Thoughts on How Dance/Movement Therapy Can Prevent Violence


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Dance/movement therapy (DMT) is currently practiced in mental health settings, rehabilitation, medical, educational, and forensic settings, nursing homes, day care centers, disease prevention, health promotion programs, and private practice. DMT is, however, in a unique position to target the most harrowing challenge society faces.

After becoming trained in clinical psychotherapeutic uses of movement and prepared with DMT theory, practice skills and knowledge, we, dance/movement therapists, are qualified to step into the front line of social issues. I believe this broadens our options. DMT as prevention widens the scope of work opportunities and inspires me: perhaps I will be able to make the world a better place.

Refugee crises, gun violence, and gender identity, to name only three, are relevant social issues of our times. Present in both our traditional work places and in non traditional settings, the incorporation of DMT as both a therapeutic modality to understand, learn, discover, and bring awareness to these topics and a practice encouraging healing after wounds have occurred, may be beneficial. The prevalence of violence concerns me the most, because it permeates all the others, making it the number one challenge of our times.

As graduate level mental health professionals, dance/movement therapists utilize psychotherapeutic movement to address the prevention of violence. Police actions and court decisions can not effectively stem the culture of violence. Ending the epidemic of violence in our society needs to be addressed on the earliest developmental level, in child rearing practices and family life, in early education classrooms and community organizations. Because we are educated in the areas that influence the building of trust and attachment, dance/movement therapists can make a difference.

I ask myself – how do I want to use my practice of DMT? How will I make my work part of my hope to live a life that demonstrates my values? These questions urge me to consider the living ethics of what we do. In fact, “Living Ethics,” the title of the new code of ethics of the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) and Dance/Movement Therapy Certification Board (DMTCB), is how I describe the intertwined steps that have led me to choose my work. Living ethics, I feel, is intending a work life about our identified ideals. We have learned to consider the impact of societal pressures on our clients. What about the pressures on us as we witness the injustices and violence of the world society? True, we would have difficulty affecting climate change, or designing an electric car, or influencing the use of genetically modified food . . . But reducing violence is a matter we can effectively impact.

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Of our professional skills, the most pertinent to this goal are movement interventions designed to build basic trust and interpersonal connection. The absence of early mirroring in the developmental process can be responsible for isolated and hostile behaviors. By incorporating movement, awareness, and mirroring into the therapeutic process, we are able to establish and encourage attunement, increase connectedness, and help individuals begin to engage and empathize. For example, the Chace Circle, a basic DMT method, encourages connection, starting with sharing rhythm and progressing to sharing leadership. Promoting this basic building block of securely attached individuals is preventative DMT, and therapeutic use of this attachment technique is remedial.

Dance/movement therapists possess additional skills that might decrease violence, including activating mirror neurons, reinforcing safe boundaries, and building empathy. We also have the professional ability to read non verbal cues, have skills that help identify agitation, and we know the differentiation between assertion and aggression. Each time we share, role model, and practice these skills with our clients, we decrease the possibility of violence becoming permanently fixed in the movement repertoire of the participants.

There’s an old saying, “Stick to your guns.” Let’s change that. We have selected to work in a field that advocates and promotes personal wellbeing and social justice, whose ethics code and standards of practice are based on the principle of doing no harm; we can help prevent violence. We know assertion works better than aggression and acceptance works better than rejection. Let’s bring those convictions into our work. If we dreamed of a life’s work that builds physically, mentally and emotionally healthy individuals, then we need to “Stick to our dreams.” I invite you to make violence prevention a part of your work, both in your DMT groups and in individual sessions, giving the world what it desperately needs: people who are securely attached to others, who stick to dreams, not guns.

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