Dance Therapy

What is Dance Therapy?

Dance therapy also known as movement therapy, is a form of psychotherapy that uses movement to help you work through your emotional, physical and/or psychological issues. Dance therapists believe that dance can help you increase your self-awareness and improve your life.

The purpose of dance therapy is to help you improve your spiritual, mental and/or physical health. This form of therapy focuses on the connection between your mind and body to promote health and healing. Dance therapy is considered a form of expressive psychotherapy.

The American Dance Therapy Association defines dance therapy as the use of physical expression and movement to improve your emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.

Dance therapy is practiced in treatment centers, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, clinics, schools, nursing homes, daycare centers and private practice.

How Are Dance Therapists Trained?

A dance therapist must complete at least 3,600 hours of supervised clinical work to be referred to as an Academy of Dance Therapist. He/she can obtain the necessary education and training either by graduating from an approved American Dance Therapy Association graduate program or by obtaining a Master’s degree complete with dance training from a qualified dance therapist.

Approved Graduate Program

Dance therapy graduate programs tend to focus on psychological concepts, human development, multicultural perspectives, group and family processes, behavioral studies, psychological pathologies and DSM-IV diagnoses and evaluation skills. Other areas that are of importance in a dance therapy program include: dance theory, spoken and unspoken forms of expression, effective communication, observational methods, psychological assessments, neurological processes, human anatomy and the implications of dance therapy with families, groups and/or individuals. In addition to the basic requirements, this program requires at least 750 hours of supervised clinical work.

Alternate Route

The alternate route consists of a master’s degree with dance therapy training from trained mental health professional. Other requirements associated with this route include: general psychology coursework, clinical work, internship and/or dance training with a qualified dance therapist.

In order for a dance therapist to be referred to as an Academy of Dance Therapist, he/she must obtain at least a master’s degree along with all the required psychology coursework, dance training and clinical work. The individual must also complete an internship at an approved agency.

How Does Dance Therapy Approach Psychological Issues?

The goal of a dance therapist is to help you improve your self-esteem and self-image, build up your communication skills, strengthen your relationships, obtain insight into your behavioral patterns and resolve your issues.  Dance therapists diagnose and treat your psychological issues by observing and assessing your movements. These therapists not only work with you to create goals and treatment plans, they also document their findings and collaborate with experts from other fields.

There have been little to no scientific studies performed to examine the short and long term effects of dance therapy on an individual’s health. Clinical reports suggest that dance therapy may be an effective way to increase your self-esteem, improve your physical and emotional health and reduce your stress level. Furthermore, dance therapy may give you the clarity you need to make better decisions and successfully resolve your psychological issues.

Who Seeks Dance Therapy?

Dance therapy is beneficial for if you have: cognitive and/or developmental delays, health problems and/or physical, social and/or psychological impairments. People of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds seek out dance therapy to help them express themselves and find more effective ways to communicate. Dance therapy is often used in conjunction with individual, group and/or family therapy.

Where Can I Find a Dance Therapist?

Dance therapists can be found in a variety of settings such as: nursing homes, schools, psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, drug treatment centers, crisis centers, private practices and/or holistic healthcare centers.

What Happens During a Dance Therapy Session?

Dance therapy consists of four stages: preparation, incubation, illumination and evaluation. Each stage begins by setting goals that are easier to accomplish, once those goals have been reached you and your dance therapists begin the process of working on the goals that are more difficult to achieve. Your goals and your progression through the stages are determined by you and your therapist. The stages are cyclic, which means that you may revisit a particular stage several times during the course of treatment.

The four stages are:

  • Preparation: This is the introduction stage. The time where you get to know your dance therapist.
  • Incubation: During this stage you begin torelax and release your negative energy. You let go of your consciousness and allow your body to take over. Your movements become symbolic of your hopes, fears, anxieties, frustrations, etc.
  • Illumination: During this stage you become more aware of yourself. You begin to comfortable expressing yourself through your movements. You gain a sense of clarity; freedom.
  • Evaluation:  During this last stage, you discuss what you learned from the therapy and how you plan to incorporate what you learned into your daily life. It is during this last part of therapy that you learn how to use dance therapy to improve the quality of your life. You learn how to communicate more effective, improve your emotional, spiritual and physical health, increase your self-esteem, self-image and self-awareness, make better decisions and strengthen your relationships.

Are There Any Professional Organizations Associated with This Approach to Therapy?

Yes, the most recognized dance therapy organization is the American Dance Therapy Association (


Hokkanen L. & Rantala L. (2003). Dance/movement therapeutic methods in management of dementia. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 51(4), 576-577.

Payne, H. (2006). Dance movement therapy: Theory, research and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.

Payne, H. (2008). Supervision of dance movement psychotherapy: A practitioner’s handbook. New York, NY: Routledge.

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