Can Dance And Movement Boost Your Mental Health? Here’s How!

Posted: April 23, 2015

We all require outlets for our stored energy and emotions. Let us explore the world of dance/movement therapy and break the myths around it.

Before I begin, I’d like you to respond to these questions.

  • Have you heard of any art form being put to therapeutic use?
  • Have you heard about DMT before?
  • Do you need training in dance to explore DMT?
  • Is DMT a unique form of dance?
  • Do you know of anyone who has benefited from DMT?

Thank you for responding to the quiz.




If most of your responses are a no, this post will break some pertinent and strong myths for you.

If most of your responses are a yes, this post will add to your awareness.

If you decided not to take the quiz and just read this post, I am happy. At least you’re reading.

As part of a foundation course in creative art therapies that I did last year, I specialized to become a dance/movement therapist. Once people around me got to know that I am a dance/movement therapist, I am asked many questions, some like the ones you have just responded to. I was also asked if I have to perform in hospitals and cure people of illnesses, by dancing in front of them. Please don’t laugh – laughter wasn’t my first reaction. Their ignorance would surprise me. Or I would avoid a conversation where I would have to respond to similar quizzing. Then I realized, slowly that this was just lack of awareness. People are interested; they want to know more, they just don’t know where to find the answers. After all, only a few are exposed to the world of DMT.

Let me assure you, it’s a beautiful world. It’s a world of inner exploration, of awareness and of healing.

So, let’s begin with awareness.

What is Dance Movement Therapy?

I’ve been looking for a really simple definition of DMT to share here, but there isn’t one. Maybe that is one of the reasons some people get intimidated with the whole concept.

I’m going to try and simplify it as much as I can.

Our lives are a continued series of experiences. All experiences consist of emotions. Emotions and experiences are both positive and negative. Either experiences are driven by emotions, or they manifest into emotions at some stage. These emotions and experiences over a period of time get stored in the mind and the body. The mind and the body are connected. We may choose to separate the two, but it is an impossible task. DMT attempts to unlock these emotions and experiences and bring it to our awareness – through the body and mind connection. And the tool used is movement (I refrain from calling it dance, because again, people get intimidated).

Movement can be the flick of a finger or the twitch of the eye. It could be an elaborate activity in rhythm to help build one’s attention span, or an activity in creative visualization to unlock emotions. The range and scope of work varies from one person to another, from one group to another.

In short DMT facilitates a process of integration of the mind and body; and this is much needed to live a holistic life.

A brief history of DMT

The roots of DMT can be traced to the early 20th century and the work of DMT pioneer, Marian Chace. Chace was a modern dancer in Washington, D.C. who began teaching dance after ending her career with the Denishawn Dance Company in 1930. She noticed that some of her students were much more interested in the emotions they expressed in dancing than in the mechanics and technique of dance, and so she began to encourage this form of self-expression.

Word spread of the dance students’ reported feelings of well-being after they mentally unburdened themselves through dance, and doctors became intrigued. They began to send their patients to Chace – many of whom were people with psychiatric illnesses. Later, Chace became part of the staff of St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Washington D.C. and studied at the Washington School of Psychiatry. While at St. Elizabeth’s, Chace’s methods began to attract others, and by the 1950’s, dance therapy became the subject of serious study at the facility.

Today, DMT is an effective tool used to further the emotional, cognitive, social and physical integration of an individual.

Who could benefit from DMT?

This one’s simple – you, me, everyone. All of us can benefit from DMT.

All of us have stored-up emotions and experiences. Some of us, who are aware, find release outlets. However, there are also some of us who don’t accept these experiences and emotions as an integral part of us.

The mind and body are always looking for a release for them to function well.

What do dance movement therapists do?

  • Dance/movement therapists work with individuals of all ages, groups and families in a wide variety of settings.
  • They focus on helping their clients improve self-esteem and body image, develop effective communication skills and relationships, expand their movement vocabulary, gain insight into patterns of behavior, as well as create new options for coping with problems.
  • Movement is the primary medium that dance/movement therapists use for observation, assessment, research, therapeutic interaction, and interventions.
  • Dance/movement therapists work in settings that include psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, schools, colleges, multi-national companies, nursing homes, drug treatment centers, counseling centers, medical facilities, crisis centers, and wellness and alternative health care centers.
  • DMT can be a powerful tool for stress management and the prevention of physical and mental health problems. Social, emotional, cognitive, and/or physical problems can be addressed through DMT through group and individual sessions in many different types of settings from hospitals and clinics to schools.
  • The fact that dance/movement therapists are immersed in the language of the body, rather than focusing solely on the verbal, lends characteristics to their work that set it apart from other types of therapy.

Where can you find a dance/movement therapist?

You’d be surprised to know, but there are a lot of people doing this work around you. The key to finding a trained, genuine and an evolved dance/movement therapist is the right research. Please do not just take names off the Internet and go for a session. Spend time in finding the right person, and doing the right research. Ask the right questions. This is crucial to the process. A lot of hospitals, schools, colleges have therapists on their board. That could be one channel. Another could be to follow a therapist’s work over a period of time, through books, the internet and case study videos, and then connect with this person.

Here are some of the questions you could ask your to-be therapist. When I say ask, I don’t mean interrogate your therapist. These questions will help you make the best decision.

  • Ask for information about where the therapist is trained from, who has the therapist worked under as a trainee. Please remember that it is important that the therapist is also trained as a counselor.
  • Ask if the therapist is registered and works independently or is attached to a therapeutic establishment.
  • Ask for some insight into work that has been done by the therapist before. If this therapist gives out names and intimate details of case studies easily – this is definitely not the therapist you want to go to. Confidentiality is sacrosanct.
  • How will goals be identified for these sessions? You may go with a set of goals you want to achieve, but as you make this journey, you will realize that the goals might change. For instance, you may decide that you want to do these sessions to improve your self-esteem. But in the process you will discover stored up anger from childhood experiences. The goal of the sessions will then switch to the theme of ‘anger’. And this will eventually lead to an enhanced emotional expression and self-esteem.
  • What is the process that will be followed in these sessions? Typically sessions are led by activities, which involve movement integrated with therapeutic interaction.
  • It is important that you ask questions related to the space, which will be used for your sessions. A safe space is imperative for any therapeutic setting. A neutral space is always a good idea; neither your house nor the therapist’s.

These are just suggestions, please also rely on your own intuition and connect with the therapist. Trust and rapport are most important to an effective relationship between the therapist and the client.

The purpose of this post is for me to share a little about DMT. The real joy is in actually making this journey of inner exploration.

As a trained therapist and as someone who has experienced the power and validity of DMT personally, I believe that for evolution to happen we need to create a safe space where each person has the opportunity and right to express, heal, be aware, take responsibility and evolve. The creative process involved in expressing one’s self through movement can help people to resolve issues as well as develop and manage their behaviors and feelings, eventually leading to mental, physical and emotional well-being.

I have witnessed some fantastic work that is being done in this field and I have also witnessed the evolution of people from ignorance to awareness to healing and then to empowerment.

And no, therapy is not just for ‘the not normal’. We are all normal neurotics.

My name is Vidyashree Rai. I live in Mumbai, India. I am 33 years old

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