A Glimpse into Dance/Movement Therapy Sessions
Dance/movement therapy (DMT) is the unique coupling of science and art, each session looks unique depending on the clinician, clients, and setting. There are a variety of techniques and styles of dance/movement therapy; each therapist finds his or her own way to sculpt a practice matching individual style as well as the needs and abilities of their clients.
To illuminate what a session might look like, I will describe a few different scenarios, knowing that sessions may or may not unfold in these ways. This is only a tiny glimpse into the myriad of clinical and creative possibilities within a DMT session.
A dance/movement therapist may choose to lead a “Chacian” type group. Marian Chace was a DMT pioneer who developed her way of working with clients at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. in 1942. In a Chacian inspired session, the therapist might play music, invite participants into a circle, and begin engaging them with a movement warm-up. The warm-up usually flows into an improvised movement experience, where the therapist will “pick up” on different movements by the participants and use them as a tool to create opportunities for movement synchrony and expansion, evolving into a group rhythm. This experience often evokes a theme for the session, which is used to guide interventions. After engaging in expressive, functional, and/or communicative movement, the therapist leads clients into a cool down and closure. If clients are able, the therapist asks them to talk about the movement experience, helping clients gain insight: connecting the nonverbal with the verbal experience.
Another type of session may involve increasing awareness of body in a more subtle way. The therapist may work with the client to develop awareness of micro-movements that occur while they are talking, sitting, or standing, in essence, inviting clients into their bodies. This approach relies partially on the idea that emotions begin as sensations in the body.
By increasing body-awareness and identifying sensations, clients are able to exert more control, regulate, and make different choices regarding their emotional life. A session focusing on this may involve a client talking while the therapist helps slow down the process, inquiring about movement he/she is seeing while the clients speaks. Sometimes the therapist may ask the client to embody a posture or a gesture, repeat it, make it larger or smaller, or to simply stay with it and bring a sense of curiosity and nonjudgmental attention to it.
Yet another way a session may unfold might be more creative and expressive. Clients may choose to create a dance or a movement sequence that comes from inner sensations or concerns. In a group or family session, participants may work together to create a movement piece, using problem solving, teamwork, and communication skills.
Depending on the therapist and their training, they may incorporate a variety of techniques, different expressive arts modalities, as well as other verbal psychotherapy methods, into each session.
No matter how the session unfolds, the dance/movement therapist is always guiding and intervening in ways that best meet the needs of the client. In addition to this holistic, process-based approach, the therapist is also using movement as the path to address those four areas of human functioning: social, emotional, cognitive, and physical. Movements – large and small, expressive, communicative, and functional – are paired with verbal language (if the client is able) to holistically meet the needs of the person. Clients are active participants in the process and a skilled dance/movement therapist sculpts sessions guided by the client, their abilities, needs, and participation.