The 10 things I learned in my second year as a professional dance/movement therapist.


I recently hit the two year mark as a professional dance/movement therapist at my current full-time position working with adults with developmental disabilities (DD).  When I hit my first year mark I wrote a similar post, “The 11 things I learned in my first year as a professional dance/movement therapist.”  I must admit that the second year anniversary came with a little less enthusiasm than the first.  Regardless, the last two years in the dance/movement therapy (DMT) field have certainly been a ride.  Despite having another year of experience under my belt, I still have the ups and downs that come with working full-time as an embodied psychotherapist. I still struggle with discouraging thoughts, and I even struggle with feelings of wanting to quit DMT altogether (trust me, full-time bartenders make a lot more money).  On other days, I witness the absolute beauty of my clients connecting with each other, engaging in different movement qualities and connecting to their authentic self in DMT groups.

Below are the ten things I learned in the second year as a professional dance/movement therapist.

1.  You must constantly be aware of what your client wants therapeutically and how that compares to what you want for your client therapeutically.  I included this bullet point in last year’s list and it’s so important that I felt obliged to include it again.  As a dance/movement therapist I have an agenda for the DMT groups I lead.   I hope to bring about therapeutic growth in my clients through creativity, play and movement.  However, my agenda as a dance/movement therapist must always be compared to meeting my clients where they are in the “here and now.”  This is more than meeting my clients “where they are at” (you know, that old therapy colloquialism), by truly understanding my clients’ abilities in the moment to address their therapy goals and what they are offering me in terms of energy, posture, mood, attitude, focus, content, etc.  Sometimes it can be a slow road and sometimes it looks like nothing is happening in DMT group- an outsider looking in might wonder why the group is sitting around in chairs.  So even if the new CEO of the agency I work for happens to walk by the DMT studio while I’m sitting in a chair, singing and holding hands with a client, and that that might not look like “dancing” or DMT, I have to know deep down that that’s what that particular client needed in the moment to bring about change.

2. What we say matters, but we might need to rephrase how we say it.  I work among a large team of professionals in my current full-time position.  The individuals from my team come from an array of backgrounds.  Oftentimes when we come together for team meetings I’ll notice that when I contribute to our discussions I am in a constant state of rephrasing DMT language so that my team members can understand.  This is not to say they are incapable of understanding DMT theory, but rather that I try to make it more meaningful and applicable to our treatment culture and the clients we serve.  For example, when the team discussed if we should suggest a walker for a client who had a bout of recent falls, I provided the insight that this client likes to move quickly and freely (quick time/free flow, mobile state), and he is constantly moving as if there was a gust of wind behind him (addressing his tendency to engage in run/drift tension flow rhythm from Kestenberg Movement Profile); I did not think this client would adapt well to a walker.  My team members agreed.  In this instance, I rephrased ideas from DMT and movement analysis so that what I said was clear, understandable and meaningful to the client we serve.

3.  The culture of DMT and our professional identity needs some serious examination.  This past year I’ve done some serious thinking about who makes up our professional identity and what characterizes the DMT culture.  I’ll be honest, some of it is a bit disheartening. I am curious if we, as dance/movement therapists, are truly as transparent and inclusive as we claim to be.  Are we sure that our organization is creating a culture that is truly open to hearing everyone’s point of view?  Are we sure we are publishing DMT literature that is representing all of us that do this work professionally? Are we truly competent to meet the needs of the clients we serve, and are we okay admitting when we’re not?   I’m hoping as time moves on we will begin to not only ASK these questions but also ADDRESS these issues. 

4. Collaborating with other creative arts therapists is awesome.  I am a lucky dance/movement therapist in the fact that I work alongside a music therapist and an art therapist.  What makes me even more lucky is that as a team we both enjoy and have the opportunity to collaborate.  Together, we facilitate client-led productions like “The Wizard of Oz,” or a fashion show.  Together we engage clients in all of the modalities.  We provide space for clients to work on set design, sew costumes, choreograph, sing and perform.  By collaborating, we provide multiple avenues for clients to engage in a creative process to address their unique therapy goals.  Our work with the clients both compliments and enhances each modality and the therapeutic growth of our clients.

