A dance movement therapist treats people by showing them how to express their emotions through dance and leads them in various dance-based exercises. Experts believe that this activity has the potential to reduce stress, depression, and help with other psychological problems. Dance movement therapy is often used in combination with other forms of therapy as an augmentation. A dance movement therapist may have an independent practice or work in a larger facility, like a hospital or nursing home.
The first dance movement therapist was actually a dancer rather than a psychology expert. Her name was Marian Chace, and she had a dance school in the mid 1900s. She realized that people were getting psychological benefits from their dance classes and decided to formalize the whole process. Her approach was successful enough to eventually gain some interest from the psychiatric community.
The idea behind dance movement therapy is that there is a connection between the body and the mind. For example, some movements may express frustration, while others allow people to experience happiness or relaxation. A dance movement therapist often shows people different movements and encourages them to express their bodies in individual ways.
There is a fair amount of evidence for the idea that exercise may help people improve their moods. Studies have shown that the brain releases certain chemicals during heavy physical activity that cause people to experience pleasure. Some studies have also shown that people with depression problems often improve after taking up an exercise program. This basic benefit from physical exercise is thought to be part of the reason for the success of dance therapy.
Another possible reason for the success of this type of therapy is the social quality and the benefits that interaction may have all by itself. Usually, a dance movement therapist will run classes with several patients at once. They also often take advantage of this social element by leading people in group dances, or exercises where people are asked to interact. Sometimes any kind of fun social interaction can help people in overcoming various psychological problems.
Dance itself is a very ancient part of human behavior. Virtually every culture in the world includes dance in some form or another, and often dance is a major part of rituals and mating behaviors. Even outside of therapy, people often use dance to enjoy themselves or express emotions.