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Archive for the ‘Autism’ Category

In this, the first of a series of dance/movement therapy lectures produced for the public by the American Dance Therapy Association, Dr. Christina Devereaux explains the unique capacity of dance/movement therapy to work directly with the core deficits of autism.

It is important to note that there are many sources on the internet and on Youtube that casually use the term “dance therapy” or “movement therapy” for their dance classes. There is a difference between a dance class that produces “therapeutic” benefits and the mental health profession of “dance/movement therapy.” Dr. Devereaux is a board certified dance/movement therapist and an expert in this field (check out her bio on the YouTube video page!)

An excerpt from her talk:

“There is a true reality here. The lack of social reciprocity from children with autism as well as their behavioral disturbances and language deficits, tends to make this disorder difficult and stressful for parents in a manner that is different from other developmental disorders. Parents rely as much on the child’s communication signals as the child relies on the parent’s signals. So, the loss of this engagement and intentional, interaction can feel devastating. Unfortunately, there is no treatment right now that can address the “biology” of autism, but dance/movement therapy can certainly directly address this deep “human effect” of autism. By helping parents experience how to attune, join, connect, and understand their child through the use of nonverbal language, Dance/movement therapy can support parents in forming warm, empathic and satisfying relationships with their children.”

April is Autism Awareness Month. If you know someone who would benefit from this information, please share. Relationships matter. Dance/movement therapy can help.

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Let me put my cards on the table.

I started this blog two years ago out of a deeply felt frustration that I know is shared by many of my fellow dance/movement therapists. I know they share this frustration in some form or another because the topic and the discussion of ways to address it has been repeated – for years – in professional discussions, online forums and local and national dialogues. It is an ongoing issue for our professional community.

The frustration is this:

In the 21st century, how can it be that the profession of dance/movement therapy is not better known? Better understood? At the very least, heard of? Granted, if one is not working in the mental health or rehabilitation or wellness professions, then it is perhaps logical that the profession be an unfamiliar concept. Certainly, I have never heard of countless occupations. But, how can it be in the 21st century, over ten years since the “Decade of the Brain” concluded, that dance/movement therapy is not better understood by our colleagues whose professions involve psychology or neuroscience?

How is it that when one googles “dance therapy” on the internet, one gets more references to Brittany Spears and pole dancing or random dance classes than one gets legitimate information on the nearly 50 year old profession of dance/movement therapy?

This latest spike in frustration was inspired by the recent feature on Anderson Cooper 360 that took a close look at a day in the life of Gabrielle Gifford’s rehabilitation at the TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Texas.

How is it that when Dr. Sanjay Gupta visited the hospital to get a hands on experience of a day in the life of Congresswoman Giffords’ recovery, dance/movement therapy was not included in the diverse list of therapies? Yes, music therapy was on the day’s agenda and, to Dr. Gupta’s credit, he really appreciated the power of music therapy to work “on developing … attention, memory and overall executive function.” This acknowledgement on a show as respected and widely viewed as CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 is a real boost for our colleagues in the music therapy profession.

But dance/movement therapy was NOT on the schedule and it was not addressed by Dr. Gupta – by name. However, a quick glimpse at the video of the music therapist, Maegan Morrow, reveals that she was incorporating movement with the music to help her patients improve cognitively and learn to walk again. “Lean 2, 3, 4, Push up, 2, 3, 4…” The diverse therapies at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital work together to rehabilitate patients from traumatic injury… and yet the experts on using movement psychotherapeutically, who are specifically trained in connecting through movement and facilitating movement and rhythm – for whatever end goal – are not on that team?

“The brain learns best when it processes cognitive, affective and psychomotor information simultaneously.” (emphasis mine.)
Dr. Michael Merzenich
Neuroscientist

This is fundamental knowledge to neuroscientists and to anyone familiar with “brain-based learning.”

Movement is not only integral to healing psychologically, it is integral to effective rehabilitation of the brain, to learning and to brain plasticity.

Though my peers and I ask these questions – how, how, how can the world not know? – we do so, of course, acknowledging the onus is on us, the dance/movement therapists. This is precisely why I blog on DMT, why I encourage my colleagues to do the same and why I am writing a book on the topics of this blog.

