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Dance / Movement Therapy

What is Dance Movement Therapy?

Dance movement therapy, is a therapeutic form of creative arts therapy that involves the use of movement and dance for healing in various conditions, such as behavioral, physical, cognitive, emotional, and social.  Dance movement therapy was essentially created on the idea that movement and emotion are connected to one another.  The ultimate goal of Dance Movement Therapy is to achieve a healthy balance in addition to a sense of completeness.

For centuries, dance has been an approach to self-expression.  However, the development of dance and movement as a form of therapy has been a recent progression.  The primary theories of dance therapy have been known to originate in the United Kingdom, though there are many substantial American influences as well.  Marian Chance, a dancer, choreographer, and performer, is the woman considered to be the primary founder of what is currently known as dance therapy in the United States.  In 1942, Chance implemented the use of dance movement with students in her own dance classes and realized the tremendous implications it had on overall well-being.  In the 1970s, American therapists were once again persuaded by the psychotherapeutic uses of dance and movement, thus categorizing it as a form of psychotherapy.

Dance movement therapy is practiced and applied in various places, such as eating disorder rehab centers, medical and educational settings, and other health promoting programs.  Specialized forms of dance movement therapy have been shown to help aid in various types of diseases and disabilities.  Dance therapists typically work with individuals of various ages and integrate the participant’s knowledge of body movement and expression with aspects of counseling and psychotherapy.  Movement is the primary way dance therapists observe, evaluate, and apply therapeutic intervention.

Types of Dance Movement Therapy

Other common names of dance movement therapy include “movement psychotherapy” and the simpler “dance therapy”. There is no single fixed type of therapy used. Some programs use traditional dances like ballroom or salsa, while others may use exercises closer to yoga that help to stretch, strengthen, and calm the body. The most important considerations are that the DMT group leader / practitioner is licensed from one of the handful of national programs, and that the DMT therapy incorporates well within the broader focus of the treatment program.

Components of Dance Movement Therapy

The unfolding of the creative process is observed in dance movement therapy in four stages.  These four stages are progressive and as follows:

  • Preparation-Beginning phases of warm-up exercises
  • Incubation-Focusing on relaxation and mindfulness
  • Illumination-Learning the symbolism and effect (negative or positive) behind each movement
  • Evaluation-Processing through and finishing the therapy session

The theory of dance movement therapy is founded on theoretical principles.  These are:

  • Body and mind are interrelated; thus, an alteration in movement will impact total functioning
  • Movement mirrors personality
  • Part of the therapeutic relationship is mediated non-verbally
  • Since movement contains symbolism, such can be evidence of unconscious process
  • Improvisation through movement allows patients to experiment in various ways of being
  • Dance movement therapy allows for repetition of themes

Uses of Dance Movement Therapy

Dance movement therapy can be used in the healing process for a wide-variety of disorders and diseases, proven effective as a therapeutic practice.  When used for treatment from eating disorders, patients are given the opportunity to use guided movements and dance as a nonverbal and creative outlet for expression of hidden thoughts and feelings.  Dance movement therapy is also helpful in guiding sufferers of eating disorders greater body awareness, which can help challenge body image distortions and in re-learning natural body cues.  Dance movement therapy also encourages this patient population in overall strengthening of self-esteem while meeting physical and emotional needs.

Dance movement therapy has also shown to be an effective form of psychotherapy for autism, learning disabilities, mental retardation, post traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s diseases, among others.

Articles on Dance Movement Therapy

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 28, 2014

Page last updated: October 28, 2014 
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Online Information on Eating Disorders

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