Reintroduction to Body and Community: Dance/Movement Therapy with Survivors of Traumatic Brain Injuries

14005781177_a50bcb7b99_kOver one million individuals survive traumatic brain injuries (TBI) each year. TBI often results in physical, cognitive, and psychosocial changes, including memory, language, physical processing, strength, balance, as well as emotional expression and regulation. Survivors are faced with the unique challenge of living in what can feel like a different body, often left without the tools they previously used to cope. As TBI survivors are challenged to exist in an unfamiliar body post injury, they must also reintegrate themselves into prior relationships and communities.

With the language, cognitive, and emotional processing deficits in TBI survivors, the use of verbal therapy may become difficult. The American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) defines dance/movement therapy (DMT) as the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual; it is interesting to consider how the practice of DMT can dovetail with the integration challenges faced by TBI survivors.

How may dance/movement therapy help?

When working with a medical treatment team, dance/movement therapists are often expected to address functional movement goals (i.e. increasing range of motion, building physical strength, etc.), but their goals are not limited to physical function. Dance/movement therapists may also encourage TBI survivors to explore movement for the sake of expression, relaxation, and exploration of challenges and strengths. DMT allows TBI survivors to use their bodies as means of making connections and processing when verbal expression may not be accessible. Through movement, TBI survivors can create visual, auditory, or rhythmic products that are experienced externally. These products may help facilitate a process of further exploration through movement and the body.

On a more basic level, DMT can help TBI survivors regain a sense of kinesthetic awareness, or an internal sense and awareness of their bodies. As kinesthetic awareness is developing, survivors may improve their physical mobility and make connections within themselves that enable them to change their bodies’ neuromuscular patterning. This could potentially change the outer expression of survivors’ experiences, as well as shift their movement and expression in relation to their environment. As TBI survivors become more connected to the development of their bodily connections and movement, they may begin to recognize the role their bodies and movements play in forming who they are, potentially increasing their options for interacting with the world around them. 

Potential Benefits

Physically, DMT may help TBI survivors increase their awareness of physical connections within their bodies. Improvements may also be seen in balance, range of motion, and posture. On a cognitive level, DMT may assist in increasing memory, particularly in older adults. Emotionally, improvements may been seen in TBI survivors through increased participation in treatment, sensitivity and emotional expression in group sessions, social interactions, confidence, and frustration tolerance. DMT has the greatest potential influence on physical functioning, but physical benefits can influence other areas of functioning. For instance, increased range of movement may lead to increased sense of mastery on everyday tasks resulting in increased confidence. As TBI survivors begin to experience physical improvements and reintegrate their bodies through DMT, they lay the foundation to move forward toward relational kinesthetic awareness and reintegration into their communities.



  • American Dance Therapy Association
  • Berrol, C. (2009). Dance/movement therapy and acquired brain trauma rehabilitation.  In S. Chaiklin, & H. Wengrower (Eds.), The Art and Science of Dance/Movement Therapy:  Life is Dance (pp.195-213).  New York, NY:  Routledge
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  • Hackney, P. (1998). Making Connections:  Total Body Integration Through Bartenieff Fundamentals.  The Netherlands:  Gordon and Breach Publishers
  • Levy, F. J. (2005).  Dance Movement Therapy:  A Healing Art, 2nd Edition.  Reston, VA:  National Dance Association



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