Dance/movement therapists are frequently challenged to produce “evidence” that dance/movement therapy (DMT) is useful in treatment, a request that can seem at odds with the creative and subjective ways of knowing that they and creative arts therapists in general, employ in practice. In 2014, Koch et al. published a study summarizing and synthesizing research on DMT to help address this challenge. The study, “The Effects of Dance Movement Therapy and Dance on Health-Related Psychological Outcomes,” (Koch, Kunz, Lykou, & Cruz, 2014) combined the research findings of 23 studies involving 1078 people in a meta-analysis. These controlled studies of the effects of DMT and therapeutic dance demonstrated their useful, positive impacts on quality of life, depression, anxiety, well-being, mood, affect, and body image.
Studies published between 1993 and 2012 were located using multiple search strategies to search multiple databases. The studies reviewed were carefully chosen to meet specific quality criteria established by the researchers. For example, studies measuring the impact of dance or DMT on health-related psychological variables as opposed to physical outcomes were chosen, as were controlled trials where dance or DMT was tested against another type of intervention given to a control group. Once eligible studies were selected, careful analysis of each study was performed to make sure each study’s results could be statistically combined with all of the studies. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are intended to do exactly this – summarize and synthesize many research studies into a single study. With meta-analysis, the bonus is that the studies are combined statistically so rather than reporting the results of a single study with a small number of subjects, more stable statistics based on larger samples are possible.
So for example, in the Koch et al. study, 9 different trials, involving 550 subjects, measuring change in quality of life were combined and showed that those who received dance or DMT had greater, positive change in quality of life than those who received other interventions. Similarly, combined results are reported for other psychological outcomes as well. The type of information in this article is useful when dance/movement therapists are asked to support the “evidence base” of DMT because it gives us information based on numerous study outcomes, not just a single study outcome. This study goes the distance in providing the quantitative research to support that indeed DMT and therapeutic dance can be effective for improving a range of psychological conditions and their associated symptoms. Of course, there are many more details explained in the methods, results, and discussion sections of the article – including the limitations of the study and the need for more research.
As clinicians, we are constantly working within a framework that simulates research. We reflect, embody, and develop educated “guesses” based on our education and continuing education about what might work with specific clients. We try out these hypotheses and register success or go back to the drawing board! We may consider this a very personal process, and we may feel beleaguered or even barraged when well-meaning (or maybe not so well-meaning) supervisors and colleagues demand to know the “evidence base” for the DMT we practice.
Staying informed about new knowledge is at the core of clinical practice and all clinicians regardless of their area or specialization struggle with this challenge. This challenge includes reading research and translating findings of effects for samples and populations into what to do with individual patients. Interestingly, researchers also struggle as they attempt to disseminate the findings of their studies to clinicians so that the benefits of the research reach clients. In fact, this is such a challenge that the evidence-to-practice gap is itself a topic of research; as such, a new field, translational research, has begun. Regardless of these difficulties, the fact remains that effort has to be put into learning and integrating research findings into practice. Improving practice requires practice!
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