When you think of dance, you might not think that it can be used to treat mental health issues. However, dance movement therapy (DMT) is a unique form of counseling that helps individuals, couples, and families address their symptoms with a compassionate professional and dance instructor. Learning more about this form of therapy can help you decide if it would suit you.
Dance therapy, also known as dance and movement therapy (DMT), is a therapy that uses dance and physical activity to help clients improve their mental health.
What Can Dance Therapy Treat?
A single dance intervention can treat various concerns; you do not need a mental health diagnosis to attend sessions. Through motion and the release of endorphins, dance therapy can help any individual improve mood and reduce stress. Dance may benefit social, physical, cognitive, and personal concerns, including the following.
Physical symptoms that may benefit from dance therapy include the following:
- Chronic pain
- Cardiovascular disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Before attending any movement therapy, please consult your primary care physician to ensure it is safe with your physical health condition. You may also find benefits for the following mental health symptoms:
- Anxiety and depression
- Self-esteem issues
- A lack of hobbies
- Memory loss or difficulty
- Communication problems
- Distressing symptoms related to neurodiversity like autism or ADHD
- Anger issues
- Social concerns
- Mental illness, like bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, or another condition
The first noted discussion of dance used in therapy was by Carl Jung in 1916, according to studies. However, the modality of dance therapy was developed officially in the 1960s by Mary Whitehouse. In 1966, the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) was founded, and it has became a more widespread practice. Today, the ADTA provides licensing in dance therapy to therapists and counselors all over the US.
A 2019 study found that dance therapy was highly effective in treating symptoms of depression by offering a form of physical integration. Other studies have pointed to the benefits of the practice for treating symptoms of schizophrenia. For those living with a chronic illness or dementia, this therapy can improve their quality of life and help them cope with symptoms. Although more research may be beneficial on this form of treatment, it can benefit various conditions and symptoms. Dance therapy may be beneficial for those who enjoy physical education, movement, exercise, and expression. It may also serve as a violence prevention program.
Dance therapy is a creative psychotherapeutic approach. There are various benefits of dancing in therapy, including the following:
- Enhanced self-esteem
- Personal expression
- Confident creativity
- Facilitate lifespan development
- Poise and posture
- Focus and discipline
- Long-term fitness
Enhanced Self-Esteem, Expression, And Creativity Through Dance Therapy
Dance therapy is a healing art that can allow clients to experience a specialized movement program that creates an emotional connection to music and movement. Throughout the dancing period, smiling, reflection, and emotional expressions are promoted. As a result, a healthy environment is created that allows clients to feel whatever they need to. Individuals can practice creativity and improvisation without specific rules on how to dance.
Through exploration and imagination, dancing allows clients to move and feel physically in touch with their bodies. Imagination in dance can help clients feel they can control their environments.
Many clients find dancing fun, which can increase feelings of joy, happiness, and compassion. These emotions can relieve feelings of worry or depression.
Dancing may improve your posture and teach you to move gracefully with an enhanced sense of poise. According to the ADTA, shoulder positioning, posture, core lifting ability, back structure, and body extension are improved through dancing.
Because dancing can often involve structure or stylized movement, you can learn to be disciplined and stay focused during a dance to achieve your dance goals. Through dancing, you can strive to improve each session, set goals, and work hard to achieve results.
Dance is often referred to as a stress-free exercise promoting fitness and physical health. Pennsylvania State University states that dancing can improve endurance and provide a cardiovascular health workout.
Endorphins and dopamine are also often released during exercise. These brain chemicals are euphoria-reducing and can increase joy and excitement. Reducing stress through exercise can also increase physical well-being, as chronic stress can cause physical illness and chronic pain.
Music can enhance mood, and it may feel more immersive when someone is dancing along with the beat of a song. Allowing yourself to feel immersed in the music can allow you to have an emotional surrender and focus on your physical sensations and emotions instead of your thoughts. In addition, studies have found that music can help those with dementia improve cognitive function and memory.
When you start dance therapy, you might feel awkward or unable to complete the steps. However, as you progress, you may notice a boosted morale and enhancement in your mental health. A person may physically demonstrate improvement over time. If you set achievable goals, you can feel confident once you achieve them. Your therapist may also offer compliments and encouragement to help you through the process.
In traditional therapy, you may not make friends or interact with many others outside your therapist. Often, dance therapy is held in groups with multiple individuals experiencing a mental health or physical challenge. Through movement, you can make social connections and potentially meet new friends. This can help to inspire dynamic relationships and provide an outlet for creative expression. In addition, those who struggle with social anxiety may benefit from social activity in an environment where talking to others is not required.
Dance can be a form of meditation and mindfulness for some. During the therapy session, you may be asked to focus on the sound of the music, the feeling of movement, and the beat of the songs. It might be referred to as “entering the zone.” As you dance, you can feel connected to other dancers or yourself.
Dancing allows an individual to be present through the various actions included in the person’s movements. Doing so may help to develop self-awareness and reduce feelings of anxiety, fear, or depression, which is a benefit of general mindfulness practice as well.
