Unlocking Your Potential through Movement: An Exploration of Dance/Movement Therapy

By Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT

As a society we have long known the healing benefits of dance. Dance can improve cognition and memory, it can reduce stress, and it can help us get in shape. However, not many people know the emotional and psychological impact movement has on mental health.  Dance applied as an intervention within the therapeutic relationship unlocks individual potential; the potential to increase productivity, maximize performance, manage chronic pain or injury, and connect to passion and purpose.  

What is dance/movement therapy?

According to the American Dance Therapy Association, founded in 1966, “dance/movement therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual.” It is a creative arts therapy that uses movement as the means to observe, assess, and intervene in an individual’s overall health.  Movement is the most primitive instinctual form of communication and expression. It allows for a deeper level of understanding, validation and support.  Not only is no dance experience or coordination needed to reap the benefits, but also, unlike psychotropic medications, there are no negative side effects.  

What is the different between dance and dance/movement therapy?

Dance is a performance art form usually consisting of stylized or choreographed sequences of movement. It is about expression, aesthetics, and often physicality and skill. Dance/movement therapy is first and foremost a niche form of psychotherapy, facilitated by a master’s level clinician that merely uses, movement, a component of dance, to heal and integrate the mind, body, and spirit of an individual. In dance/movement therapy, the “dance” comes from the individual as an organic expression of the self.

What are the benefits of dance/movement therapy?

Dance/movement therapy can benefit people of all ages, abilities, and life circumstances because it supports the individual on a body level where they are in that specific moment in time. Dance therapy has a broad range of health benefits. It has been demonstrated to be clinically effective at improving body image, self-esteem, attentiveness, and communication skills. It can also reduce stress, fears and anxieties, as well as lessen feelings of isolation, body tension, chronic pain, and depression. In addition it can enhance the functioning of the body’s circulatory and respiratory systems.

What does a session look like?

Dance/movement therapy sessions can look much like a talk therapy session. It is often up to the participant how large the movement is or how indulgent it may be. It can incorporate breathing exercises, meditation, mindfulness, stretching, and yes, dance, in addition to verbal processing. It can be done individually, as a couple, or even in a group. Sessions take place in hospitals, nursing homes, day centers, schools, studios, homes, and offices around the world. It is a holistic body-based therapy that can be done standing up, sitting down, or even from a person’s bedside.

Anyone can participate in dance/movement therapy, regardless of age, physical or even cognitive ability.  If you are interested in deepening your mind-body connection, enhancing physical performance through awareness, or physically and emotionally becoming more efficient, consider dance/movement therapy as your approach to mental and physical integration, growth, and healing.  

For more information, go to the American Dance Therapy Association or contact Chicago Dance Therapy.

Share this: