In order to become a dance/movement therapist you must attend an accredited dance/movement therapy (DMT) program, whether this means full graduate coursework or an alternative program as an addendum to other like-minded graduate studies (e.g. social work or counseling). Once you complete your coursework, internships, and write a thesis, BAM you’re a dance/movement therapist who is, I’m assuming, ready and able to begin working as a professional. If you happen to take a DMT job, hopefully your site will have a special area for you to conduct your groups. Unfortunately this is not always the case, and sometimes dance/movement therapists are required to move chairs and tables in a random conference room or recreational area. When I say DMT happens everywhere I don’t mean that as dance/movement therapists we are required to do DMT anywhere and everywhere at our clinical settings. What I mean is, once you become a dance/movement therapist the work starts following you around, and DMT opportunities start to pop up in random places.
I work in a day rehabilitation center where adults with developmental disabilities (DD) come to receive services on a daily basis. In addition to DMT, clients can also take part in art and music therapy groups, as well as receive vocational services and recreational therapy. The nature of my clinical setting is community orientated, in that the staff and clients from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. function within our own community as outlined by the perimeters of the walls. Although at times this can feel familial and boundary setting is a daily task, the community orientation does allow for in-depth rapport with the clients. This type of set-up also allows for therapy to happen in every moment that clients are here. Literally. Each and every interaction I have with clients on a daily basis is a moment for a DMT intervention to happen.
Let me give you an example.
Each day I arrive to work at 8 a.m. and my first group does not start until 9 a.m. In this window of time I orient myself to the day, figuring out what groups I have and complete any necessary paperwork or office tasks. On this particular day I needed to print paperwork so I made the trek down to the printer (I unfortunately have to descend a flight of stairs anytime I print something). As I was returning I crossed paths with a client who occasionally makes his way into the DMT studio. Upon seeing me, he came up to me and said in a discerned tone, “I feel the pressure.” At this point I witnessed binding in his face, which for this client, informs me that he is concerned. He repeated his statement and this time he began moving his hands with quickness and vibratory phrasing in a near-reach space (or in other words, flailing his hands).
Here I am, the dance/movement therapist, witnessing a client who is expressing concern about his body through movement but we are not in the DMT studio. This wasn’t exactly an emergency, the client was safe other than his uncomfortable feelings of pressure. So, in a way, I was presented with a choice. I could address the client’s concern right there in the present moment, or I could tell the client to wait to process this in the DMT studio later in group.
As you can probably guess, I took a moment to help the client process what he was feeling. I mirrored his movement back to him and said, “Okay get the pressure out.” My intervention was to (hopefully) turn-up the volume, so to speak, on his bodily experience as a means to let his pressured feeling pass. We stood there together for about one minute doing this movement, ending with a pause followed by a breath. And then the client walked away, just like that. He must have got what he needed.
In this brief experience with my client I was able to harness my DMT skill set and help a client regulate his body. I realize that what happened between my client and I was not DMT on a full-scale (creating a container, inviting authentic movement, some type of cool down, and verbal processing), but rather a brief intervention informed by my embodied approach as a therapist. It’s important to note that yes, there is an appropriate time and place for therapy, especially DMT, and proper boundary setting is important. Sometimes it’s NOT appropriate to process things with your clients. This is especially true for the individuals with DD who are often working on appropriate social skills and interactions. When I have a client approach me outside the DMT studio I have to use my judgment when deciding to address the issue with them or not. I ask myself, “does this feel like something that needs to be addressed in the present moment, or is it in fact something that could and should wait?” I trust my intuition. In this case, it felt it was appropriate to take a moment and help my client regulate his body by simply mirroring his movement and witnessing him in his pressured feelings.
This brief moment with my client has reminded me how DMT has altered my lens in how I interpret my every day interactions, and how it has altered my lens as a human being. My experience also reminds me that DMT is not a practice that is easily defined or something that fits a regimented framework. Sometimes DMT happens in brief interactions with clients and sometimes interventions happen for only a few moments. Even if you happen to be standing in front of a printer.