Did you know:

Neuroscientists have declared the importance of psychomotor processing to learning.

The New England Journal of Medicine published that dancing, moreso than any other leisure activity, decreases cognitive decline in senior citizens over 75.

Physical therapists have published repeatedly on the therapeutic value of dancing the tango for people with Parkinson’s disease.

These are but drops in the bucket of research that RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT reveal the importance of dance and movement in our lives and yet… the official profession of dance/movement therapy remains in the shadows.

Compared to the combined fields that make up verbal psychotherapies (social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists) – and even to our allied creative art therapists – dance/movement therapists are still very small in number. We practice in countries all over the world but only have seven graduate programs in the United States where the dance/movement therapy master’s degree can be earned. There are additional ADTA approved “alternate route” programs for individuals who have a master’s degree in a related mental health field to get the requisite DMT training; even so, a handful of programs can only produce so many dance/movement therapists a year.

The simple fact of the matter is that at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim, California in 2009, the leading psychologists and psychiatrists in the world presented, among other things, on the importance of acknowledging the body in psychotherapy: attending to bodily sensation, breathwork, moving, mindfulness, meditating. The handful of respected dance/movement therapists that attended with me sat, nodding, in agreement. Yes. Yes, we know. This is what we do. This is what we have done for over forty years.

The simple fact of the matter is that 10 million people worldwide are participating in Zumba® classes each week, many referring to it as their “therapy.” Television news stations are doing stories on the effect of Zumba® on its students and teachers alike, noting its therapeutic value in places as unusual as prisons. Again, though Zumba® is a fitness class and not dance/movement therapy, the fact that dancing is experienced as being “therapeutic,” even within the structure of an exercise class, comes as no surprise to those in our profession.

The world is discovering in its own ways that movement and dance and the bodymind connection are important. This is wonderful! This growing awareness should be shining an ever-expanding spotlight on the profession that has been implementing these truths in its clinical practice for decades. Dance/movement therapists have not just discovered the power of movement to evoke emotion… or heal trauma… or break through isolation… or express that which cannot be spoken… or garner insight… or connect with self, with others. Dance/movment therapists have an extensive body of research and theory that delves deeply into these subjects. Our expertise can be your expertise… if the dialogue begins.

We must be on the edge of a fusion, of an integration, of a collaboration between verbal psychotherapies, neuroscience, medicine and dance/movement therapy that will change the course of healing and wellness and recovery in this new century. We must be on that edge. I can feel it.

But the awareness has to spread so that the curiosity can pique and the collaborations can begin large scale.

Dance/movement therapy must go viral.

That is my challenge to you. Help spread awareness. The research and the experts are there to back it all up. What is needed is awareness.

How I wish the media would shed light – BIG LIGHT – on these stories – or simply look in their own communities for the stories that are happening there, right now:

Dance/movement therapists making breakthroughs with children with autism.

Dance/movement therapists teaching staff and caregivers essential nonverbal communication skills to more meaningfully connect with those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Dance/movement therapists empowering women in India who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual abuse.

A Dance/movement therapist helping child soldiers in Sierra Leone feel empathy again – and teaching others how to continue the work in their communities through dance.

A dance/movement therapist who has designed a movement based curriculum to help foster empathy and prevent violence in schools.

There is not enough light cast on this work nor on its potential to effect real change in the lives of millions of people across the globe.

Help shine the light.

If your life or the life of someone you love has been touched by Alzheimer’s, autism, bullying, cancer, trauma, Parkinson’s, mental illness, an eating disorder, body image issues, brain injury… if you have ever felt the power of dance in your own life, on some level, please pass this on.

Shine the light.

This is a “virus” the world desperately needs.

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Kudos to both TimesUnion.com for publishing a story on the power of dance/movement therapy with autism and to Paul Grondahl for writing it.

"Dance movement therapist Rachelle Smith-Stallman works on developing trust with 4 year old Emil Bouget as he touches her eye, during a session at his home in Albany, on Tues, Oct 19, 2010. Bouget is autistic," according to Paul Grondahl in the October 23, 2010 timesunion.com. (Philip Kamrass/Times Union)

Parents of children diagnosed with autism are eager, desperate even, for interventions and therapeutic modalities that will help them connect with their child. Dance/movement therapy, over time, has helped many.

