Dance/movement therapy: how settings define our work.

One of the beautiful aspects of dance/movement therapy (DMT) is that it can occur in many settings.  Our work is adaptable to fit the various settings we work in and thus the many individuals we serve.  Dance/movement therapists can work in settings spanning from schools to hospitals to nursing homes.  While I am an advocate for adapting DMT to fit the needs of our clients and of the clinical cultures we work in, it’s also important to honor that the clinical cultures impact our work.  The various settings where we work influences how DMT manifests with our clients.

As mentioned in a previous post, one of the differentiating factors of DMT from other mind/body modalities is that it occurs in a clinical setting.  This is a place where an individual comes to receive professional mental heath services.  Each clinical setting has it’s own unique culture.  What might define a setting’s clinical culture can vary from the rules, regulations, attitude, frame of reference, the physical structure, treatment modality, etc.  The clinical culture of a hospital is different than that of a school.  The clinical culture of a prison is different than that of an eating disorder clinic.  The various cultures in each of these settings determine a professionals’ overall approach to treatment.

As a dance/movement therapist I have to be mindful of the nuances and differences in the settings I work.  I am particularly mindful of the attitudes surrounding creative arts modalities, dance, music, and the use of touch.   Does the clinical culture embrace these aspects or not?  Or, do they embrace them with stipulations?  I try to be mindful of the music I choose to use in group and how loud the music is during group time; it might not be a good idea to use gangster rap when working with children.  I am mindful if it is appropriate to give a client a handshake versus giving them a hug, and if we do make contact I have clear ethical boundaries.  The clinical culture of where I work molds how DMT manifests so I can be an effective helping professional.

Like most of my blog post topics, this is particularly relevant in my current work as a dance/movement therapist.  I am currently working in two separate settings that feel on the opposite of the spectrum; a detention center and in-home therapy (while I realize that an individual’s house is not a clinical setting, the work I do is backed by a professional mental health company).  Lately, I have been acutely aware of the cultural differences of these settings and how they influence me personally and my approach to DMT.  When I enter the detention center I must wait to be buzzed in; while I am greeted by an individual who opens the door for me.  When I am at the detention center I rarely engage in the use of touch; whereas I often hug and give my in-home therapy client piggy back rides.   I keep my shoes on; I take my shoes off.  I must wait to be escorted from place to place; I travel throughout the house freely.  The actual physical space of each setting particularly influences my approach to DMT and how I engage my client in the therapy process.

Dance/movement therapy and our work as dance/movement therapists is adaptable and because of this we are able to work at a myriad of clinical settings.  Yet it’s important to know and understand the cultural differences of each of these settings.  How does the clinical culture embrace DMT and the work that we do?  How do we practice DMT in a way that embraces, honors and respects the culture of the settings we are working in?  There are days it feels important to stick to a narrow definition of DMT for the integrity of my work as a dance/movement therapist.  What I’ve realized though, is that it is more impactful to allow the clinical culture to influence my work.


About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
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One Response to Dance/movement therapy: how settings define our work.

  1. Becky says:

    Really interesting thoughts, and very true! I am a DMT at an adult day center and I do not have a private space to do group work. I often think that being out in the open influences the level of depth my participants feel comfortable with as well as my own ability to feel secure. I additionally work with children on the spectrum where I have a closed space for them, which I think generally allows me to feel more confident and able to hold the space for them better. I do think that the “culture” of both places directly effects my clients as well as myself.

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