What is dance therapy?

What is dance/exercise therapy?

Dance/exercise therapy, or DMT, is a psychotherapy method that uses exercise to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration. DMT can help people stay healthy by increasing strength, improving flexibility, reducing muscle tension and promoting coordination. It can also provide important mental health benefits, including reducing stress and even alleviating symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

“DMT is a creative art psychotherapy that uses exercise and dance to support the individual’s physical, intellectual and emotional health,” Katie Bohn, LPC, BC-DMT, SEP, RYT, a dance/sport certified by the board therapist.

According to board-certified dance therapists Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT, in addition to talk therapy, dance therapy also uses movement and nonverbal communication to manage psychological and behavioral problems that cannot be solved by language alone. “It’s about finding internal places that you may not know or choose to deny, and speaking out for experiences and emotions,” Horntal said.


Dance/motion therapist, LPC intern, and Caroline Kinsley of R-DMT explained that DMT is different for everyone, depending on the sense of security, physical contact, and personal familiarity with real body expressions. “This process may range from mainly verbal or spoken to mainly nonverbal or sports,” she said.

In the dance therapy course, the therapist can:

  • Help you explore and understand the connection between exercise and emotion
  • Encourage tracking of body sensation and breathing
  • Help guide you through self-expression and improvisation
  • Provide specific exercise or speech therapy interventions to promote healing
  • Help you deal with feelings caused by exercise

A dance therapist may use a technique called mirroring, which involves copying the movements of another person. It can be a way to help people connect more with others and build empathy.

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Dance/movement therapists provide individuals with a space to experience invitations, a sense of choice, verification and tolerance of internal feelings. They also provide compassionate and supportive ways to make you feel the sense of control and autonomy within your body.

What dance/exercise therapy can help

Dance and exercise therapy can be used to treat many physical and mental health problems. It helps improve self-esteem and is useful for those who are struggling with body image issues. Some conditions that it may help to resolve include:

Benefits of dance/exercise therapy

Dance therapy has many benefits that can make it a useful supplement to other treatments. Many treatment modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), focus on cognition or behavior, while dance/exercise therapy combines body-based strategies.

  • Promote calmness: Kinsley says that by using DMT, therapists can provide body-based strategies to support the downregulation of the system, thereby enhancing the sense of calmness.
  • Self-awareness: In the treatment of eating disorders, building self-awareness can help people feel more connected with the body’s physiological signals. “The emphasis on the body supports clients in developing the awareness needed to recognize the physical and emotional sensations of hunger and satiety.”
  • Coping skills: DMT can also be used as a way to develop coping skills for use outside of the therapeutic setting. “With the support of a therapist, you can use exercise and your knowledge of exercise preferences to explore the intensity and signals of stress, pain, and triggers,” Kingsley said.
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Building such skills allows you to recognize changes in body-based experiences outside of the treatment space and use them as insights if you are inclined to maladaptive beliefs or behaviors.

If you are struggling with eating disorders or other problems that affect your body image, Bohn says that you can reconnect with your body, change your relationship with your body, express yourself, and experience specific relationships that are essential for maintaining your diet. Very important obstacle to recovery. Dance/exercise therapy is a unique way to support these goals.


Studies have also shown that dance/exercise therapy can help treat many different diseases. Some studies supporting its efficacy include:

  • A 2019 review concluded that dance therapy is an effective intervention to treat depression in adults.
  • A review of a 2019 study concluded that dance movement therapy helps reduce anxiety and depression. It also improves interpersonal skills, cognitive skills and overall quality of life.
  • A small pilot study published in 2020 Eating Disorders Magazine DMT was found to be a complementary treatment option for eating disorders. The researchers recruited 14 patients from a private clinic and assigned 7 to the randomized group and 7 to the DMT group. After 14 weeks of treatment, the DMT group was significantly better than the other groups in terms of body area satisfaction and appearance evaluation.

Things to consider

Although DMT may be an effective treatment option, there are some factors to consider before you decide whether dance/exercise therapy is right for you:

  • Comfort and safety: For people who have experienced trauma, creating a safe space and taking it slowly is vital. “Due to maintaining a sense of security, individuals may not be able to obtain a body-based experience,” Kingsley said.
  • Health restrictions: The therapist must also observe a person’s physical and health restrictions. “A person may be very fragile and experience low energy levels and medical complications due to malnutrition. Therefore, the performance or expression of dance or movement will be different. The therapist’s job is to meet with the client and respond accordingly,” Kingsley explained.
  • Difficult feelings: Bohn said that those who are struggling with diseases such as eating disorders usually dislike, blame their bodies or are out of touch with their bodies. “DMT provides an opportunity to experience different physical lives, an opportunity to externalize and express feelings, to establish a deeper connection with the self, and ultimately to cultivate a sense of compassion for oneself and the body,” she said.

It is also important to note that dance therapy alone should not be used in certain situations. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and bulimia are serious mental health problems that require professional treatment by a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist.

In addition to traditional treatment methods such as psychotherapy, experts may recommend DMT as an auxiliary or additional form of treatment of diseases such as eating disorders.

How to start

Working with a well-trained, board-certified dance/movement therapist can help you focus on physical and mental processes while gaining insight and tools for managing daily life.

For more information about dance therapy and eating disorders, please check the following websites, videos and treatment centers: