Pathways to embodied empathy and reconciliation after atrocity: Former boy soldiers in a dance/movement therapy group in Sierra Leone

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Abstract

A time limited dance/movement therapy group, facilitated by adult males, provided creative movement opportunities and other embodied healing activities for adolescent orphans who, as boys, had been involved in wartime atrocities. This fusion of Western trauma treatment and ritual proved transformative in helping the youths overcome violent impulses and rediscover the pleasure of collective endeavour. Engaging in symbolic expression through attunement and kinaesthetic empathy enabled the teenagers to reflect on their personal involvement in armed conflict in a way that encouraged enhanced awareness of belonging to the broader humanity. The intervention therefore fostered conditions that led participants to create a public performance highlighting their dual roles as both victims and perpetrators in the war. This, in turn, advanced their reconciliation within the local community.

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