The 11 things I learned in my first year as a professional dance/movement therapist.

In front of the DMT studio.

In front of the DMT studio.

This week marks my one year dance/movement therapy (DMT) anniversary.  One year ago I started my first DMT position, working full-time with adults with Developmental Disabilities (DD) at a day training program.  I admit that I was very lucky to snag a full-time position only a few months after I completed my thesis and Graduate Laban-Certificate in Movement Analysis (GL-CMA) work.  What’s even more special is that my job position is actually titled “dance/movement therapist” and I work alongside a music and art therapist.  I’ll keep bragging by also saying I have a lovely dance studio to lead groups in.  I’ve got it pretty good.

In a way, this past year has flown by and in other ways it has not.  Some days I feel like a rock-star dance/movement therapist and that I’ve got this crazy thing called DMT all figured out.  Some days, I feel like a complete novice and, on the worst of days, I feel like I should just quit. It’s the reality of the work, I suppose.  With the passing of my first year I took the time to reflect on what I have learned thus far as a professional dance/movement therapist and to congratulate myself, because hey, one year anniversaries are exciting.

1. You are more than a dance/movement therapist.   We come into the workforce as dance/movement therapists ready to lead DMT groups.  However, our job might require us to do things that do not necessarily fit the “dance/movement therapist” bill.  In addition to leading DMT groups, we might help clients at lunch time or maybe we take individuals into the community for a special event.  This is certainly a part of my job as a dance/movement therapist.  When we enter the professional realm we might have an idea of what our job is supposed to look like, and we might even get annoyed when our daily tasks veer off this path.   As dance/movement therapists, we are both artists and clinicians and there are a lot of job responsibilities along that continuum.

2. Being a full-time dance/movement therapist is like any other full-time position. There is often a consensus among dance/movement therapists that doing DMT was IT for us… once we knew what DMT was we knew we had to do it.  I felt this too.  However, it’s important to remember that being a dance/movement therapist, although most-likely unique, is like doing any other full-time work.  We are a part of the grind like the rest of the world and sometimes this can become mundane.  Get up, go to work, come home, go to bed, and repeat.

3. Most days you’ll dance, some days you won’t.  As a dance/movement therapist I lead groups that consist mostly of movement.  Through movement I help people achieve therapy goals on a daily basis.  I also lead DMT groups where we lie on mats, laugh and play, sit and listen to music, or toss around a beach ball.  How each group looks is determined by the individuals in them, and some days that means full-on movement and other days there is no “dancing” at all.


Morning light.


4. You’ve signed up for a life-long advocacy work.  The profession of dance/movement therapy is relatively small and we, as a profession, are still (largely) unheard of.  Although our web presences is growing, I am constantly required to advocate and educate about my work.  And, yes, that does include answering the question, “Oh dance/movement therapy?  What’s that?” over and over and over again.

5. Dance/movement therapy takes on many forms.  Understanding that DMT takes on many forms has been my biggest lesson in the past year.  I toyed with this idea as a DMT intern and during my thesis research, but my professional DMT career has continued to confirm it.  I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” to DMT.  In fact, I would argue that this is dangerous thinking.  In order to truly meet my clients’ therapy needs I must tailor DMT to them.  I am required to layer my DMT knowledge with my understanding of the clinical culture of where I work.  What is my workplace asking of me and how, as a dance/movement therapist, do I fulfill this drawing upon my unique DMT knowledge?  I’m not saying I’m a complete rogue and veer off the path of DMT.  Instead, I’ve learned that I have to contextualize DMT to meet my clients’ abilities and therapy needs, as well as the realities of my workplace.

6. Being a dance/movement therapist influences who you are as a person.  Although I understand the importance of differentiating my professional and personal identity, sometimes I have difficulty doing this.   Studying DMT and becoming a dance/movement therapist has shaped the woman I am today.  I see the world through the lens of a mover, of a therapist, and of a movement analyst.  Sometimes this warps my sense of identity and, at times, it can be harmful.  However, I do feel like being a dance/movement therapist has made me a kinder person.  My continual practice in kinesthetic empathy (and empathy in general) has transcended professional boundaries into my personal life, and that’s a good thing.

7. Self-care and supervision are I-M-P-O-R-T-A-N-T.  Personally, I find that doing DMT full-time can be very challenging.  Sometimes I come home from work and I am mentally, physically, and emotionally drained (yes, it’s true- DMT is hard work). Addressing self-care in the past year has been a personal must.  Some days, weeks, and months I am better at it than others.  Supervision is also very important because it serves as a professional soundboard.  Supervision is a place where I go to work through counter-transference, check my intervention choices, or just simply vent about the workplace.  My supervisor constantly provides me with perspective on my work as a dance/movement therapist.  Aside from the benefits of perspective, supervision is also a requirement to achieve Board Certified- Dance/Movement Therapist (BC-DMT) status.

8. You know more than you think.  I know that I’m new at DMT and I know I only have one year of professional experience, but this past year has taught me that I know a lot more than I thought I did.  Or, maybe I have had a lot of practice in trusting my therapeutic lens and my embodied ethical decision making skills. 



9.  You will empower people through movement and creativity.  It’s true.  I can’t begin to tell you the countless times I have witnessed my clients moving a way they’ve never moved before, engaging in the creative process of group (instead of passively sitting in a chair), making executive choices about the direction of group, or experiencing meaningful connections with their peers through touch, verbal feedback, or mirroring.  It hasn’t necessary happened in every DMT group or even everyday, but damn it does happen and when it does it’s absolutely stunning.

10.  You must constantly be aware of what your client wants therapeutically and how that compares to what you want for your client therapeutically.  This one is a biggie and something that is a constant conversation in my head while I am leading DMT groups.  I have often caught myself in a moment of group and have had to take a step back from myself to evaluate if my intervention choice was addressing what I want for my client versus what the client wants for themselves therapeutically.  As a dance/movement therapist, I know I am required to assist my clients in the path of therapeutic growth, and although I have the best intentions, sometimes this requirement might encourage me to hurry my clients along in the therapy process.  Or, maybe, I chose an intervention that does not meet them where they are at, but instead addresses my own need to be seen as a “good dance/movement therapist.”  I have not been perfect at this skill yet, but like I said it’s always a conversation I have in my head.  It helps keep me honest and is in some ways my therapy mantra.

11.  Keep dancing.  Dance is what brought me to this work.  Through my dance studies (for me it was studio and collegiate, for others it might be through social dance) I found out that I could use movement to help people therapeutically and thus I found out about dance/movement therapy.  So, I have to keep dancing…. keep taking class… keep seeing dance shows… keep reading about dance and movement.  If I expect my clients to move I must continue to move myself.

About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
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8 Responses to The 11 things I learned in my first year as a professional dance/movement therapist.

  1. Jeannine says:

    You are simply awesome. I stand by my assertion that you should consider writing a book. 🙂 Seriously, I still doubt my therapeutic efficacy on many days, and reading this post totally reframed my outlook on my work and our work as a whole. You are a beacon of bright light in this field and in my life!

  2. Love it, and great things to look forward to in the workforce!

  3. Paula Grech says:

    Looks like you are on a great journey, lovely to hear about it.

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

  5. Pingback: The 10 things I learned in my second year as a professional dance/movement therapist. | Dance.Movement.Therapy.

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