DMT is defined by the European Association Dance Movement Therapy (EADMT) as
‘the therapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical, spiritual and social integration of the individual. Dance as body movement, creative expression and communication, is the core component of Dance Movement Therapy. Based on the fact that the mind, the body, the emotional state and relationships are interrelated, body movement simultaneously provides the means of assessment and the mode of intervention for dance movement therapy.’
EADMT Ethical Code 2010
DMT belongs to the wider spectrum of Creative Arts Therapies. It emerged after World War II, in the wards of large psychiatric units. At this time a mutual interest and dialogue developed between Modern Dance and Psychoanalysis, giving birth to new ideas about the body-mind relationship. Since then, DMT has created its own professional trajectory – converging unique theoretical approaches with evidence-based therapeutic practices and movement-based assessment tools. Recent scientific advances (Stern, 2004, Gallese, 2001, Porges, 2009) enrich the DMT theoretical context, supporting the validity of the dance – movement therapeutic relationship which activates multi-modal, creative processes to facilitate change and growth.
Dance Movement Therapy, also known as Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) or Movement Psychotherapy in the UK, offers individuals of all ages and abilities a space to explore what drives them, assisting people to develop self-awareness and sensitivity to others and also to find a pathway to feeling more comfortable in their own skin.
DMT can be experienced in a group setting or through individual therapy sessions, with a qualified and registered therapist. The acknowledgment and exploration of the relationship that develops between the participant, the therapist and other group members (where group is the medium) is key to the therapeutic process. The aim of the therapeutic contract is for the therapist to facilitate the client in making meaning of their patterns of behavior, gain some understanding of the responses that support their fears and anxieties, grow more socially confident and gain clarity about what they want and need in life.
The dance movement therapist is skilled in working creatively with the material brought to a session; whether by way of explorative or descriptive play, the telling of a troubling story, wondering why uncomfortable situations keep happening or why relationships are so difficult to make and sustain. All these issues are listened to and thought about with the client and a space is offered to explore them through simple movement exercises and playful interaction. Sometimes the movement experience is minimal and can be focused on where the client experiences sensation when they talk about their difficulty or worry. The use of breath and relaxation through mindfulness is often a way to get in touch with the sensing and embodied self and from this point of awareness the work of integration can unfold.
The mind and body are interconnected and dependent on each other for optimum survival (Schore, 2009). If we ignore one aspect of ourselves, we are in danger of upsetting the balance of our unique make-up. The mind and body are the recorders of our life experiences – from conception to death. The dance movement therapist respects this and works with what the client brings into each session; exploring how they engage with the therapist, how they tell their story, explore their sensations, feelings and thoughts, while observing the recurring gestures, postures and movement dynamics that support the client’s verbal expression. The DMT is trained to work in the present moment, remaining alert to emerging metaphor and imagery and attuning themselves to the client’s rhythm and flow, seeking ways to explore these expressions through movement, sound and play.
‘The present moment can hold the past within its small grasp and the past is only “alive” when on the stage of the present moment. The past plays a constant role in influencing what we experience from second to second. [-] Perhaps what is most important therapeutically is that one begins to see how the experience of the present moment can rewrite the past.’ (Stern, 2004). In this way the dance movement therapist works with the embodied experiences and memories of the client (Damasio, 2000) in a playful, person-centered, safe and respectful way.
The DMT session offers a regular time (50 minutes to an hour) and a safe space to explore the verbal and nonverbal expression of the client’s stresses and difficulties. Many clients come to DMT because they are seeking to reach more of their potential and others are referred to a DMT service to address depression, anxiety, disruptive behavior, emotional learning delays, addictions and other mental health symptoms, as well as unexplained physical symptoms. There is a growing application of DMT in work with war veterans, people surviving childhood sexual abuse and family violence, and in the fields of autism, adolescent mental health, dementia care and eating disorders. It is a mark of the unique benefits of DMT that some of the most difficult people to reach respond to this form of therapy.
Damasio, A. (2000) The Feeling of What Happens: Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousnes. London: Heinemann
Gallese, V. (2001) The ‘Shared Manifold’ hypothesis: From mirror neurons to empathy. Journal of Consciousness Studies 8 (5-7): 33-50
Porges S. W. (2009) The polyvagal theory: new insights into adaptive reactions of the autonomic nervous system. Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine, 76 Suppl 2 (Suppl 2), S86–S90
Schore, A. N. (2012) The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy. New York: W.W.Norton
Stern, D. (2004) The Present Moment. New York: W.W.Norton
Susan Scarth RDMP, UKCP, RSME/T, SP, CMA, MCAT