Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

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

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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My title for this post is a direct quote from Dr. Andrew Weil’s opening keynote speech today at The Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim, California (billed as the world’s largest psychotherapy conference, traditionally held only every five years.)

The entire speech, Integrative Medicine, the Mind-Body Connection, and the Future of Health Care, set the stage for an entire day and evening of workshops that addressed the mindbody relationship and its central role in healing.

Dance/movement therapists have been operating professionally for over 45 years on the principles of the reciprocal nature of the mind and body; our work has always emerged from the body’s innate capacity to heal. These are not “new” discoveries to any dance/movement therapist. But what IS new and incredibly exciting is that neuroscientists and microbiologists are finally understanding the mechanisms within the brain and the molecular nature of emotion so that our work can actually be validated by hard science.

Anyone who has ever experienced dance/movement therapy can speak to its efficacy and DMT IS evidence-based via a variety of research methodologies, but science’s emerging understanding of the unity of mind and body on a molecular level is precisely the quantitative measure that supports our work unequivocally.

Now, we just need to build the research teams: dance/movement therapists and interpersonal microbiologists and neuroscientists working together!

After attending Dr. Weil’s keynote, I experienced the following events:

Gene Expression and Brain Plasticity in the Evolution of Psychotherapy: Ernest Rossi, PhD
The Clinical Wisdom of Modern Neuroscience and Buddhist Psychology: Jack Kornfield, PhD and Daniel Siegel, MD
Reinventing the Mind; Resurrecting the Soul: Deepak Chopra, MD

It was a perfectly themed day, each workshop complementing the one before and after it.

I also had the honor of meeting David Harris, MA, BC-DMT, who has just returned from England where he received the Freedom to Create prize for his dance/movement therapy work with child soldiers in Sierre Leone. I have written about his work in an earlier post, but you can read about his latest international prize and subsequent press here. It was an honor to meet him and hear of his travels and teachings!

Tomorrow promises to be just as exciting at the conference. What an exciting time to be a dance/movement therapist, when science can finally prove what the most ancient and wise healers have always known: dance is healing!

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My name is Lora Wilson Mau. I am a registered dance/movement therapist in California and I am delighted that you have found this blog.  My intention for this space is to provide a forum for people to learn about the profession of dance/movement therapy and to deepen their understanding of the importance of movement and the bodymind connection. I welcome your comments, questions and dialogue!

First, allow me to clarify any misperceptions you may have about this field.  While the modern day profession of dance/movement therapy got its start in the 1940s with WWII veterans and has been an organized, regulated field since the 1960s, many people still do not know what dance/movement therapy is.

1)  Dance/movement therapy is a PSYCHOTHERAPY.  It is not a physical therapy. It is not recreational therapy.  It requires a minimum of a Masters Degree and a 3640 hour post graduate clinical internship on par with other Master’s level mental health therapies (social workers, marriage &amp family therapists, etc.)

2)  Dance/movement therapy generally does not “look” like commonly held ideas of “dance.” Clients do not perform steps or routines as students do in ballet or modern classes.  This is not to say that a session might not eventually incorporate some semblance of choreography or involve techniques that allow the client to deepen his/her body awareness, but the “moves” are self-generated by the client as an expression of thoughts and feelings and the unconscious and supported by the facilitating and therapeutic eye of the therapist. Essentially, in dance/movement therapy, the primary communication is nonverbal, not verbal.

3)  Dance/movement therapy is conducted with individuals, in 1:1 private practice. It is also conducted with groups.  Dance/movement therapy clients can be as young as infants or as old as the frailest elderly.  Dance/movement therapy can be done with those who can run and jump and those who are confined to a wheelchair or a hospital bed. Dance/movement therapists work in mental health clinics, nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, schools, in private practice and as consultants. Essentially, if one would benefit from “talk” therapy, one would also benefit from dance/movement therapy.

4) No two dance/movement therapy sessions look alike as each session develops in the present moment with what the client brings to the session, consciously and unconsciously.

Hopefully, the information above has not simply provided you with answers but has sparked your curiosity and left you with more questions!  I invite you to subscribe to my blog via the RSS feed so you will be kept abreast of the latest postings and articles. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about the profession of dance/movement therapy, I encourage you to check out the American Dance Therapy Association’s website.  The organization is the middle of a redesign of its site,  so it will become much more user friendly very soon; but, in the meantime,  the information is all there.

Happy Reading!  (And don’t forget to dance today!)

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