Debunking a common Dance/Movement Therapy Myth.

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Before I began writing this blog post I debated with myself about what the content of the post would be.  I took a January Term (J-term) course this past weekend titled, Creative Art Therapies and thought maybe I should reflect on my class experience.  Although inevitably I will do that, what is really important is one specific message I took home with me after the course was over.  That message is what this post is really about, and as you’ll see, what dance/movement therapy is about as well.

The Creative Art Therapies class is a J-term course (or an elective class) that is offered every year and hosted during one weekend in January.  The class is an opportunity for Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling students to learn about other creative art therapy modalities including art, music, drama, and poetry therapy.  Within the class, we got to both learn about and experience first hand the different interventions specific to each modality.  As a dancer, I appreciated the emphasis on experiential learning and the opportunity to feel like a client engaging in creative art therapy.

What struck me most during the weekend was something the art therapist, Randy Vick, spoke to during his lecture.  The lecture was discussing what art therapy (and all creative therapies) address: the person, the process, and the product.  Following, he stated something along the lines of, “We don’t look at an image or a movement and say your image or movement means this.  Rather, we engage clients in making meaning of their own work.”

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I would argue that that is one of the biggest misconceptions about dance/movement therapy- that as dance/movement therapists we observe one’s movement and then tell him or her what that movement means in the psychological realm. If you move one way it must mean THIS.  If you choose to draw a certain image it must mean THIS. Just because a client is sitting slouched in his or her chair doesn’t mean he or she is depressed.  This may be true, but there is much more than that.  It doesn’t always fit into a tidy equation.

Instead, creative art therapists use art to engage clients and help clients make meaning of their work and their relation to the work. Certain movements may feel different for different clients and these movements may mean various things.  As a dance/movement therapist I want to engage clients in a verbal and nonverbal conversation about their movements in hopes of bringing their internal experience to an outward expression.

There are no right or wrong movements, rather all movement is valid.  All movement means something but we cannot assume what that meaning is.

As I continue to process this concept it seems so obvious and simplistic, and yet I still find this to be a common myth about the field.  I too can fall into this trap of making certain associations with certain movements, or even simplifying what creative art therapists do.  Yet, after learning and experiencing each of the modalities this past weekend, I am again once reminded of the sacredness of art, especially the art created in the therapy room.

As a side note, check out MOVED (the DMT & C student organization) featured on Columbia College Chicago’s website recapping the Fall Dance Show at Hamlin Park.