Movement Therapy: Opening Doors to Creative Recoveries

Illustration by Caroline Cao

Illustration by Caroline Cao

What if I told you that your patient’s treatment could involve no drugs or hospital visits at all?

Dance movement therapy (DMT) is officially defined as the “psychotherapeutic use of movement and dance to support intellectual, emotional, and motor functions of the body” by Psychology Today. In other words, it is a means to engage multiple parts of the body during therapy. The goal is not to attain fitness or to master the hardest dance; instead, it is to find a balanced way to channel one’s emotional or mental stress through artistic movement. DMT usually occurs in therapeutic settings structured specifically for this goal and it can be tailored to best fit the intended population. Thus far, results have been positive enough to warrant the following question: why isn’t this more common?

Usages have been found in stress reduction, increasing self-esteem and in expediting therapies. Furthermore, dancing within the close proximity of others increases trust and improves interpersonal relations. These are skills that can be taken out of the dance studio and into one’s life. Its usage was deemed so important that, according to the Washington Post, “dance therapy has been included in federal legislation for the education of the handicapped.” The key feature that DMT possesses that most other therapeutic interventions lack is its focus on expression through artistic outlets when words fail to convey feelings.

Sometimes, silence with the company of others heals more than thorough conversation with a counselor. Ultimately, experts predict that DMT’s great success comes from the fact that dance therapy draws future steps from the patient as opposed to telling the patient what to do next. The patient becomes the key leader in terms of how he/she uniquely wishes to express his/her feelings through movement. While most other therapies attempt a one-size-fits-all mechanism for tackling large issues, dance therapy allows individuals to refocus on their struggles alone and create their own means of expression. Free, unrestricted movement requires deep introspection, and the act of engaging in DMT can reveal issues that are deeply rooted, and often hard to find otherwise. Ironically, the lack of structure is what makes it so useful.

The usage of DMT increased with the creation of the American Dance Therapy Association in 1966, but we still have miles to go. There are a few techniques that are widely used such as mirroring and using “movement metaphors.” Through mirroring, the therapist imitates the actions of the patient and often validates the patient. For a lot of people, validation is the first step towards permanent self-healing. This can help reduce addictions and increase trust with others. With “movement metaphors,” patients use props to help convey how they feel in their situations, patients can materialize their emotions and feelings without actually having to use any words. The dance movements would be a representation of the patient’s current situation healthwise and would be an honest reflection of how the patient perceives his or her time throughout the healing process. As Dr. Baudino put it, DMT “helps to meet goals of self-expression, working through frustration, building coping mechanisms and managing pain.”

Another huge advantage is that DMT applies to more people than just patients who are medically ill; Amber Gray recently gave a large talk on her experience with DMT in helping survivors of torture. She explained that “[w]hile torture intends to silence, disrupt, and control, DMT offers a way back home. Using movement as our primary fundamental language, the practice of DMT unearths voices – both verbally and nonverbally, restores body rhythms, offers a way to re-inhabit the body, and reintroduces a sense of belonging.”

Although the benefits of DMT are widespread, the practice is unfortunately not. Often when the word therapy is mentioned, our thoughts are directed towards psychiatrists, doctors, and sports, and not dance. DMT is slowly making its way to larger hospitals such as Mattel Children’s Hospital in UCLA and its uses are slowly being spread in the forms of talks and articles.

Currently, we as a community can work on making DMT a more widely heard phenomenon by motivating it’s usage in our local settings. It’s truly up to us to find ways to make change for the future.

Edited by: Anhthi Luong




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