Dance/movement therapy v. therapuetic dance: the four differentiating factors.

Before I dive into the topic of this blog post, I want to honor that in recent months I have retreated from my blog .  I have stopped consistently writing blog posts.  My focus has been elsewhere as I adjust to my new surroundings and the changes occurring in the country.  It has been difficult to find time to write and to maintain the attention span it takes to write a blog post.  Dare I say I even had moments where I thought about discontinuing my blog altogether.  However, various e-mails from prospective dance/movement therapy (DMT) students (I have received a handful lately) have reminded me why it’s important to write and spread the good word.  Not to mention I have had to do a lot of DMT advocacy in my new location where I feel like I am constantly asked to define it.  This often manifests in differentiating it from therapeutic dance or dance projects for individuals with varying disabilities.  My current situation has led me to return to the DMT basics, the basics that differentiate it from therapeutic dance.

I first wrote about the difference between DMT and therapeutic dance, also known as artists in healthcare, when I blogged for Columbia College Chicago’s graduate student blog, Marginalia.  More recently, I led an “Introduction to DMT” workshop at a local college for music therapy and pre-dance/movement therapy undergraduate students.  In my presentation I defined DMT and outlined four components that differentiate DMT from other dance and movement focused practices.  These four components are specific to DMT and to dance/movement therapists, and they are what makes our work unique. Although I have written about this topic before I think it’s important to return to it.  In short, DMT is a type of therapy conducted by professional dance/movement therapists that occurs in professional clinical settings and incorporates movement interventions in the therapy process to address the therapeutic goals of their clients.  Below is a more detailed explanation of each of the four differentiating factors.

1.  Dance/movement therapy occurs in clinical settings.  Although dance/movement therapists may work in a myriad of settings, a common denominator is that they are considered clinical settings.  By this I mean, the setting is a professional facility where individuals come to receive professional health and wellness services.  The setting is backed by a specific license or insurance, governed by ethical guidelines and the services provided are facilitated by certified professionals.  Dance/movement therapy does not occur in Great Aunt Kate’s basement every Tuesday night, rather in clinical settings among other helping professionals.  (However, if Great Aunt Kate was properly licensed and a Board-Certified Dance/Movement Therapist this would be in fact be DMT; see number four.) Dance/movement therapists might conduct DMT sessions at: non-profit organizations, elderly homes, in-patient/out-patient psychiatric units in hospitals, substance-abuse programs, prisons, day training programs for individuals with autism/developmental disabilities, public schools, heath and wellness programs, colleges or universities, hospice, eating disorder clinics, etc.

2. Dance/movement therapist use movement interventions.  What makes DMT and dance/movement therapists unique from other creative arts therapists is that they facilitate therapeutic interventions that incorporate movement.  While many therapy approaches address the mind/body connection, DMT is one approach that uses movement and creativity as an inroad to understanding this connection.  We hope to increase our clients’ awareness of their mind and body by embodying it, trying it, doing it and dancing it.  I believe that our interventions live on a movement continuum, from simply sitting and taking time to notice our breath to full on creative movement and everything in between.  We may invite our clients to engage in body-tracking while seated in a chair, or we might dance around with scarves to Michael Jackson.  However our interventions manifest, they are rooted in movement to increase our clients’ mind/body awareness and overall therapeutic growth.

3.  The interventions facilitated by dance/movement therapists specifically address the therapy goals of their clients.  While ultimately the focus of DMT is to increase our clients’ mind/body connection, we must also tailor our interventions to our clients’ therapy goals as well.  When someone is receiving services in a clinical setting they almost always have a treatment plan (and if they don’t, this might be an indicator that this is not a clinical setting) that is created by both the individual and the treatment team that outlines the individual’s therapy goals.  Dance/movement therapists must consider an individual’s therapy goals when conducting a DMT session.  Is the goal of the individual to increase positive social interactions with others?  If so, the dance/movement therapist might engage the client in eye-contact or hand holding while dancing in the DMT studio to improve positive social interaction skills.  Although all of the four differentiating factors are important, this factor is particularly important because it reflects that the work of DMT is not to teach dance or provide a feel-good experience as it might if you teach dance to elders in an elderly home.  Rather, the movement experience is addressing specific outlined goals to help facilitate therapeutic change in the clients we serve.

4. Dance/movement therapy is conducted by professional dance/movement therapists.  Although this factor may seem the most obvious, in my experience, individuals who do not know about DMT do not realize the extensive education and training dance/movement therapists receive.  In the United States, individuals must complete a master’s degree in DMT and receive specific training in both DMT and counseling techniques.  Once an individual obtains their master’s degree, they can become a Registered-Dance/Movement Therapist (R-DMT) and can most likely also obtain their state-specific counseling license.  This is important because although sometimes the work of a dance/movement therapist and the work of an artist in healthcare can manifest in similar ways, the work is different.   The difference of the work is often nuanced but is grounded in the dance/movement therapist’s ability to facilitate a therapeutic process and hold a therapeutic container, which ultimately leads to a deeper, transformative process.

Outlining the differentiating factors of DMT and therapeutic dance has become increasingly important for me as I navigate my new community, a community that has had DMT for some time but not nearly at the popularity level of the big city I moved from.  While I am a true believer that all work in the arts community is important and valid, I do think it is important to outline the differences between work facilitated by dance/movement therapists and work facilitated by artists in healthcare.  One way I help individuals who ask me to define DMT is providing them this question, “What is the intention of the movement experience for the individuals we are moving with?”  Is the intention to teach movement and provide a therapeutic experience?  Or, is the intention to work on specific outlined goals to facilitate individuals growth?  And while it’s tricky because both aforementioned experiences may lead to personal growth, we then must consider where the experience is taking place and the expertise of the facilitator.  Differentiating the two is not a matter of which is good and which is bad, but rather honoring the fact that they are indeed different so that we can truly understand the scope of each practice and serve our communities to the best of our unique abilities.

About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC-S). Dancer. She/her/hers. Detroit, MI.
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7 Responses to Dance/movement therapy v. therapuetic dance: the four differentiating factors.

  1. Jeannine says:


  2. Audrey Albert KIng says:

    Great job Emily! Welcome back : )

  3. Elissa White says:

    Nice going Emily— Elissa white

  4. Pingback: I am starting a Dance/Movement Therapist’s blog! – Banyan Tree Grows

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