The American Dance Therapy Association defines Dance Movement Therapy as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the participant.
Dance/movement therapy is:
- Focused on movement behavior as it emerges in the therapeutic relationship. Expressive, communicative, and adaptive behaviors are all considered for group and individual treatment. Body movement, as the core component of dance, simultaneously provides the means of assessment and the mode of intervention for dance/movement therapy.
- Practiced in mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational and forensic settings, and in nursing homes, day care centers, disease prevention, health promotion programs and in private practice.
- Effective for individuals with developmental, medical, social, physical and psychological impairments.
- Used with people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds in individual, couples, family and group therapy formats.
This sounds interesting, but does dance therapy work?
The aim of this paper was to perform a systematic review on the effectiveness of dance-based programs in patients with fibromyalgia, as well as calculate the overall effect size of the improvements, through a meta-analysis.
A total of 7 RCTs fulfilled all inclusion criteria. Their methodological quality was low. Duration of dance programs ranged from 12 to 24 weeks. Sessions lasted between 60 and 120 minutes and were performed 1-2 times per week. The overall effect size for pain was -1.64 with a 95% CI from -2.69 to -0.59 which can be interpreted as large. In addition, significant improvements were observed in quality of life, depression, impact of the disease, anxiety, and physical function.
The authors concluded that dance-based intervention programs can be an effective intervention for people suffering from fibromyalgia, leading to a significant reduction of the level of pain with an effect size that can be considered as large. However, findings and conclusions from this meta-analysis must be taken with caution due to the small number of articles and the large heterogeneity.
I don’t doubt that physical activity can ease pain, particularly, if combined with the often positive social interactions of dance. What is unclear to me is whether dance therapy generates results that are better than other forms of physical activity.
And then again, is that question really all that important? Perhaps the best advice to patients is to engage in the type of physical exercise the like best. At the very least, this would minimise the often poor compliance with such programs and might thus maximise their potential benefits.