If you go to a dance therapy session, you may wonder what to expect. Therapy may begin with an observation and assessment by your group therapist or a certified dance movement therapist. Dance therapists work to ensure you are comfortable and ready to dance, so they ask about your motivation for attending the group session. You may develop goals for your time in therapy and learn about the various board-certified dance movements.
The dancing sessions may then begin with you and other group members. The sessions might involve a warmup, a cooldown, breaks, structured dance lessons, or improv dancing. In many sessions, the dancers may control their movements freely while the instructors watch or choose unique songs to dance to.
What Is The Mission Of Dance Therapists?
The dance therapist instructors aim to provide clients with the location, tools, and oversight to address mental or physical health challenges. They can help clients develop goals and feel confident in their ability to dance within the group. If the client struggles with any aspect of dance therapy, the therapeutic challenge is to talk to them or guide them to help them get back on track.
The Principles Of Dance Therapies
There are many principles of dance therapy. For example, dance therapists may believe that body language and movement can unveil hidden feelings, traits, or thoughts. They also believe in the mind-body connection. For example, moving your body can benefit your mind and express aspects of the individual that may have been suppressed.
In addition, therapists might interpret a client’s movements as communication. Movements might be made subconsciously to symbolize what a client feels at the time. Dance therapists may believe that how you move can help you discover new aspects about yourself that you didn’t previously consider.
Another aspect is interventions. Interventions are used to understand a client’s needs, thoughts, or emotions. A few interventions the instructor or therapist might use include the following.
With mirroring, the instructor mirrors the movements of the client. This process might help establish empathy and allow the client to feel like the therapist understands them. It can also help to improve communication skills.
Dance therapy may involve incorporating jumping rhythms and movements. Studies have found that vertical up-and-down movements can reduce symptoms of depressive and eating disorders.
Movement Motivational Metaphors
A movement metaphor involves giving a reward metaphor for completing a goal. For example, the therapist might state, “if you keep dancing like this, you’re going to feel much better!”
Many individuals may believe they must be immensely talented to enjoy dance therapy. However, anyone may benefit from dance therapy, regardless of their skill. This therapy is not about judging your skill or teaching you to dance professionally. It is a safe place for you to express yourself. Talk to a qualified dance movement therapist before your first session if you have any doubts. In addition, try not to compare yourself to other dancers. Your processes may be different.
There are many forms of therapy, and dance therapy is not the only option available. If you’d prefer to sit and talk to a therapist through traditional talk therapy, that can also be an option. As dance therapy can be expensive, modern interventions like online counseling can be beneficial.
A recent New York Times article highlighted that therapists and clients believe online therapy is more effective and preferable to in-person options. They found relief in meeting a therapist from home during the Covid-19 pandemic. With more therapists than ever utilizing online platforms to provide support, clients can find guidance from home and choose a time slot flexible to their schedule.
If you want to talk to an online therapist, you can get started within 24 to 48 hours after filling out a quick intake form through a platform like BetterHelp. BetterHelp offers over 30,000 therapists, and some therapists may be able to equip you with practice exercises or dancing instruction at home.
Dance therapy allows individuals to mentally and physically benefit from therapy by partaking in dance movements. Dance therapies can be interpretive or structured. Talk to a dance therapist before attending sessions to have your questions answered further.
Below are a few frequently asked questions about dance therapy.
Regular dancing is done for fun or sport. Although it may have mental and physical health benefits, it is not led by a licensed therapist and doesn’t necessarily focus on the connection between mental and physical health. With or without music, dance therapy often aims to create an authentic connection between body movement, body image, and the unconscious mind to achieve emotional well-being.
Yes, dancing can decrease fear, worry, panic, or anxiety symptoms. The following are a few ways that dancing can reduce these symptoms:
- Physical movement that increases endorphins
- Mood-boosting music
- Improved confidence over time
- Improved social connections
- Meditating and mindfulness through dance
Dancing can provide sufficient exercise because it involves all body parts and connects the body and mind. Many metabolic activities take place during dancing. Some of the significant activities that occur during dancing include the following:
- Constant body movement
- Aerobic and anaerobic respiration
- Muscle flexibility
- Joint strengthening and mobility
Below are a few ways dance therapy can mentally benefit clients:
- It improves mood and lowers stress and anxiety
- It is a means of reducing social anxiety, as you can connect with others
- It elevates mood and reduces depression through endorphin release
- It can improve your physical health, potentially reducing stress related to pain or inflammation
Dancing is fun because it allows you to connect with music as you move. In addition, as endorphins release, you may feel a sense of happiness or excitement that makes you feel like you’re enjoying the activity. In addition, music and dancing have been utilized in cultures worldwide since the beginning of humanity. These aspects of being human are connected with our self-expression, emotions, and communities.
According to research, dancing impacts your cognitive, physical, and social behavior. Watching dance may allow you to experience similar impacts. Watching individuals participate in movement can make you feel connected to others, happy, and inspired.
What is an example of dance therapy?
What are the stages of dance therapy?
What type of therapy is dance therapy?
What is the purpose of dance therapy?
Who benefits from dance therapy?
What is another word for dance therapy?
What is dance therapy and how does it work?
What are the physical benefits of dance therapy?
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