Dance therapy

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Counselling Directory Content Team

Last updated 13th March 2024 | Next update due 13th March 2027

If you’ve tried talking therapy and found it difficult to verbalise your thoughts and feelings - or you simply don’t like the idea of talking about what’s worrying you - dance movement therapy, commonly referred to as dance therapy, is one approach you might want to look into.  

On this page, we’ll take a closer look at what dance therapy is, how it can help and what the key principles behind the approach are.

What is dance therapy?

According to the Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy, dance therapy is “founded on the principle that movement reflects a person’s pattern of thinking and feeling.” The aim of this approach is therefore to use dance and movement to facilitate emotional, mental, spiritual and social growth.

In dance therapy, the body is considered the main form of communication and can be especially helpful for those who find it difficult to put how they feel into words.

Within sessions, a dance therapist will encourage you to communicate how you’re feeling using both verbal and nonverbal communication (like movement). Music may be included to help with this, alongside props such as fabrics and balls.

Dance therapy can be offered in a one-to-one setting (just you and the therapist) or in a group. Whichever format you choose, the relationship between yourself and your therapist will be key. Building rapport and trust will help the process, allowing you to be more open within sessions.

Dance therapists will create a safe and supportive space for you to express how you feel and work towards change.

What can it help with?

As mentioned, dance therapy focuses on physical movement so it can be ideal for those who struggle to talk about how they’re feeling. It can also help in the following circumstances:

  • If you feel negatively towards your body.
  • If you find it difficult to have physical contact with people.
  • If you feel detached from everyday life.
  • If you’ve experienced abuse.

This approach can help you build self-esteem and become comfortable in your own skin. It can also help improve social communication and relationship skills. In fact, dance therapy is used to help many conditions, including:

Other health conditions it can support include chronic pain, arthritis, heart disease and cancer.

Principles of dance therapy

A dance therapy session may be very structured and planned out by the therapist, or you may receive little direction. Each dance therapist will work in a different way, however, they should adhere to the following principles.

  • That both body and mind are interconnected. 
  • That physical movement can express aspects of our personality.
  • That non-verbal means can be used to communicate part of the therapeutic relationship.
  • That the movements we make can represent our unconscious processes.
  • That improvisation and experimentation can help to bring about changes and new ways of being.

Examples of techniques used

The techniques used within dance therapy will be tailored to your specific needs. Below are a couple of examples of techniques that might be used:

Mirroring - This is when a person is asked to mirror (or copy) another person’s movements. This can help to illustrate empathy and validate someone’s experience.

Jumping rhythms - Research has found that those with depression show a decreased level of vertical movements, so jumping may be introduced for those with depressive symptoms.

Movement metaphors - These help people to represent a therapeutic challenge or achievement using movement.

To find out more about what to expect, we would advise you to contact a counsellor who offers dance therapy. They will be able to guide you and help you figure out if this is the right approach for you.

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