Dance connects us to our vitality, our bodies, our emotions. We feel good as our physical bodies gain strength, coordination and flexibility. Dance is a creative and expressive form of movement that may provide community and social support. When we watch dance, we may feel less isolated in our own emotions by watching others. Dance may be a part of your cultural healing or ceremonial rituals and tradition. Often, when people discuss these benefits as therapy, they are describing a general sense of feeling “better.” While feeling better from dance and taking part in a dance class may feel therapeutic , it is not the same as dance/movement therapy (DMT).
The terms Dance Therapy and Dance/Movement Therapy (DMT) refer to a specialized profession. Most dance/movement therapists are trained dancers who have earned a master’s degree specific in movement observation and assessment, psychology theory, and trauma-informed practices in order to provide a safe environment and ethical treatment of emotions and memories that may emerge from movement.
Both therapeutic dance and dance/movement therapy are valuable services to the community. Neither is more important than the other. Even as I write this, socially distanced in my home as a result of the COVID19 pandemic, I’m reminded of how vital the arts and dance are in our communities for connection, expression, and feeling! With that being said, it is meaningful to understand the differences between dance/movement therapy and therapeutic dance.
The first major difference is the nature of the relationship with the instructor or therapist. Therapeutic dance classes are taught by a dance educator or dance artist. Although a dance/movement therapist may teach therapeutic dance, when doing so they are taking the role of an instructor or educator and participants take the role of students. In a therapeutic dance class, the instructor will typically lead the class in movement and may even encourage the students into self-expressive or improvisational movements. In a DMT session, the therapist takes the role of a facilitator. They may build on elements of therapeutic dance by helping a client process the connection between movement and the feelings evoked by it. They may offer movement interventions to promote change and healing.
Secondly, there is a difference in the goals and the intention. In a therapeutic dance class, the goal is likely recreational or leisure. Participants might experience positive emotional benefits, such as increased confidence and even “feel better” by participating in a therapeutic dance class. Dance/movement therapy, is a form of psychotherapy that relies on the therapeutic relationship between the client and therapist. Therapeutic goals are collaborative and often psychosocial or behavioral in nature, including personal growth. In addition, DMT does not always mean people “feel better.” Clients engaging in DMT may uncover uncomfortable feelings, through the change process. In a DMT session, the therapist will likely draw upon a theoretical framework such as Person-Centered, Psychoanalytic, or Relational-cultural theory to guide their interventions and support a client. The therapist may offer interventions and/or act upon certain movements in a way that promotes healing for the client. They may encourage the processing of emotions both verbally and non-verbally in session, as they are specifically trained to do. They may help clients develop insight and make meaning through movement. The dance/movement therapist would not be expected to “teach” skills or techniques as an instructor may in a therapeutic dance class, although they may rely on their background in dance artistry in the therapy session.
This leads to an important distinction in the relationship, specifically privacy. Confidentiality is a required component of DMT. Dance/movement therapists are bound to ethical codes of treatment to protect and not exploit client vulnerability, hold relationship boundaries and to protect client information. When entering DMT, a client should expect to complete paperwork outlining confidentiality and treatment practices, as well as provide information about their own psychosocial history. The Dance/movement therapist and client will collaborate on the goals of therapy, methods, and length of treatment. Services typically terminate when a client feels they have achieved their goals and reasons for seeking dance/movement therapy.
There can be a lot of overlap between therapeutic dance and dance/movement therapy. Confusion by those seeking services and even within the dance community itself is common. Both therapeutic dance and DMT are valuable and vital, yet different services in our community.
If you are considering whether to engage in DMT, questions you may consider include:
- Do I have a specific personal goal best achieved through personalized services?
- Am I struggling with a mental health issue and want to make sure those needs can be addressed in session?
- How will my confidentiality and privacy be protected? Is this something I value?
- What expectations do I have of therapist to respond to my movement and emotional material that may emerge?
If you are a dance artist or educator who values adding therapeutic dance into your curriculum, awesome! Therapeutic dance can be beneficial for fostering confidence, increasing self-esteem, and building community amongst dancers. I encourage you to have honest conversations with your dancers about the limitations of therapeutic dance. If you notice that a student is struggling with a mental health issue or would benefit from deeper personal work, consider referring them to a dance/movement therapist or other mental health provider. This shows you are invested in their mental health and understand the limitations of therapeutic dance. You may even consider consulting with a dance/movement therapist to host workshops that expose your students to this amazing field! Feel free to reach out to us at Emovere! We love collaborating with dance artists!
•Susan Imus, The Difference Between “Therapeutic” Dance and Dance/Movement Therapy
•Erica Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, Therapeutic Dance vs. Dance Therapy: 5 important difference?
•Chelsie Batko, R-DMT. Dance/Movement Therapy and Therapeutic Dance: What’s the Difference?
By Katie Bohn, LPC, BC-DMT, SEP