Benefits of Dance Movement Therapy

Dance Movement Therapy, called DMT for short, is described by the American Dance Therapy Association as "the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual, to improve health and well-being." Through this process, the body becomes the primary source of treatment for a psychiatric disorder in which participants can express themselves in ways they may not be able to in other ways; to express their pain, fears, thoughts, and feelings.

Key takeaways:
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    Dance Movement Therapy uses the body to express emotions through interpretive dance under the guidance of a therapist.
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    DMT has been shown to help with anxiety and depression, as well as eating disorders.
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    Movement is our first, most primal language before we learn to speak so it helps tap into hidden, unexpressed emotions.

DMT is beneficial for both mental and physical well-being as a mind-body movement activity. It can help relieve stress and control one's mood over time. Additionally, through the incorporation of free-flow dance movement, a participant may gain enhanced coordination, mobility, and even muscular strength. DMT can be used with a variety of populations from individuals, couples, groups, the disabled, the elderly, and more. No experience is needed to participate in a DMT session; in fact, most people who come to it for therapy are not dancers at all.

The history of DMT

After the conclusion of World War II, dance educator Marian Chace was invited to work with patients in a hospital in Washington, D.C. who did not speak and seemed to live in their bubble. By dancing with them, she was successfully able to interact with them through mirroring games, playing music, focused eye contact, and some physical touch. The results were positive.

Now, it has become a popular career choice for dancers and choreographers to use their art to help others. ADTA (American Dance Therapy Association) is the governing body of DMT in the United States.

However, the idea of using dance as therapy is actually not a new idea. It can be seen in cultures around the world as ways to celebrate or mourn deaths. Some examples include the Sufi whirling dervishes, the Lakota sun dance, to African healing dances.

Chace later drew up four steps to the beginnings of a Dance Movement Therapy session (before it was called that), which entailed:

  • Body action;
  • Rhythmic activity;
  • Symbolic imagery;
  • Therapeutic movement relationship.

The American Dance Therapy Association now outlines the following principles:

  • Movement. This is a nonverbal language and our first language at that, as we learn to move before we learn to speak;
  • Connection. The mind, body and spirit are all connected;
  • Assessment. Dance movement therapists will assess their clients based on the function, development, communicative, and expressive elements of their participant;
  • Method. Movement is an assessment tool and method of intervention.

DMT vs therapeutic dance

It's important to note that there is a difference between therapeutic dance and Dance Movement Therapy. Therapeutic dance may be instructed by a regular dance teacher for recreational purposes whereas DMT is facilitated by someone who has gone through a Master's program in Dance Movement Therapy and is a licensed therapy professional. Facilitators of DMT are not teaching dance moves, routines, or choreography while therapeutic dance teachers may do this. DMT is about helping the participant unlock pent-up emotions, feelings, and thoughts through their interpretive movement.

What a DMT session entails

DMT is unique to each individual. The facilitator may engage in verbal or nonverbal methods, to help the participant explore movement. It can help the participant explore emotions in a healthy physical way, making a connection between the body and the emotional state. There is also a connection to the breath, which enhances the mind-body experience. The facilitator will guide the group or individual through specific improvisations based on their needs. The therapist can offer verbal or nonverbal intervention to promote healing. Some new emotions may come up through the movement, which were hidden and can be dealt with healthily.

The therapist may use mirroring movement, verbal or nonverbal communication, and even music. They may encourage you to move in different ways you have never explored before, creating new pathways not only physically but also neurologically. This allows the practitioner to develop a more keen sense of body awareness. The therapist may even encourage the patient to develop their movements which express something meaningful to them, like a personalized choreography. After the session, the therapist will ask for some verbal feedback.

Benefits of DMT

There are few studies on DMT, therefore it is not a highly recommended therapy and is sometimes seen as something outside the norm. However, some studies have been done such as this one which found that DMT had a positive effect on those suffering from depression. DMT can be a positively recommended activity for those who have trouble expressing themselves verbally in therapy sessions, whether it's because of trauma, limited vocabulary, or speaking disability.

How to find a DMT practitioner

With the guidelines of the ADTA, Dance Movement therapists must hold certain licenses in particular states or become board-certified to practice. They can be found at medical centers, drug rehab centers, community centers, schools, and prisons. Their training will include a wide range of backgrounds in dance (ballet, modern dance, choreography, etc.), anatomy, research tactics, and the therapeutic aspects of communication, empathy, and relationship-building.

The most popular therapies for mental health include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and psychodynamic therapy. They are considered "top-down" methods because they use the mind to sort through emotions. DMT, on the other hand, is considered "bottom-up" therapy because it uses the body as a healing modality. When looking for a DMT practitioner, always make sure they are certified through the ADTA and have the proper state credentials.


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