Dance therapy, sometimes called “movement therapy,” is a holistic approach to psychiatric disorders, incorporating an array of medical, psychological, social, and spiritual concerns.
Dance therapy, with its unique emphasis on nonverbal communication in assessment and treatment, is an innovative therapeutic approach to address the needs of people with depression, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders.
The goal of dance therapy is to involve patients by encouraging expression through movement. Sessions can be individual or organized in groups, adding the additional element of social interaction. Typically, a session lasts 30 to 40 minutes, and regular weekly attendance is generally recommended.
Two recent studies have looked at the effect of dance therapy and depression favorably. In one study, 40 participants with depression were divided into 4 groups, half of which received dance and movement therapy session, while the other subjects received no intervention. At the conclusion of the study, the dance therapy group showed a significant reduction in depression. In a second study, 12 inpatients with major depressive disorder received movement therapy sessions. Five of the participants showed a significant improvement on movement therapy days.
It’s theorized that dance therapy is effective with psychiatric disorders because it involves exercise as well as social interaction with a psychotherapist and/or a group. Dance therapy has reduced anxiety in a variety of settings, including breast cancer patients, substance abusers, and torture survivors.
In a study using dance therapy with breast cancer survivors who had mastectomies, the use of dance and movement in a therapy setting significantly reduced anxiety and produced a feeling of well-being. In addition, dance therapy helped the women in the study address their fear of death and grief over multiple losses, including anxiety over bodily disfigurement, and worry about alienation from others.
Dance therapy, or dance/movement therapy, is effective as a technique to help those with eating and body image problems. One of the most crucial tasks of any psychotherapeutic approach for eating disorders is helping the client to express their feelings and experiences. Dance therapy helps the client to pay attention to bodily-felt experience which have emotional significance. This can lead to deeper self-knowledge and the ability to recognize physical cues such as hunger and satiation.
Research has demonstrated that dance therapy helps people with eating disorders to name and modulate strong emotions. That is, by attending to a bodily felt sensation, the individual can start to notice different intensities of the sensation and through attention to breath and movement, notice what changes occur. Many patients are than better able to self-soothe anxiety and other feeling states on their own outside of the therapy session.