What is Dance Movement Therapy?


People have been using dance as a healing medium for thousands of years; for ritual, expression, celebration, protest and language. Dance Movement Therapy as a healing modality has been around since the 1940’s, when dancers began to notice the link between movement and psychotherapeutic benefits.

What is Dance Movement Therapy? 1

Today it is a highly acclaimed field with a number of validated applications for treating psychological diagnosis. Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) is defined by the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual, for the purpose of improving health and well-being. (Taken from the ADTA website). It is important to note that DMT is inclusive for all body types and abilities.

From the Dance Movement Therapy perspective, it is understood that movement of the body has a valuable function through which people can access meaningful connection, healing and self-understanding. DMT uses a number of techniques to access creative expression with their physical bodies. Dance therapy is different from other forms of traumatic treatments because it allows holistic creative expression. Moving in relationship with someone else, a trained somatic mental health professional, can highlight maladapted movement patterns, which allows for somatic, visual as well as cognitive processing of emotions, sensations or trauma.

There is a mirroring that happens in a Dance Movement Therapy session and the therapist is trained in Kinestetic empathy. The therapist feels into their own body for any sensations present, allowing for a deeper connection with the client, while also drawing upon personal movement experiences to build a greater therapeutic alliance. The dance becomes a conduit to connect to each other and to the deepest parts of oneself.

The four stages of the Dance Movement Therapy process

The four stages of the Dance Movement Therapy process, are as followed as described by Bonnie Meekums, a pioneer in the DMT field:

Preparation: the warm-up stage, a safe space is established without distractions, a supportive relationship with a witness is formed, comfort zone is created for participants to become familiar with moving with their eyes closed.

Incubation: the leader prompts participant to go into subconscious, open-ended imagery is used to create an internal environment that is specific to the participant, space for a relaxed atmosphere, symbolic movements and gestures.

Illumination: the integration of the process with conscious awareness through dialogue with the witness and self-reflection. The participant uncovers and resolves subconscious motivations which can result in increased self awareness and may have both positive and negative effects.

Evaluation: Discuss insights and significance of the process, prepare to end therapy, closure

“For my patients, I always recommend that they see somebody who helps them to really feel their body, experience their body, open up to their bodies. And I refer people always to craniosacral work or Feldenkrais. I think those are all very important components for becoming a healthy person.” – Bessel Van Der Kolk

ADTA Website

Licensed clinical mental health counselor
Tisha Shull is a co-host of the popular IFS Podcast, IFS Talks. She has been a Program Assistant for IFS Level 1 and Level 2 trainings many times internationally. In her practice, Tisha has a special interest in combining IFS with Cranial Sacral Therapy as well as a Past Life Regression Therapy.

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