Dance Therapy


Clinical dance therapy is a relatively new form of treatment for a wide variety of illnesses. The treatment is based on the principle that the body and mind are inextricably connected, and that through movement you can access and heal the deepest parts of the psyche.

Moving to Heal

Dance has, informally, long been used as a therapeutic tool. The website notes that traditional healers in the Native American tradition used dance as a part of their healing art, and Chinese movement forms such as T'ai Ji are based in their medical system. As early as the 19th century in England, doctors were aware of the benefits of movement for treating both physical and mental illnesses. A wide variety of dance therapy theories were developed in the U.K., influenced by American modern dancers such as Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey.

The roots of movement therapy in America go back to World War II, where psychiatrists in a Washington D.C. hospital noticed that some of their patients who had been attending dance class were showing marked improvement. The dance teacher, Marian Chace, asked to work at the hospital, and the field of dance therapy was born. Around the same time, in California, another dancer and mime named Trudi Schoop was doing similar work with patients.

Their successes led to the formation of the American Dance Therapy Association in 1956. Today this is the primary certifying body for dance therapists, and has been officially recognized by several federal agencies and health care programs. It services dance therapists in over thirty countries around the world from Argentina to Taiwan.

Becoming a Dance Therapist

Certification as a registered dance movement therapist requires a Master's Degree from an ADTA-approved program. Currently there are six programs in the United States that offer Masters programs:

  • Antioch University New England, New Hampshire
  • Columbia College, Chicago
  • Drexel University, Pennsylvania
  • Lesley University, Massachusetts
  • Naropa University, Colorado
  • Pratt Institute, New York

After 700 hours of training, beginning therapists have earned the credential of "Dance Therapist Registered," but it takes over 3,000 hours of training (in addition to 700 in supervised clinical situations) to gain full certification. Becoming an expert in dance movement therapy is a combination of movement training as well as principles of psychology and physiology.

Dance Movement Therapy

While dance movement therapy has very solid scientific training and research involved, it also has been embraced by the holistic healing community due to the way it looks at the body and mind as a whole, interrelated system. As the Worldwide Health website describes it, dance therapy allows both the release of tensions that hold in negative feelings as well as providing a mode of expression for those feelings.

What Is a DMT Session Like?

It's hard to describe a "typical" therapy session in dance/movement, because every teacher will customize the music, the movement, and the exercises to address the needs of the patient(s). For some, this can be an individual session where therapist and patient work through very private feelings, while other patients may do group exercises to help get past socialization issues or deal with their problems with the support of others. The responsibility of the therapist is not only to lead and structure the exercises, but also to create a safe environment both physically and psychologically for the patients. About the only common factor in dance therapy sessions is that you should wear comfortable, loose clothing in which you can easily move.

Other Forms of Movement Therapy

While the ADTA is the primary licensing board for the medical practice of dance movement therapy, there are other forms of counseling that use movement as a primary tool. Kinections, for example, is a movement therapy center founded by Dr. Danielle Fraenkel in 1984 to address a wide variety of problems including eating disorders, depression, stress, and even couples counseling. Kinections also trains movement therapy specialists, and is recognized as a source of continuing education by the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Moving into a Healthier Future

While there is still a lot of research being done in this relatively young field, more and more patients are benefiting from the techniques used by dance therapists. It has become a useful treatment for both minor problems and more serious, life-threatening issues, improving the lives of people all over the world through the simple freedom of movement.

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