Dance/movement therapy is defined as "the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional, cognitive, social, and physical integration of an individual " (ADTA). The body is the central focus in the treatment process, and movement is the vehicle to express physical distress, feelings, and thoughts.

The History of Dance/Movement Therapy

The use of dance as a therapeutic modality is credited for former dance educator and performer Marian Chace. She shifted her focus from dance technique and education to her students' individualized movement communications and self-expressions. After World War II, Chace was invited to work at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC. She was recruited to work with patients who were nonverbal and markedly withdrawn and shutdown; her reputation for using dance as a means of expression and communication was widely known. Chace had great success in reaching nonverbal psychiatric patients. She reached them through the power of moving, physical interaction, and dancing with them. Chace would play music and interact with patients through mirroring their movements, establishing eye contact, engaging in physical contact, and waltzing to rhythmic steps (Chaiklin, 1979). Patients responded well to to the methods she employed.

Chace set forth four basic concepts that lay the foundation of dance and movement as therapy:

  • The use of body action
  • The use of rhythmic activity
  • The use of symbolic imagery
  • Therapeutic movement relationship

Dance/movement therapy is based on the concept that the mind and body are interrelated and mutually influential: moving the body impacts how you feel emotionally and mentally, and vice versa. How we feel and think resides in the body and impacts how we move.

Thus, dance/movement therapy is established on the following principles:

  • The mind and body are connected, interrelated
  • Movement is both functional and expressive
  • The body and its movement patterns are both used in assessment and in treatment interventions
  • Movement reflects our personality

What Occurs During Dance/Movement Therapy

During a dance/movement therapy session, the dance/movement therapist will observe the participants and their movements, and will use both verbal and nonverbal methods to work with their clients. Using nonverbal methods can be especially beneficial for clients who have a hard time with verbal communication or who have lost their verbal communication skills. Dance/movement therapists may employ different approaches and movement forms in their practice. They may incorporate yoga, mindfulness meditation, Eastern methods such as T'ai Chi, ethnic and cultural dance, stress reduction, and more.

What Can Dance/Movement Therapy Be Effective For?

Dance/movement therapy can help individuals with:

  • Improving body image
  • Increasing self esteem
  • Reducing stress
  • Improving mood
  • Expressing their feelings

Dance/movement therapists often work in multidisciplinary settings and as part of a comprehensive treatment approach for individuals experiencing:

About Dance/Movement Therapists

Dance/movement therapists usually have completed graduate coursework and hold at least a master’s degree. When obtaining a master’s degree in dance therapy, students must participate in clinical placements and supervision. After a person has completed their master’s degree, they can apply to register as a Dance Movement Therapist. Board certification in dance/movement therapy is offered through the American Dance Therapy Association.