A dance therapist uses dance as a tool to heal both the mind and body. Dance therapy relies on the belief that state of mind can affect overall health. A dance therapist attempts to relieve stress for, and promote self esteem in, their patients in order to correct a number of physical and emotional ailments.
In order to become a dance therapist, a license must be obtained from the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). The ADTA was founded in 1966 by Marian Chace, who had been working to develop the field in the United States since the 1940s. This organization sets the standards and ethics codes for all dance therapists in the United States.
A dance therapist usually has a Master's Degree or equivalent training in a field like psychotherapy or counseling. He or she must have training in dance and movement, and sometimes have an undergraduate degree in dance. Therapists are given titles by the ADTA depending on their level of experience. A “Dance Therapist Registered” (DTR) is the beginner-level title and requires a minimum of 700 hours of clinical training. The title for those who have completes at least 3,640 hours of clinical work is “Academy of Dance Therapists Registered” (ADTR).
A dance therapist leads sessions much like any other psychological professional. These sessions can be in a group setting or one-on-one. They are tailored to meet the individual needs of the patient, both physically and mentally.
There are four stages to a dance therapy session: preparation, incubation, illumination and evaluation. Preparation is a basic warm-up to prepare the body and mind for the exercise that will be done. Incubation is a relaxed release of control when the patient is expected to express their emotions through symbolic movement. During illumination, the patient makes a connection between the symbolic movements and their true meanings. The evaluation at the end of the session verbally determines what progress was made.
Since dance therapy is a relatively new field, not many official studies have been done to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment. The few studies done have shown that patients have an overall improvement in self-image. This can be particularly helpful for those with body image issues, like breast cancer survivors or those with eating disorders. Dance therapy is currently being used for those with communication problems like autism and Alzheimer's, and is being tested on patients with muscle disorders like Parkinson's. Prisons and mental hospitals are also using dance therapists to improve communication and self esteem for those with troubled pasts.