body as a living, animate, moving organism with cognition, sensation, emotion, perception, and action is studied with reference to the expressive and impressive functions at individual, interactional, and extended levels (Koch & Fuchs, 2011).

Embodiment on this view is an existential condition in which the body is the subjective source of experience (Csordas, 1999). It arises from culture and the experience of being-in-the-world. Rosch, Thompson and Verela (1991) refer to an ‘enactive’ (Thompson & Stapleton, 2009) approach to cognition (a dynamic interaction between an acting organism and its environment):

“By using the term embodied we mean to highlight two points: first that cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities, and second, that these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological and cultural context” (Rosch, Thompson & Verela, 1991:172-3).

Cognitive science claims intelligent behaviour emerges from the interplay between brain, body, and world and this interaction is termed embodied, embedded cognition. Embodiment refers to both the embedding of cognitive processes in brain circuitry and to the origin of these processes in an organism’s sensory-motor experience. Thus, action and perception are no longer interpreted in terms of the classic physical-mental dichotomy, but rather as closely interlinked (Fuchs, 2009). Embodiment research has shown that the line between mind and body is not a one-way street. Consequently, the body has a strong influence on the mind and this is the foundation of embodied psychotherapies such as dance movement psychotherapy and its derivative The BodyMind Approach designed specifically for supporting people experiencing medically unexplained symptoms.

Expression of emotional experience is linked to the description of bodily sensation. Embodied cognition conceives of thinking and feeling as embedded in the body. Embodiment interventions are based on this concept making use of bottom-up processing to generate/enhance emotional experiences and activate related cognitions. Bottom-up effects occur on the sensory, emotional, or cognitive levels, due to changes in bodily movements or postures.

The emerging view of embodied cognition is that cognitive processes are rooted in the body’s interactions with the world. The claims made by Wilson (2002) are that cognition is situated, time-pressured, and for action. Furthermore, cognitive work is offloaded onto the environment which is part of the cognitive system, and offline cognition is body-based.

Current doctorates in preparation

Eco-somatic rituals in visual autobiography for the transformation of the un-mothered child-self as seen through the process of a female film maker

The BodyMind Approach for managers distressed with physical symptoms which have no medical explanation in Turkey.

Effectiveness of dance movement therapy as a resilience-building and wellbeing tool for mothers who are parent-carers for their adult child with severe and profound multiple learning disabilities in India

Dance movement therapy as an intervention for complex trauma and ICD-11 Complex PTSD.

Recently completed doctorates

The Impact of a Movement-Based Emotional Self-Regulation Programme on Adolescents with Special Educational Needs During the Transition Period from School to Post-School in Hong Kong.

Leung, S.L.A. and Payne, H. (2020). Getting in Touch with Emotion: The Impact of a Movement-Based Emotional Self-Regulation Programme. American Dance Therapy Association 2020 virtual conference report 15-18 October 2020.


Leung, A. (2021), A study on a movement-based emotional self-regulation programme for adolescents with intellectual disabilities, Hong Kong Journal of Special Education, 23, 29-39.

Personal constructs of body-mind identity in persons who experience medically unexplained symptoms.

Sanders, T; Winter, D & Payne H (2018) Personal constructs of mind-body identity in people who experience medically unexplained symptoms. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, Dec 2018, 0(0), 1–16, 2018, print / 1521-0650 online. doi: 10.1080/10720537.2018.1515047.

Comparing group processes between an intensive verbal personal development group and an intensive dance movement personal development group.

Culturally related depression in Taiwanese women and the application of The BodyMind Approach.

Lin, Y & Payne, H (2014) The BodyMind Approach™, Medically Unexplained Symptoms and Personal Construct Psychology. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 9, 3. 154-56.

Lin, Y & Payne, H (2019) Movement speaks of culture: A study focusing on women with depression in Taiwan. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 64, 39-48.

Lin, Y & Payne, H (2021) Effectiveness of the BodyMind Approach® for women with depression and medically unexplained symptoms in Taiwan. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 73, 101764.

Previous doctorates

Inside the Mirror: Effects of an attuned dance-movement intervention on interpersonal engagement as observed in changes of movement patterns in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder.

Samaritter, R & Payne H (2013) Kinaesthetic Intersubjectivity: A dance informed contribution to self-other relatedness and shared experience in nonverbal psychotherapy with an example from Autism. Arts in Psychotherapy, 40, 1, 143– 150.

Samaritter, R & Payne, H (2016) Being moved: Kinaesthetic reciprocities in psychotherapeutic interaction and the development of enactive intersubjectivity. European Journal of Psychotherapy, 13, 50-65.

Samaritter, R & Payne, H (2017) Through the kinaesthetic lens: Observation of social attunement in autism spectrum disorders. Behavioural Sciences, 7, 14; doi:10.3390/bs7010014 Open Access.

New ways to communicate the embodied experience.

Panhofer, H & Payne, H (2011) Languaging the embodied experience. International Journal of Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, 6,3, 215-232.

Panhofer, H & Payne, H (2011) Languaged and nonlanguaged ways of knowing. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 39, 5, 455-470.

Dance movement therapy with refugee children in Bosnia.

Dance and children with physical disability.

Dance movement therapy with dance students in higher education.

Current research projects

Collaboration with colleagues in the School of Education and European partners to develop arts and embodied practices and resources for distributed leadership development in schools.

Collaboration with University of Newcastle to develop a study on embedding a programme of embodied practices for promoting student mental health.

Post graduate students and self-compassion: A collaborative study with a colleague in the school of education to develop an embodied and arts based intervention to support self-compassion.

Past research projects

Embedding The BodyMind Approach (TBMA) in primary care for NHS patients with medically unexplained bodily symptoms (MUS).

A knowledge transfer project - TBMA is a research-informed and evidence-based intervention designed specifically for people experiencing chronic symptoms for which all tests and scans come back negative. Impact includes dissemination of research studies in academic peer reviewed journals, and the on-going training of facilitators world-wide in TBMA for delivery in public health and private practice.

The lived experience of students in a personal development dance movement therapy group as part of a post graduate training in dance movement psychotherapy training in higher education.

Research profiles

Professor Helen Payne