So, What is Dance Movement Psychotherapy?

“…and what do you do Jessica?”

“I’m a Dance Movement Psychotherapist.”

*confused look* “A what?”

“A Dance Movement Psychotherapist.”

*blank stare*

It’s the start of many conversations I’ve had since starting my practice as a Dance Movement Psychotherapist, and I’m sure I will continue having these conversations as my profession grows in Canada. So far, it seems that the best way to explain what DMP is, is to give people an experience it. Words just aren’t enough to convey the complexity and richness of what DMP has to offer, but I’ll do my best!

Dance Movement Psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy that “recognises body movement as an implicit instrument of communication and expression. DMP is a relational process in which client(s) and their therapist engage creatively using body movement and dance to assist integration of emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual aspects of self.” (

Like other forms of psychotherapy, DMP is a relational process which involves two or more people engaging in a therapeutic relationship based on empathy and trust, where one person (the therapist) is trained to be aware of the different layers of interaction taking place and offer feedback and support to the client(s) while they explore aspects of their personal process.

What makes DMP different from traditional talk therapy is the use of dance and the creative process within the psychotherapeutic process.

Making use of the creative process in therapy helps clients come into contact with their own creative and embodied resources for healing. I believe that as humans, we have an innate and unshakeable impulse towards growth, and that by engaging our imagination and expressive capacities, we can have direct access to this impulse and use it to inform our healing process.

In DMP, we access this creative impulse through dance and movement. It’s important to note here that the dance aspects of the process are not taught – all movement that takes place in the therapy session is generated by the client(s) and draws from what they’re feeling in the moment and how their body responds to or expresses that feeling.

The use of dance and creative movement in DMP assists the integration of emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual aspects of the self. All of these layers of the human experience can be accessed through the act of embodied movement. Also, DMPs believe that our body, mind, and emotions are interconnected, and that the three are mutually influential. This means that any changes experienced physically or in someone’s movement vocabulary are reflected in changes on emotional or psychological levels as well.

While DMP does involve expressive and creative movement (aka dance), it’s important to know that DMP is for everyBODY, not just people who identify as “dancers”. I have seen incredible work done by Dance Movement Psychotherapists with a wide range of client populations – from inpatient mental health to complex trauma, postpartum mother and baby units to dementia care – this way of working can be applied across a vast spectrum of needs and abilities.

One of the things I love about DMP is that it can look completely different depending on the client and how they’re feeling that day. The session could involve a lot of movement, a combination of movement and verbal reflection, or more time spent talking and noticing sensations in the body. The movement aspects of the session may take place seated and explore posture and gesture, or could include dancing to music and using props like scarves, balls, or stretchy fabric. Regardless of what it looks like, the session is centred around the client and their needs, which makes DMP an incredibly adaptable and responsive form of therapy.

Some of the benefits of DMP include an increase in self-awareness, self-expression and the development of resources for communication, boundary setting, and self-regulation. DMP also supports the development of trust within relationships through embodied empathy and attunement, and offers an opportunity to come to know more about how we impact and are impacted by others in a safe and contained environment.

For me, DMP is a way of incorporating the moving, feeling, expressing body into life and healing. I am constantly surprised by how much wisdom and instinctual knowledge are present in my body, and how easy it is to access these resources when I’m connecting to myself and my body through dance. There is always something rich and exciting to discover whenever I give myself the space to stop thinking and start moving!

My own journey to becoming a Dance Movement Psychotherapist started with my intense love and passion for dance. Dance has always brought a lot of joy to my life. The freedom and connection that I experience while dancing have been some of the most fulfilling moments in my life – moments where I feel alive and awake to the incredible depth and richness of sensations in my body, and moments where I feel I am most fully myself. These experiences have at different times brought healing, growth, and purpose to my life.

When I first heard about DMP, I couldn’t quite believe it: I had found a career that brought together my love for dance and my desire to share the dance experience with others. So the choice was easy for me. In fact, it seemed inevitable. Since doing my training as a DMP, my passion for the modality has only grown. The more I learn and facilitate, the more convinced I am in the power of dance as a tool for healing and growth, and the more committed I am to sharing this medium for self-discovery and personal development with the world!

If you’re interested in trying DMP, please get in touch! Here at the Healing Collective I am offering individual psychotherapy and am currently recruiting members for my new weekly group, Self-Care through Creative Movement. For more information feel free to visit my website.

-Jessica Houghton (Dance Movement Psychotherapist)

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