To understand dance therapy, it is necessary to grasp the concept that the mind and body interact constantly. The mind and body both register pleasure and pain. Dance movements can express pain, anxiety, and depression involuntarily and help to diagnose physical and emotional conditions.
Dance movement usually makes a person feel happy and energized because it provides a diversion and keeps the person from dwelling on worries or physical ailments or pain. Emotional well-being is re-established. The purpose of dance therapy is to help restore emotional and physical health.
Duties, Activities, and Scope of Practice
Dance therapists are trained in dance as well as psychology. They are trained to observe and “read” a person's emotional and physical symptoms through their movements. They teach patients how to move to express their feelings and to improve their physical and emotional status.
Patients of all ages can benefit from dance therapy. Children with emotional issues as well as physical coordination and even brain-damage issues can learn to communicate and express their feelings through the safety of repetitive movements. They can also learn to improve their balance and coordination through dance.
Adolescents and adults can learn to express their emotions and physical symptoms through dance movements, and work to improve their physical and emotional status. Many mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, psychotic depression, and personality disorders are diagnosed and effectively treated through dance therapy, in addition to traditional medical care.
Education and Training
To practice as a dance therapist, a master's degree is required. Undergraduate work should be done in dance and psychology. The master's curriculum focuses on psychopathology, kinesiology, human development, and movement observation, as well as dance and movement theory and practice. Choreography, improvisation, and teaching dance to children and adults is also recommended.
There are only about fifteen programs that offer a master's degree in dance therapy, and each awards a slightly different degree.
The American Dance Therapy Association has established criteria for registration of dance therapists at two different levels. The first is the D.T.R. (dance therapist registered), which requires a master's degree that includes 700 hours of supervised clinical internship. The second is an A.D.T.R. (advanced dance therapist registered) for therapists who have met advanced criteria, including 3,600 hours of supervised clinical internship. This therapist is deemed fully qualified to teach or supervise dance therapists and to work in private practice.
Registration is not required, but it is quickly becoming the recognized standard, and it does open more doors to employment possibilities.
Work Settings and Salaries
This is a relatively new profession and has yet to be widely recognized. Therefore most dance therapists today work in large metropolitan locations. They usually work in psychiatric hospitals, both long- and short-term, residential care facilities, nursing homes, and psychiatric clinics and offices.
Data on salaries is limited, but the range appears to be from $27,000 to $65,000, depending on experience and training. Those with advanced training and registration will earn more.
Career Potential and Additional Information
This is a limited field at present and openings are not plentiful. As the field becomes more widely recognized for its work with emotionally disturbed individuals, the economy may well influence the promotion of this profession. Multitudes of Americans live on the streets or in mental health facilities due to emotional disorders, which could be helped through dance therapy.
As with art therapy, dance therapy was recognized in the legislation to amend the Older Americans Act in 1992. This has opened opportunities for research and grants for dance therapy. Several significant studies have been financed since then to successfully prove the effectiveness of dance therapy with patients who have experienced a head injury.
For more information, contact the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). Their Web site is