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What does a Dance Therapist do?

By Josie Myers
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A dance therapist uses dance as a tool to heal both the mind and body. Dance therapy relies on the belief that state of mind can affect overall health. A dance therapist attempts to relieve stress for, and promote self esteem in, their patients in order to correct a number of physical and emotional ailments.

In order to become a dance therapist, a license must be obtained from the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). The ADTA was founded in 1966 by Marian Chace, who had been working to develop the field in the United States since the 1940s. This organization sets the standards and ethics codes for all dance therapists in the United States.

A dance therapist usually has a Master's Degree or equivalent training in a field like psychotherapy or counseling. He or she must have training in dance and movement, and sometimes have an undergraduate degree in dance. Therapists are given titles by the ADTA depending on their level of experience. A “Dance Therapist Registered” (DTR) is the beginner-level title and requires a minimum of 700 hours of clinical training. The title for those who have completes at least 3,640 hours of clinical work is “Academy of Dance Therapists Registered” (ADTR).

A dance therapist leads sessions much like any other psychological professional. These sessions can be in a group setting or one-on-one. They are tailored to meet the individual needs of the patient, both physically and mentally.

There are four stages to a dance therapy session: preparation, incubation, illumination and evaluation. Preparation is a basic warm-up to prepare the body and mind for the exercise that will be done. Incubation is a relaxed release of control when the patient is expected to express their emotions through symbolic movement. During illumination, the patient makes a connection between the symbolic movements and their true meanings. The evaluation at the end of the session verbally determines what progress was made.

Since dance therapy is a relatively new field, not many official studies have been done to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. The few studies done have shown that patients have an overall improvement in self-image. This can be particularly helpful for those with body image issues, like breast cancer survivors or those with eating disorders. Dance therapy is currently being used for those with communication problems like autism and Alzheimer's, and is being tested on patients with muscle disorders like Parkinson's. Prisons and mental hospitals are also using dance therapists to improve communication and self esteem for those with troubled pasts.

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Discussion Comments
By anon169295 — On Apr 20, 2011

I don't understand, so dance therapy is not a dance class then? Then how does the dance therapy help out anyone if it is a learning or teaching class.

By anon157932 — On Mar 05, 2011

You do not do ballet class with them. Dance therapy is not a technical dance class. It encourages your own movement patterns to occur, depending on the outcome you want to achieve. You can do a relaxation sessions, where you concentrate on small movements in your body, or you therapist can do a improvisation session, or base it on somatic movement-with understanding of where the movement comes from in our bodies, how it works-avoiding habitual movement patterns.

It is not a ordinary dance class where you learn how to dance. In Dance therapy you work with movement (dance) you do not learn or teach dance technique.

By lightning88 — On Jan 15, 2011

I've always been really interested in authentic movement and dance therapy ever since my college roommate decided that she wanted a dance therapist career, but I think that I would be way too self-conscious to actually go to a session.

I know that that's what the dance therapy sessions are supposed to help you with, but seriously, you have no idea how rhythm impaired I am. I have enough trouble walking and not tripping over my own shoelaces; I think that plies and dips would be out of the question.

And besides, wouldn't all that stress and embarrassment kind of defeat the purpose of the therapy? Or do the dance therapists have some way to make you not as stressed or self-conscious about doing the symbolic movements, whatever those are?

Anybody have any clue?

By galen84basc — On Jan 12, 2011

I think it's a shame that so many people misunderstand and underestimate dance and movement therapists. They work so hard to get where they are in their careers, and just like any kind of art or drama based therapy, they are often ridiculed for it, or at least deeply misunderstood.

Authentic movement is a very healing thing, and those who know how to combine therapy and dance deserve a lot more respect than they get.

It's just a sign of how disconnected people are with their bodies that they don't understand how beneficial a dance therapist or dance therapy can be.

I would really encourage those skeptics about the job to do some research -- it truly is a fascinating, valuable career.

By FirstViolin — On Jan 10, 2011

OK -- did I read that right: prisons are employing dance therapists? Is that seriously popular in prisons? Somehow I can't imagine a bunch of inmates rushing to sign up for ballet classes...or for that matter, a person picturing that as their desired dance therapist job.

I am all for movement therapy and what not, but I just don't know how effective it would be if used as a mental health therapy for prisoners...but then, maybe I'm biased. Could you tell me some more about this?

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