Movement therapy, also referred to as dance therapy, is essentially a combination of creative arts and therapy. The belief is that movement and dance can encourage the healing of the body and mind. Movement therapy explores the nature of all movement with the idea that body and mind are interconnected. The therapy is based on the notion that everything in the universe is in constant motion and the basic unit of motion is through our own bodies.
Societies around the world have used movement and dance therapy since the beginning of time to express feelings, promote fertility, and to create personal well being. This type of therapy is still practiced widely throughout the world and is an essential part of many traditions, although these cultures may not identify the activity as a therapy.
Movement therapy is used in clinical settings as well. Certified dance therapists often provide the therapy after achieving a masters level of training in aiding physical, mental, behavioral and emotional healing. It is also used among psychotherapists with a variety of clients including the elderly, and abused or autistic children and adults.
There are numerous approaches to movement therapy; some emphasize awareness to inner sensations and ease of bodily movement, while others are used to express deep emotional issues. Some therapies use specific sequence movements, which correlate with gravity, and others use spontaneous movement, which is believed to promote healing of the body or mind.
Movement or dance therapy with an Eastern influence began as a spiritual movement and included self-defense practices. Yoga, t’ai-chi and gigong, were taught among Taoist monks with an emphasis on meditation and specific breathing patterns. A key component of the discipline was to focus attention inward. These practices are still widely practiced today and are believed to promote increased health and longevity.
Many traditional Western movement therapies focus on physical healing and strength and were patterned after sports and physical therapies. This type of therapy is also used to aid in healing and avoiding injury, and was mainly created by dancers and choreographers. Pilates, a method popular with a broad range of people, is done on the floor or with specialized equipment. It focuses on developing a strong inner core and physical strength as well as balance.
The physical benefits to movement therapy include increased muscle tone, joint strength, increased coordination and flexibility, enhanced circulation, cardiovascular benefits and the prevention of injuries. The mental benefits include peace of mind, increased self-awareness, improved overall attitude and increased self-esteem.