What may come to mind first is jazz hands, choreographed moves, flowery pink tutus, and ballet slippers. But dance/movement therapy is not that and is more than a simple dance class. Instead, it’s an integrative mind-body approach to therapy that has many applications and benefits regarding mental health.
The American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) defines dance/movement therapy as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual. This means that dance/movement therapy is a holistic approach to healing! It’s based on the empirically supported assertion that mind, body, and spirit are inseparable and interconnected.
Dance/movement therapists pay special attention to our nonverbal language: movement. Movement can be functional, communicative, developmental, and expressive. Dance/movement therapists observe, assess, and intervene by looking at movement, through these lenses, as it emerges in the therapeutic relationship in the therapeutic session.
These methods are tried-and-true: dance/movement therapy has helped a lot of people with a lot of different issues. Beneficial for both physical and mental health, dance therapy can be used for reducing stress, preventing disease, and managing moods. In addition, the physical aspect of DMT offers increased muscular strength, coordination, mobility, and decreased muscular tension.
As a versatile therapy, dance/movement therapy practices can help clients with physical, mental, and emotional issues, including but not limited to chronic pain, anxiety, depression, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders, PTSD, and domestic abuse. Dance/movement therapy is an embodied, movement-based approach that is often difficult to describe. Often it may be necessary to engage in the process actively to get a true sense of how helpful it is.
We reached out to our new resident dance/movement therapist at CTC, Shauna Shrewsbury, to hear what she had to say about it.
Interview with Dance/Movement Therapist, Shauna Shrewsbury
How do you typically describe dance/movement therapy to someone who has never heard of it before?
We do not have to dance! I typically describe dance/movement therapy as the use of body awareness– the interconnectedness of mind, body and spirit– to promote healing. My work comes from a lens of incorporating the body into the healing process.
How does dance/movement therapy promote healing?
Through dance/movement therapy, my clients often realize the potential they have to heal themselves. The exercises and practices we use in session give them tools to take care of themselves in a way they didn’t have access to. That, to me, is the most impactful: to watch that form of progress. Seeing my clients open up this new view of themselves based on how they’ve connected to their body, how they’ve been able to grow, in a certain sense, is such an honor.
DMT is a form of creative psychotherapy. We use talk therapy, but DMT specifically incorporates bodily awareness and interconnectedness as well.
Our work is to strengthen the connection between body and mind. There is this belief that the body innately holds all of our own experiences, whether we actively remember them or engage with them or not, our body holds that wisdom. Sometimes it’s about addressing, or tapping into that wisdom.
What are some common misconceptions about dance/movement therapy?
It’s not mandatory or necessary to dance! It’s about allowing yourself to breathe. I tell people that if you can breathe, you can do dance/movement therapy. It’s about expanding themselves and their own movements.
What have clients said to you about their experiences with dance/movement therapy?
“I didn’t think that was going to be helpful,” a few people said. Some had been reluctant to engage, but just by participating with me as a therapist guiding them, the act of movement or the breath work surprised them in a good way.
We start with breath work, and go from there. I often will tell people it’s a lot of mindfulness: it doesn’t have to be this big, scary dance routine.
What can you tell us about your work with perinatal clients?
A lot of times my work will be about acknowledging what they’ve experienced, and the fear that can come with that. After birth, it’s all about the baby, so mom’s [and parents’] needs tend to get left behind.
I work with perinatal clients to empower them through their experience. In cases where a mother has suffered the loss of a pregnancy or infant, I work to help mom find ways to honor, express, and process the grief for the lost child or pregnancy. How do they organically, in a felt sense, need to process that? It’s their body that has gone through so much.
A lot of the work is also asking clients to tune into themselves and what their own needs are, because often they’re so outwardly focused on baby, or family, or their other new responsibilities.