5. We need to constantly contextualize DMT so that it adapts to the treatment culture of our clinical settings and meets our clients’ needs.  This point is a big one for me personally and something that I continually discuss with my colleagues and individuals in my personal life.  I have often expressed in the blog my confusion over the definition of DMT, both its flexibility and its rigidity.  What I have come to make sense of DMT and my personal approach is that if I want to be a mindful and effective dance/movement therapist then I must contextualize DMT so that it adapts to who I am working with- no matter who this is.  I must make DMT make sense and be meaningful to my clients.  I must make DMT fit my clients and not the other way around.

6.  I am currently wondering how important various certifications are to my professional work.  As I continue on my journey as a dance/movement therapist and get more into the professional work and further from academia, I have begun to feel the pressure of acquiring further credentials.  I’m not talking about supervision or Continuing Education Credits (CEs), because I definitely see the value in both.  What I am talking about is acquiring further education in disciplines and theories that would enhance my DMT knowledge.  Some days I feel tempted to become a certified yoga teacher (I hardly practice) or become certified in Internal Family Systems (IFS).  I feel the need and pressure to acquire more letters after my name to prove myself as a therapist.  How helpful is this to me professionally?  Sometimes I wonder if this is my own insecurity about “being enough” as a dance/movement therapist, or JUST a dance/movement therapist.  I wonder if this is my insecurity about whether dance and the creative process is enough as a psychotherapist.  Deep down I know dance is enough, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering about how important other certifications are.

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7.  The content of Dance.Movement.Therapy. is shifting.  When I started writing, I hoped to give visibility to DMT.  I was frustrated with the lack of DMT web presence.  Dance/movement therapy, dance/movement therapists and the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) have done a lot in the previous year to bring about change and increase the awareness of DMT.  Personally, I have felt that my blog writing has shifted from hoping to bring about DMT awareness to writing about topics that are relevant to DMT culture and myself as a dance/movement therapist.  I’m attempting to write for dance/movement therapists (and not for the outside world, although they are certainly welcome) in order to inspire discussions on topics that are important to our professional culture.  It’s less about how many people are reading or increasing DMT awareness, and more about who is reading and what people are saying in response to my posts.

8. By being an embodied therapist you are inviting your clients to be embodied too.  Therapy goals are important in DMT.  They guide my intervention choices and the content of my DMT groups.  However, I think at the most basic level, when leading DMT groups I am inviting my clients to be embodied individuals.  I hope to increase my clients ability to trust their bodies and their minds to further understand that input from either is valid and important.  I hope to do this so my clients can live in their truths as whole individuals.

9. Dance and dance and dance.  I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I think it’s truly important that I keep dancing as a dance/movement therapist.   I try to take a dance class at least once a week and I attend dance shows in the Chicago area whenever I can.  If I am to invite and encourage my clients to dance in DMT groups then I must continue moving myself.

10.  The wisdom of my clients astounds me every day.  I’m a true believer that my clients know what is best for them.  If clients are provided with an open, caring and safe environment they will address their therapy goals.  By creating a safe container in the DMT studio through empathy and trust, I am inviting clients to use group time to explore and understand how they can meet their own needs.  Trust me, this doesn’t happen every day, but it does happen.  In my day to day work as a dance/movement therapist I am able to witness my clients’ wisdom and their ability to trust themselves in knowing what is best for them.

About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
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2 Responses to The 10 things I learned in my second year as a professional dance/movement therapist.

  1. yours are mine as well, and believe your words belong also to many dmt in south america. so that means someting! despite the individual effort, that many of us are working mums, have another professions and bla bla bla soemthing must be done. let´s use the virtual world for that!!Emily! what if can do a webconference one day?lets dream for a better dmt development field. 🙂 greetings from buenos aires and bravo for your courage!!

    • Thank you for reading and commentating. A web conference is a lovely idea. I’m not versed on how that’s done, but I can investigate, and please let me know if you know of any current web conferences!

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