Movement as Medicine

Three graduate dance-therapy programs

One of dance movement therapist Ande Welling’s most memorable patients was a man with severe brain damage who had stopped speaking. Through movement exercises, she was able to help him reengage with those around him. “I held his hand and we moved together, created squeeze dances with our hands and sometimes gently pushed and pulled each other,” says the Columbia College Chicago graduate. “When a client meets my eyes for the first time, finds a new way of moving or is able to express emotions in a way they have not been able to before, it makes the effort well worth it.”

Movement therapy offers dancers a hands-on way to use their art to change the lives of others. But though practitioners often have common goals for their patients, the approaches can differ greatly depending on the training they received. This is because the practice of dance therapy draws from such disparate subjects, like psychology, science and the arts. Prospective students need to identify their greatest values and interests within therapy to help decide which graduate program is right for them.

Dance Teacher looked at three programs that fulfill education requirements for licensure in their respective states. Each takes two to three years to complete and requires experience in psychology, anatomy and kinesiology and dance. Students will study movement observation and assessment, counseling and research techniques, supplemented with fieldwork and internships at hospitals, mental health centers and schools. The American Dance Therapy Association approves these schools, and after completing a program, students apply to ADTA to become a Registered Dance Movement Therapist (R-DMT).

Columbia College Chicago

Chicago, IL

Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling MA

Columbia College Chicago’s program, one of the nation’s largest, is for those who truly want to focus on dance healing techniques. Most students have backgrounds in fitness training, psychology, education or dance. Program curriculum includes Laban Movement Analysis, a language used to describe and document movement patterns. Department chair Susan Imus says this method helps students become detailed observers. “Students need to know what influences their observations, assessments and choices of movement interventions in practice,” she says. “In lieu of words, movement is the language we use to identify patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors.” About half of the MA candidates also complete the Graduate Laban Certificate in Movement Analysis through the department.

Lesley University

Cambridge, MA

Expressive Therapies: Dance Therapy MA, Mental Health Counseling specialization

Lesley University’s expressive therapies program attracts those who study many different types of art. Within the program, candidates can choose a dance, art, music or drama track. Dance therapy program coordinator Nancy Beardall says students of all concentrations take their psychology and counseling coursework together. “It provides a cross-disciplinary experience so students are able to see how various expressive arts, such as studio art and drama therapy impact a patient,” she says.

In 2012, Lesley launched a low-residency program that allows students to earn the same degree as those on campus, yet work online and tailor academics to their schedules. Degree completion takes three years, and during three summers, they spend three weeks in Cambridge to work with professors and peers in person. Like on-campus students, low-residency candidates gain direct experience by completing internships or doing fieldwork, but they do so within their own communities.

Naropa University

Boulder, CO

Somatic Counseling Psychology MA, Dance/Movement Therapy concentration

Naropa University’s somatic counseling psychology MA is in the Graduate School of Psychology, which reflects the program’s scientific training in movement therapy. Program director Zoe Avstreih says this offers students a concrete understanding of how the mind and body’s functions are interconnected, providing a hard science behind the profession’s sometimes intangible ideas.

This academic approach does more than provide a different way of understanding the practice—it provides students with the vocabulary necessary to communicate and work with a wide variety of medical professionals. Many Naropa graduates go on to work in clinics and private practices. And recently, several MA students’ thesis papers were published in professional health journals. DT

Arts writer Nancy Wozny taught dance and somatics for 20 years.

Photos from top: ©iStockphoto.com; by Bethany Brownholtz, courtesy of Columbia College Chicago

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