Contract work in dance/movement therapy.

As mentioned in my previous post, dance/movement therapists can work in a myriad of settings and work with many different individuals.  What is also true is that dance/movement therapists can work as full-time, part-time or contractual staff.  Full-time dance/movement therapy (DMT)  work is often found in bigger cities or cities that house DMT graduate programs.  I have been transparent in my blog writing about moving from Chicago (home to Columbia College Chicago’s graduate DMT program) to Detroit.  I have also been transparent that I have been more successful in finding part-time/contractual DMT work.  Personally, this is a transition for me as I worked as a full-time dance/movement therapist at a rehabilitation facility for adults with developmental disabilities (DD) while living in Chicago.  So, not only have I transitioned in physical location, but I have also transitioned in the type of work I do as defined by what type of work it is.  How does contractual work influence my approach to DMT, and what are the positives and growing edges of my work?

When I first moved back to Michigan I started looking for full-time positions, whether this was as a dance/movement therapist or a more traditional counselor position.  Unfortunately I wasn’t successful- in some instances I couldn’t justify the pay and in one instance the job description was too clinically narrow. I eventually let the full-time notion go and widened my employment search to part-time.  I was much more successful.  While one of my positions is part-time, I also found contract work through a local arts collaborative that provides services to youth in juvenile detention centers.  What this means is I have signed a contract where I have agreed to do ninety minute dance workshops once a week for a twelve week cycle.

While contract work is the reality for many dance/movement therapists, this is the first time I have done contract work.  I would say I’ve done a fair job of navigating my new role as a dance/movement therapist providing contractual services.  I’ve done my best at fulfilling my contract of providing ninety-minute movement session once a week.  Yet, like with most things, I have found pros and cons of this work and what I love about doing this type of work is also what I don’t love.

For example, coming into a facility to provide services once a week makes my workshop something different from normal programming.  This is lovely in the sense that I get to provide individuals a unique and different experience- I get to spice things up.  In some cases and for some individuals, my workshop might provide a sense of respite from the usual routine.  Yet, the drawback is that I only get to see individuals for ninety minutes a week.  That’s it.  As a professional who used to work full-time and see my clients daily, this was a tough pill for me to swallow.  I would love to see my clients more often as a means to build rapport and dive into deeper work.  Yet, this is my need as a professional and I’ve had to work through this in supervision.  In doing contract work I’ve realized I need to make the most of the time I do have and relinquish the notion that more time with clients necessarily means deeper work.

Another pro and con of this work is that I am not apart of the clinical treatment team.  While I’m sure the staff I work alongside at the detention center would appreciate my input, I am not technically staff.  I am not there day in and day out providing services and attending team meetings and trainings.  In one sense, this is nice as it alleviates me of the responsibilities of a full-time role.  It’s not my job to know and understand the full gestalt of the work, rather I am there to provide one specific service.  On the other hand, not being apart of the team can be difficult and even confusing.  Since I am not staff at the detention center I am not privy to some important information that influences the individuals I work with.  Information concerning treatment plans, judicial hearings or changes of staff are not necessarily communicated to me, and these events can certainly impact participants’ moods or engagement in my group.  While it’s nice to not have the role and responsibly of a  full-time staff member,  sometimes it is difficult to sit in the unknown of the daily occurrences of the facility especially because they can impact my work.  Staying rooted in the present moment during groups is helpful in navigating this phenomenon.

The issue of money is also a pro and con of contractual work as a dance/movement therapist.  I have been lucky that in my experience the contract work I have done has paid pretty well for the amount of time I have put in. What I have found is that although I am doing a smaller amount of work in hours the hourly wage is high.  Yet, because my schedule is made up of part-time and contractual work I do not have access to what full-time work provides, like benefits.  While I’m married and privileged to have a partner that provides this for me, this would be a serious consideration for me if I was single or had a partner who also did part-time/contractual work.  So while contract work is usually high paying for the amount of time put in, the amount of hours available is often limited.

I am grateful to have work as a dance/movement therapist regardless of the type of work it is.  In my transition from Chicago to Detroit I have been more successful in finding contractual work rather than a full-time position.  This is partly due to what is available to me based on location and understanding of DMT, and some of this is due to my own personal decisions of the type of work I am committed to doing.  While I enjoy doing the contractual work I do, there are some growing edges to it.  As a professional who comes from full-time role I have had to adjust to my new role in concerns to time with clients, my professional responsibilities and the compensation for my work.  I’m happy with my current work and hopeful that it will lead to more opportunities, whether these opportunities are contractual, part-time or full-time.


About emilyadannunzio

Board Certified-Dance/Movement Therapist. Movement Analyst (GL-CMA). Researcher. Dancer. Bartender. Detroit, MI.
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