Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) and Psychological Healing
Jun 7, 2010 Nicole O'Driscoll
This liberating movement-based therapy brings body, mind and spirit together, alleviating disabilities, negative emotions and the symptoms of mental illness
Departure from the Medicalisation of Disability, Addictions and Mental Illness
The diagnostic and medical approach remains one of the most popular ways of treating disabilities, mental illness, addictions and criminal behaviour. Even the natural scope of human behaviour has been unable to escape, with “social anxiety” now a medical term for shyness. There are a plethora of medications being produced by the pharmaceuticals industry for this and other “illnesses.”
The social or psychological model takes another approach - that by engaging with a talking therapy and examining one’s life patterns, traumas, behaviours and relationships, recovery is brought about from within. This can be a painful and laborious process, albeit an authentic and liberating one. The therapist forms a relationship with the client and guides her towards managing negative emotions and behaviours, through a process of acquired self-knowledge. From a long-term point of view, this seems the better road to a fuller recovery, because the client is not dependent on a panacea in the form of a pill.
Dance Movement Therapy moves away from the medicalisation of mental illness and addiction.
It brings together and energises the connection between body, mind and spirit, providing a creative outlet for the emotions and for the self. Those who work with marginalised groups - individuals with disabilities, learning difficulties, addictions, mental illness, offender histories, the elderly - will recognise how difficult it can be for individuals from these groups to “open up” verbally. Many are simply not used to being offered or receiving help, and do not know how to engage with it if the emphasis is on verbal communication.
One of the benefits of Dance Movement Therapy is that it enables communication where words are difficult or not possible.
There is the added benefit that, where individuals from these and other marginalised groups are often at risk of becoming isolated, Dance Movement Therapy provides a space that is both social and therapeutic at the same time. Participants can enjoy being in a group gathering without any pressure to follow in conversation the social roles that every member of society is expected to adopt.
The Benefits of Dance Movement Therapy
The physical, emotional and psychological benefits of Dance Movement Therapy are prolific. It provides a personal coping strategy for participants, a tool to be used against negative emotions and behaviour patterns. Where medication anaesthetises the symptoms of mental illness, Dance Movement Therapy allows these emotions and behaviours to be expressed and released from the psyche, enabling a process of renewal. Its “unlocking” power makes it the antidote to suppressed negative internal clutter that leads to destructive or self-harmful behaviours.
Dance Movement Therapy provides a completely safe, non-judgemental space in which the participant feels aided through a process of self-development. Self-esteem tends to increase greatly, as non-verbal modes of communication are explored.
Emotions, Disability and the Body
Emotional damage and physical ailments create muscular tension and stiffness in the body. Dance Movement Therapy releases this tension, allowing the body to move freely and to become more aware of itself as a living, dynamic object in physical space. Every individual on the planet has their own distinctive way of moving, and Dance Movement Therapy allows the participant to release her potential and get to know herself through movement.
The human body is a beautiful creation - complex, intricate, immensely strong, yet as fragile as a beeswing. It is full of potential energy, actuated by a vast network of millions of signals and synapses. These activate together to bring about the slightest, most simple movement - a blink of an eye, a scratch of the head, a giggle. Imagine what the body would look like if each of these signals, synapses and receptor sites were illuminated from within during the dance. It would resemble an infinite gathering of stars and sparks, a microcosmic version of the night sky. The human body is chemistry, electricity, energy. This beautiful orchestra is celebrated in the movement of the dance: “dance can utilize intelligence, spirituality, discovery and spontaneity while the body is producing art.”
How does Dance Movement Therapy Work?
In 1942, Marian Chace, a pioneer of modern dance, was invited by psychiatrists at a nearby hospital to work with a group of non-verbal clients. She had observed of her own students that their well-being improved through their participation in dancing, and that they were more engaged with free-expression of emotion than with perfecting the techniques. Over twenty years later, in 1965, the American Dance Therapy Association was founded, with Chace in the role of its first president.
During the intervening time, Dance Movement Therapy came under a theoretical focus, where psychotherapists adopted it as a form of treatment while identifying how it works. The theory and principles are based around the belief that “the body and mind are inseparable.” If body and mind are so closely linked, then a disorder in one will produce a disorder in the other, and vice versa. Similarly, releasing the body’s movement will bring about a unified release in the body and mind of the participant. Instead of relying on words to engage with the client, the therapist mirrors his/her movement. This movement can often reveal a symbolic, unconscious process, allowing the participant to work through early childhood experiences in the same non-verbal way that she experienced them before learning how to speak. Dance Movement Therapy reconnects the present self with the youngest self, allowing the client to move towards forming new ways of being.
www.worldwidehealth .com “Dance Therapy” (Accessed 7th June 2010)
 Levy, Fran J. Dance Movement Therapy: A Healing Art (Reston, VA: The American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, 1988)