“…and what do you do Jessica?”
“I’m a Dance Movement Therapist.”
*confused look* “A what?”
“A Dance Movement Therapist.”
It’s the start of many conversations I’ve had recently, especially since moving back to Canada after completing my training in the UK. And while most of the time I’m more than happy to explain, I can feel myself shrinking inside every time I see someone start to tune out as I dive into one of my various definitions of the profession.
So far, it seems that the best way to explain what DMT is, is by doing it. Words just aren’t enough to convey the complexity and richness of what DMT has to offer. And yet, here I am, writing a blog in attempt to find another way in, because while I’m happy to offer free trial sessions to people who are interested, I need a way to reach those people who, for whatever reason, might find it difficult to get to a session.
So here goes!
What IS Dance Movement Therapy (DMT)?
“DMT is a relational process in which client/s and therapist engage in an empathic creative process using body movement and dance to assist integration of emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual aspects of self.” (www.admp.org.uk)
But what does that mean?! “A relational process” seems straightforward enough – two or more people engaging in a therapeutic relationship based on empathy and trust, where one person (the therapist) is trained to be aware of the different layers of interaction taking place and offer feedback and support to the client(s) while they explore some aspect of their personal process. But that could be said about pretty much any type of therapy. This next bit is what makes DMT different: “an empathetic creative process using body movement and dance to assist in the integration of emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual aspects of self.” Phew! Let’s tackle that part piece by piece.
Hopefully empathy is a term we all understand (if not, click here for a quick definition). “Creative process” refers to the artistic aspects of process used in DMT, i.e. dance and creative (improvised) movement, and is similar to the creative process used by some dance artists.
HOWEVER, the dance and movement aspects of DMT are not taught! Meaning that DMT is not a dance class, nor are Dance Movement Therapists (DMTs) dance teachers. This is also part of what makes DMT different from therapeutic or applied dance, which are dance classes that are tailored to be accessible for a wide variety of populations, like what Miriam Schacter is doing with danceABILITIES. This differentiation can be a bit confusing, so I’ll write more on it another time.
Right, moving on to the last bit of our definition: “to assist in the integration of emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual aspects of self.” All of these layers of the human experience can be accessed through the act of embodied movement. Also, DMTs believe that the body, mind, and emotions are interconnected, and that the three are mutually influential. This means that any changes experienced physically or in movement are reflected in changes on emotional or psychological levels as well.
For example, imagine that you’re coming into an individual DMT session. You’ve had a hard day and are feeling pretty depressed. This is expressed through your posture – sagging shoulders, lowered gaze, limp arms, and a lack of expression in your face. Your therapist notices this and reflects your movement back to you. This gives you the chance to become aware of your starting place, and offers a way to (literally) see how you’re feeling.
As you begin to warm up, your therapists asks “how does your body feel in this moment?”. You start to notice a lot of tension in your upper body. Your shoulders are tight and your breathing feels restricted. Your therapist encourages you to explore the areas that feel tense, experimenting with different qualities of movement. What happens when you actively contract your muscles, exaggerating the tension? What happens when you release?
As you continue exploring movements in your upper body, your therapist asks if there are any words or emotions that come along with the movements. Starting first with contracting movements, you notice that this feels as though you’re trying to protect yourself. When you release and open, you sense a lightness in your body that is reflected in your mood.
Throughout the session these feelings and movements return in different ways, and your therapist facilitates explorations of these qualities, both in movement and through verbal communication. Together you discover a connection between these movement themes and some events in your life that are making you feel this way.
The session described above is not a real session and the client is also fictional. It is merely an example of what might happen in an individual therapy session. One of the things I love about DMT is that it can look completely different depending on who is in the session and how they’re feeling that day. The session could involve a lot of movement, a combination of movement and verbal reflection, or more time spent talking. The movement aspects may take place seated and explore posture and gesture, or could include dancing to music and using props like scarves, balls, or stretchy fabric. Regardless of what it looks like, the session is centred around the client(s) and their needs, which makes DMT an incredibly adaptable option for therapy.
I could carry on about the many benefits of DMT, but I think I’ll leave that for another post. I hope this has given you a good idea of what DMT is, and what a session might look like. Please let me know what you think, and ask any questions that this post may have inspired either by commenting below or via the contact page. Thanks for reading!
-Jessica Houghton (Dance Movement Therapist)