Doctoral research on Kinaesthetic empathy

My practice-based interdisciplinary PhD project (2012-2016) examined ‘kinaesthetic empathy’ as an intersubjective phenomenon within clinical practice. As part of the study I recruited two groups of research participants: (i) qualified dance movement psychotherapists and dance artists and (ii) multidisciplinary clinicians within a National Health Service mental health unit. The investigative work was situated within practice-led interdisciplinary research and was informed by dance movement psychotherapy (DMP), phenomenology and cognitive neuroscience. The research asked questions such as ‘what moves us’, ‘how do we experience others’ movement’ and ‘how do we feel with another through movement’? Research outcomes included: (i) A measure of motor cortex involvement in movement processing through EEG testing; (ii) phenomenological analysis of participants’ accounts and (iii) a live dance theatre performance. The research straddled art, science and clinical practice boundaries and contributed to discourses of embodied empathy and intersubjectivity with three key findings:

Kinaesthetic empathy is an innate relational capacity (i.e. we are all capable of experiencing empathy).

Kinaesthetic empathy may be cultivated through practice (i.e. we can teach ourselves and others to become more empathic).

Kinaesthetic empathy may be experienced through embodied practice, performance work and inferred experimentally through EEG (i.e. kinaesthetic empathy is not only observed introspectively but it can also be studied experimentally).

Practice as research and research as practice

I am interested in developing collaborative research projects exploring creative research methodologies that widen our understanding of what constitutes evidence and knowledge in theory and practice. My recent co-edited publication Creative Bodies in Therapy Performance and Community (Frizell & Rova 2023) illustrates the different ways in which practice can become research and research can become practice. An upcoming co-edited research anthology (Frizell & Rova 2025) will bring together artists, therapists and researchers generating knowledge through practice research and the engagement with creative methodologies.

Embodied autoethnography

In ‘Mapping the lived experience of a cultural nomad through relational stories that move’  (book chapter under development) I bring together autoethnography, phenomenology and creative process towards developing a practice methodology as part of my inquiry into migration as lived experience. The narrative weaves excerpts from the practice fieldwork, autobiographical reflection and theoretical understandings of nomadic experience as a personal, cultural and political phenomenon. The research reveals that place, time, conflict and hope are inextricably entangled with the journey of migration which is, among other things, a story about being found. Exploring the idea of moving through space and time as a radical transition methodologically, supports the mapping of the lived experience of migration in its becoming. The practice is built around a five-part ceremonial that includes arriving, creating, gathering, witnessing and departing and invites the inquirer to experience active listening from the positions of mover and witness. Further updates on this research project will be published in due course.

Exploring the impact of creative movement in adult mental health through a community engagement project.

I have joined forces with Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and Sydenham Garden to explore the impact of a short-term creative movement and dance programme on the mental health and wellbeing of the garden’s co-workers (the name given to the primary beneficiaries). Outcomes of the project will include (i) qualitative evaluation of the programme through participant feedback and focus groups, (ii) developing a framework for scaling-up the research with more community groups and (iii) dissemination of findings through a research publication. Research outputs will be published in 2024.

Selected publications

Thompson, Naomi; Nasimi, Rabia; Rova, Marina and Turner, Andy. 2022. Community Work with Migrant and Refugee Women: ‘Insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ in research and practice. Bingley: Emerald. ISBN 9781801174794

Frizell, Caroline and Rova, Marina, eds. 2023. Creative Bodies in Therapy, Performance and Community: Research and Practice that Brings us Home. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 9781032119809

Frizell, Caroline and Rova, Marina. 2023. Arriving, becoming and arriving again. In: Caroline Frizell and Marina Rova, eds. Creative Bodies in Therapy, Performance and Community: Research and Practice that Brings us Home. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 1-11. ISBN 9781032119809

Rova, Marina. 2023. Kinaesthetic entanglements and creative immersion in embodied performance. In: Caroline Frizell and Marina Rova, eds. Creative Bodies in Therapy, Performance and Community: Research and Practice that Brings us Home. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 36-49. ISBN 9781032119809

Rova, Marina and Behm, Marrianne. 2023. Borderlands: Exploring creativity as a practice of liminality in the arts therapies. In: Caroline Frizell and Marina Rova, eds. Creative Bodies in Therapy, Performance and Community: Research and Practice that Brings us Home. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 152-161. ISBN 9781032119809

Rova, Marina and Thompson, Naomi. 2022. Trauma-Informed Practice with Migrant and Refugee Women. In: Naomi Thompson; Rabia Nasimi; Marina Rova and Andy Turner, eds. Community Work with Migrant and Refugee Women: ‘Insiders’ and ‘Outsiders’ in Research and Practice. Bingley: Emerald. ISBN 9781801174794

Rova, Marina and Haddow, Sarah. 2017. Moving Bodies: Dance Movement Psychotherapy Groups for Mothers and Babies in Inpatient and Outpatient Perinatal Mental Health Services. In: Monika Celebi, ed. Weaving the Cradle: Facilitating Groups to Promote Attunement and Bonding between Parents, Their Babies and Toddlers. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, pp. 120-131. ISBN 9781848193116

Rova, Marina; Burrell, Claire and Cohen, Marika. 2020. Existing in-between two worlds: supporting asylum seeking women living in temporary accommodation through a creative movement and art intervention. Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy: An International Journal for Theory, Research and Practice, 15(3), pp. 204-218. ISSN 1743-2979

Rova, Marina. 2017. Embodying kinaesthetic empathy through interdisciplinary practice-based research. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 55, pp. 164-173. ISSN 0197-4556