What it’s like to be a dance/movement therapy professional.

Dance/Movement Therapy I

I recently mentioned that I have begun my first professional dance/movement therapy job.  I am more than thrilled to have a position as a dance/movement therapist and begin to cultivate my career.  One of my goals upon exiting graduate school was obtaining a full-time dance/movement therapy job.  As I begin to manuever through life as a dance/movement therapy professional I am realizing there were some things I wasn’t expecting, didn’t realize, or just flat-out didn’t know.  Here is a list of those things to shed light on what it’s like to be a new professional dance/movement therapist.

  1. Becoming a professional is not the same as becoming an expert.  When I began my new dance/movement therapist position I was super excited.  “Heck yes!” I thought.  “I am finally a professional.”  Being offered the position was validating not only on a personal level but as a holder of dance/movement therapy knowledge.  However, within the first few weeks I realized that there is so much more for me to learn (which is why I think this point is so crucial).  As a professional I have a duty to my clients, self, and fellow creative arts therapists to continue to learn about my practice and how it relates to the my clients’ therapeutic needs.  Of course this may sound obvious since Continuing Education credits (CEs) exist.  But upon starting my new job I realized that although I am a professional, I am not an expert and probably never will be.
  2. Not everyone I work with is a Creative Arts Therapist.  This fact is neither good or bad, but just is.  When I started my position it became clear in a matter of days that not everyone a part of my clinical team was a creative arts therapist (although I am lucky in that I work with a music and an art therapist).  Instead, my colleagues had their own frame of reference and lens that influenced how they approached the clients.  It’s important for clients to experience different staff members  because not everyone they meet in life will have the same attitude.  Not everyone they meet is going to have the viewpoint of a dance/movement therapist.
  3. Patience with the professional time-line helped keep me sane (sort of).  What I mean by this is that I had to be patient about getting a job, the process of getting hired,  starting the new position, and learning the tasks of the job.  When I finished my degree I gave myself a month to relax before starting the “job hunt.”  I do have to admit that I was lucky in that the agency I did my internship just so happened to have a dance/movement therapy position open up during my hunt.  However, if that hadn’t happened I imagine my timeline would have been different.   I may have felt rushed to find a job, applying for whatever jobs I could find.  Once I did find my current position, I had to have patience in the time it took of getting hired, completing mandatory paperwork, and actually starting.  And when I did start, I had to be patient with myself and remember I couldn’t know everything at once.  I couldn’t know everything right away.  This, of course, is my personal experience with finding a job but I imagine most positions in the mental health system take awhile due to the nature of our work (e.g. paperwork, background checks, ect.).photo 4
  4. They weren’t lying, self-care is actually important.  My first few weeks of working a full-time dance/movement therapy schedule was a bit rough (not to mention, I have a second job).  I was exhausted from doing such intense work all day.  After being frustrated about my exhaustion, I took a step back and realized I hadn’t been taking caring of myself and I hadn’t been gracious with myself  in remembering that it takes time to adjust to such a schedule.  Self-care, DUH.  And it’s as simple as that.  It really is important to attend to yourself during personal time AND during the work day.  Noting things that make you feel better (a cup of coffee at work, a dance class, a bath, a glass of bourbon) is important, and doing those things is even more important so that you can remain safe and serve your clients the best you can.photo[2]
  5. My starting salary is not awesome nor is it great.  The topic of salary (or maybe just money in general) seems to be taboo within the dance/movement therapy community and deserves a blog post of its own.  Granted, we didn’t become dance/movement therapists for the money.  We became dance/movement therapists because we love dance and we love helping people.  But then there’s rent.  And then there’s food.  And frankly, people work to make money and dance/movement therapists are no different.  Like most starting salaries for mental health professionals, the amount isn’t a lot which is why I have a second job bartending on the weekends.  However, as cheesy as it sounds, my dance/movement therapy job is rich in experience and will help me land a higher paying job, a teaching gig, or workshop in the future.   I guess like everyone else dance/movement therapists have to work up the ladder…. Granted different types of locations pay differently, such as, generally speaking, hospitals pay more than mental health agencies.
  6. I’ve had really good days and really good dance/movement therapy groups, but then there is the bad.  As a new professional I had high hopes of making each and every one of my dance/movement therapy groups THE. BEST. THEY. COULD. BE.  I’m serious, I really strived for that.  And then of course reality set in and that how that may be near impossible.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some amazing dance/movement therapy groups and moments where I truly felt there was a therapeutic shift in my clients- therapy happened.  On the other hand, however, I’ve had some not-so-good dance/movement therapy groups that have been a bit dull and lacked creativity, or maybe the energy of the group was off.  Maybe I was having an off day.  Maybe my clients were having an off day.  Either way it was off.  What I am realizing now is that there will be both good and bad groups/days.   Either way, to the core of it, therapy happens because the up-ness and down-ness reflects reality.

Well there you have it, some things I have learned and realized during my first few months as a dance/movement therapist.  Hopefully seasoned professionals read the list and chuckle, remembering their own thoughts when first starting.  Hopefully some fellow new dance/movement therapists can relate.  I would love to hear thoughts and other realizations from professionals, both seasoned and new.

About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
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6 Responses to What it’s like to be a dance/movement therapy professional.

  1. Lora Wilson Mau, MA, BC-DMT says:

    Great post, Emily. I think DMTs at any stage in their professional lives can relate. Keep writing!

  2. Pingback: Reflecting on Dance.Movement.Therapy. | Dance.Movement.Therapy.

  3. Elise L. says:

    Hi, great blog and content! Thanks for sharing.
    I am actually in the similar situation as you are trying to cope with doing a secondary work, it is challenging to juggle between wanting to help others and getting a decent pay for it. I am thinking to start a career in this field here in NZ as well. Do you have any idea what is the usual beginner salary range would be like? Thanks heaps! 🙂

    • Hi Elise, thanks for reading and commentating. I truly do not know what the beginner salary range is, as the types of jobs dance/movement therapists can pursue are vast (e.g. part-time, full-time, contractual, hospital, non-profit, prisons, etc.). I would urge you to reach out to fellow dance/movement therapist is NZ to get a better idea. Emily

      • Hey Emily, I recently completed my masters in clinical psychology from India and I am interested in further specialistion in DMT from NZ. Could you please help me with the list of good colleges that offer the same. Also is there a diploma course or I need to again do my masters in DMT to practice professionally?

      • Hi Oshin, I would reference the American Dance Therapy Association (adta) website or the NZ/Australia dance therapy organizations for accrediated schools and programs. Yes, a master’s in DMT is required. Although many times if you already have a master’s in a like-minded profession you can complete a condensed program. Good luck on your journey and thanks for reading!

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