Movement therapy and mental health

How do you feel about dancing? Is it something you throw yourself into, or something you avoid? Maybe you haven’t danced since your school disco – but did you know that dance and movement can be therapeutic?

There’s increasing research (Read about Dance Therapy) to support the therapeutic benefits of dance.

Dancing’s blend of non-verbal and physical expression appears to help in ways that talking therapies sometimes can’t reach, and now, dancing is a treatment in its own right. Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) is the psychotherapeutic use of movement and dance through which a person can engage creatively to further their emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration. The therapy can be short or long term, and is not just confined to health centres: schools, prisons, and nursing homes are all feeling the benefits of the beat!

We recently met with Sami Goulding, a registered DMP therapist based in the South West. “DMP is founded on the principle that movement reflects an individual’s patterns of thinking and feeling,” she told us. “When everyday movements are transformed into expressive movements, participants become able to release and externalise their feelings.” Ted Ehrhardt, who has been practising DMP for over 25 years, calls these movements “the essence” of the therapeutic transaction in a recent TED talk (Watch on YouTube).

During a session, a clinically trained therapist works to acknowledge and support their clients’ movements, which encourages development and integration of new adaptive movement patterns, together with the emotional experiences that accompany changes. The Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapists (ADMP Explain Dance Therapy) describes sessions tailored for everything from specific conditions, such as eating disorders, through to more generalised therapeutic work, such as building self-esteem.

So what does that actually look like on the dancefloor? The therapy is usually offered in groups, and it’s different for everyone. A session may start with some simple structure with warm-ups and suggested steps, but soon leads to a session of freer expression in which there is no right or wrong (Read More). Clients do not need any prior dance experience, and all emotional experiences are welcomed and supported. The session closes with a checking-in circle to ensure everyone is ready to leave the floor.

If you’re wondering whether DMP might suit you, contact us and we’ll connect you to Sami, who ran the Dance Therapy workshop in our April Open Meeting. Or find a practitioner near you (ADMP Website). And if the thought has your toes tapping, turn your radio on and shake your stuff like no-one’s watching – it’s good for you!