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Guest Article

Dance/Movement Therapy and Depression

By Carol Kaminsky MA, BC-DMT, NCC
Board certified dance-movement therapist and a faculty member in the University of Miami Dance Program

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”

I have been a board-certified dance/movement therapist for over 30 years and I often hear the same thing after I give a workshop or movement group, “I feel so much better, happier, relaxed, energized.” What is it that makes moving, and specifically dance therapy so helpful in relieving stress and depression? 

Dance/movement therapy (DMT) is a psychotherapeutic practice that incorporates the movement of the body, “promoting emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual, for the purpose of improving health and well-being” (American Dance Therapy Association).

It is important to find an outlet for your stress and research tells us that exercise can significantly discharge anxiety, tension, and negativity that comes with stress. However, if circumstances become overwhelming it can lead to depression. Depression is a mental health symptom that affects the whole body, contributing to low motivation, feeling immobile, or having extreme tension in the body and a tendency to isolate.

A person may feel cognitively and physically stuck when depressed. One of the goals of DMT for people with depression is to mobilize energy in a safe and supportive environment.  In a research study by Sabine Koch et al., “The joy dance: Specific effects of a single dance intervention on psychiatric patients with depression,” dance therapy sessions were shown to have a significant effect in decreasing depression. DMT starts with the body, using any part which is easiest to move, a wave of the hand, a nod of the head, or making eye contact. Soon the movement becomes a reach towards another person, a sway, or bounce in a shared rhythm.  Dance is what we have always done since ancient times, to bring us together and know that we are not alone. Moving together helps to break down the barriers of depression.

The purpose of dance therapy is to connect your own way of moving with the personal meaning it has for you.  Movement and dance evoke images, symbols, and metaphors that can help us identify our feelings and perceptions. A dance therapist uses a combination of movement and words to help clients articulate their feelings.

Expressing oneself through dance is an act of empowerment for someone suffering from depression. It’s a way to take positive action and channel emotions into a creative process. Dance/movement therapy is more than just dancing. While this form of psychotherapeutic treatment is beneficial for people with clinical depression, the general population can benefit too.  Everyone needs to relieve stress, befriend their body, gain confidence and self-acceptance, and fulfill the basic human need of communicating and expressing that which cannot be put into words.


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