It is the best time to fall in love with no one but yourself. eniGma’s Jumana Shehata dances her way into learning the greatest love of all with Psychiatrist and Dance Movement Therapist Dr. Radwa Abdelazim.

The music stops. I feel naked. Was I really dancing like no one was watching? Splashing through the water, breathing through my feet? Feeling the breeze play with my hair? Horrified, I look around. Unfamiliar faces. I am not by the sea. I am in a gym room in downtown Cairo but it dawns on me that I don’t really care. The music stops. I actually feel good.

“Close your eyes, move to the music, keep your body loose, and listen to your rhythm.  Find your rhythm. Fall in love with yourself.” The dynamic voice of Dr. Radwa Said Abdelazim, Psychiatrist and pioneer of Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) in Egypt echoes through the energy-packed air.  Then silence. Music teases even the reluctant body and as it picks up the beat starts pumping through your system. Without words your body starts confessing, pushing away fixations that normally strangle you, pulling you towards things that you walk past everyday.  Lost in translation yet you are fully aware, you are present and you feel it. Your head gives in to the ecstatic state of consciousness and you gain access to the “Self”.

Abdelazim defines the “Self” as an interplay between self and body image, self-esteem, self-essence, energy and core experience. According to Karen Horney, founder of holistic psychology, if we have an accurate idea of who our own self is we can realise our potential and achieve what we want.

Oscar Wilde believes loving oneself “is the beginning of a life-long romance.” Achieving love and self-actualisation should be a healthy person’s aim in life. When you feel safe and healthy, you can nurture this self-love. Abdelazim explains that “it’s all about self-love. When you love “you”, you will eat good food, choose a nurturing partner and a positive entourage, you’ll work well and, most importantly, you will “cherish your ME time” everyday of your life.”

However, Abdelazim cautions, a person’s pride system stands as an obstacle to self-love. It can alienate him or her from the real self by overemphasising prestige, intellect, power, strength, appearance, sexual prowess and other qualities that could lead to self-effacement and self-hatred.

Simply put, in order to engage in any relationship with the “other” you need to “feel good in your own skin,” says Dr. Abdelazim. “ You need to feel and embrace your psychic energy in order to move forward and nurture yourself,” she explains. But how you may ask?

Her answer: Dance Movement Therapy.

“Music and dance are a useful mode to connect you with your body as well as to communicate with your therapist. It deeply awakens your senses inside out,” she notes. “It reminds you that you have hands and feet or a third eye between your eyebrows. A unique experience for everyone,” explains Abdelazim. While DMT as a remedy originates from tribal eras, in the 1940s it made it to medical protocols based on research that accumulated evidence of its invaluable benefits with no side effects. It is now becoming more regularly used to medically manage autoimmune disorders, breast cancers, alzheimers, and addiction. It is also beneficial for common issues like stress, insomnia, sex/couple issues and emotional and behaviour disorders.  There’s also increasing evidence of its immunity boosting effect in the prevention and cure of many forms of cancers. So really it is for anyone and everyone.

Aren’t dance and medicine a strange combination you may ask? Maybe so but when you meet Dr. Radwa Abdelazim you realise it makes perfect sense. The combination is a true reflection of her own self: a fusion between deep intellect and abstract creativity.

While most practitioners in Creative Art Therapy (CAT) are usually specialised in a specific field, Abdelazim sets herself apart with an expertise in music, dance and drama therapy.

Her passion for dance started at the age of eight, so it is no surprise that while completing her psychiatry residency at Kasr El Aini Hospital she was also working as a dance instructor and choreographer. This is when she noticed that her dance students not only improved their posture, poise and energy; they  became empowered to change their lives.

Her fervour and inquisitiveness led her to travel abroad in her quest to discover further how art therapy can help medicine. She trained in Argentina, the United Kingdom and the United States. Currently she is testing the hypothesis that tailored DMT can assist in curbing cancer progression and in improving the  quality of life for patients with breast cancer. She gracefully agreed to answer some of the questions couples may have…

At what stage in a relationship should a couple seek therapy?

Although uncommon in Egypt, pre-marital counselling, which includes medical check-ups, is essential especially for couples experiencing communication problems that result in long periods of discord prior to marriage. Most commonly, couples seek therapy when their mechanisms as a couple fail and they are going through the process of divorce. Therapy is typically the final attempt to preserve the relationship. Usually one partner is convinced with the potential benefit of therapy while the other is not convinced it will change anything. Many couples may turn to a confidant, a friend or relative before knocking the therapist’s door. However, the earlier the better as it decreases the baggage that both partners carry which increases the chances of success in therapy.

Abdelazim’s advice: A couple must give themselves space to work on their issues once they surface; to engage in sex talk with focus on intimacy and quality time; to try to start a conversation with  ‘I would like’ rather than ‘you can not’ or ‘you fail to’

Use occasions like valentine’s and anniversaries to rejuvenate the relationship and re-visit commitment and endorse togetherness. Especially those that got carried away in their role as parents often, neglecting the partnership.

How does self-esteem affect a relationship?

Self- esteem is a crucial element for the self and the quality of existing and being a participant in the relation. Low self-esteem and/or feeling of self-worthlessness, can create self blame with constant guilt trips (towards self or partner) allowing intrusive partners or elusive mates to employ their undermined partners for their own relationship agenda, taking advantage of their weakness (under the cover of love) and goodness (helplessness) to a degree that leads to self victimisation, torment and “being stuck” till God knows when!

Abdelazim’s advice: Acknowledge lack of self-love by being your own therapist, and do not succumb to your failing mechanisms, and finally seek support when your own trails seem to fail.

Is there a way to assess sexual compatibility without intercourse between couples?

The feel of your partner’s touch starts from caressing your cheek, holding hands at the movies all the way to touching your most intimate genital parts. Over the past decade intimacy has been the main emphasis of most sexual health conferences and its impact on a healthy nurturing sexual life is confirmed. Sex talk is essential for a balanced couple where both partners get to express their likes and dislikes and it could happen out of the bed, on the sofa or over a candle light dinner and extends from getting inquisitive and informative to bridging on foreplay.

Abdelazim’s advice: Sex education is a must. Sex therapy in Egypt may have to deal with unusual issues and myths like extended family involvement in the sex life of the couple, having virgin wives after five years of marriage, and stories like that it’s natural to be naked in front of your best girlfriend but certainly a taboo to even change in the presence of your  husband!

What is the singlemost issue over which couples in Egypt break up?

There are no reliable statistics, but through observation it appears that the main issues are sexual incompatibility complicated with infidelity, hygiene (also reported in Saudi Arabia as a common cause for divorce), communication issues and psycho-socio-economic differences.

Abdelazim’s advice: According to WHO’s 2005 report on the Middle East; the stigma of seeking professional mental health services in Egypt has decreased with the positive impact and effectiveness of psychotropic medications on mental illnesses showing that “you can get fixed”. Creative Arts Therapies further decrease this stigma as they operate at different settings like fitness facilities and day care hospitals, not only for a cure but in order to “stay well”, become happier and above all fall in love with yourself.

So this Valentines lesson is that “learning to love yourself is the greatest gift of all”. If you don’t love yourself, how do you expect anyone else to love you? So go find your own rhythm to find true love. Happy Valentine’s Day!


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