Grondahl’s article describes the impact of dance/movement therapy on a child with autism. I recommend reading it, but must do so with one caveat. I must differ with the reference made by Janine Cruiswijk to art and movement therapies as being “new” and “slowly becoming more accepted and mainstream.” Dance/movement therapy is hardly new; rather, dance/movement therapists have been pioneers of the mind-body interface for over five decades and have been acknowledged by federal and state agencies for almost as long, in research, funding, and licensure. The process that remains “slow,” tragically, is the public’s AWARENESS of our profession as a whole and the UNDERSTANDING of this psychotherapeutic modality that makes the body and its power to nonverbally communicate central to healing and deepening relationship. The tragic result of this lack of awareness is that reimbursement from insurance companies is not yet available in all places.

But every story helps spread awareness. With awareness comes the potential for understanding and, eventually, broader accessibility for those interested in DMT services but unable to pay for them out of pocket.

To her credit, Cruiswijk, the executive director of the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region, does note that dance/movement therapists are “highly trained therapists.” Indeed, dance/movement therapists are required to have a Master’s degree and thousands of hours of supervised clinical intern hours before being able to practice privately. (To read more on dance/movement therapy education and training, click here.)

Though I, personally, have never worked with children with autism, I know of many colleagues who do and the stories of connection and relationship will amaze you.

Here is one. Enjoy.

“Autistic Boy Makes Joyful Moves”

(As you watch the video footage, you’ll note instances of “mirroring,” a dance/movement therapy technique that helps communicate empathy and build therapeutic rapport. Mirroring and nonverbally reflecting the essence of another’s movement is both subtle and complex, never as straightforward as simply “doing what the other is doing.” But in this footage you can see a few examples of the dance/movement therapist building the nonverbal relationship in this manner. Additional still photos can be seen here.)

More on dance/movement therapy with autism, including research articles and books, can be read in this DMT-with-Autism-Informational-Sheet published by the ADTA.

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How is dance/movement therapy connected to the field of counseling?

Who can benefit from dance/movement therapy? Do you have to be a dancer to work with a dance/movement therapist?

How do dance/movement therapists connect with children with autism?

What sort of training does a dance/movement therapist have? What’s the difference between a registered dance/movement therapist (R-DMT) and a board certified dance/movement therapist (BC-DMT?)

Find out the answers from the ever articulate Christina Devereaux, MA, BC-DMT, NCC, spokesperson for the American Dance Therapy Association. Recently interviewed by Kristé Bouvier on the Designer Health Net Talk Show, Christina provides insight into these questions and more in a six minute segment of a 60 minute show dedicated to dance in general.

There are two ways to listen:
Click on this for a direct link to listen to the MP3.

OR

Go to the Designer Health Net Talk Show site itself and listen to the past episode on “dance.”

Christina Devereaux’ interview starts at approximately 16 minutes into the program and ends at about 22 minutes in.

Should her answers inspire your own questions, feel free to respond to my blog and ask them here. I’m happy to provide whatever information I can or point you in the direction you need to go to find your answers.

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How does dance/movement therapy benefit those living with Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease or Autism? What does the research say about the application of dance/movement therapy with trauma or eating disorders? How is dance/movement therapy used with children? The elderly?

These are great questions, readily addressed in two-page flyers created by the Public Relations Committee of the American Dance Therapy Association. There are great photos of dance/movement therapists in action on each sheet, in addition to a summary of the work in that context, along with a short bibliographies documenting current related research. Donna Newman Bluestein, Public Relations Chairperson for the ADTA, has provided easy to follow links to each of these compelling information sheets. Curious? Check them out at her blog: Musings of a Dance/Movement Therapist.

Feel free to read and/or print and share with loved ones or colleagues. Previously these were only available to members of the ADTA as inservice materials but are now accessible for all who are interested in learning more about the work. Pass them on!

(And if you are interested in the use of dance/movement therapy with other populations or diagnoses, just ask. More flyers are in the works and I can always point you in the direction of books and journal articles pertaining to your area of interest.)

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