Dance Therapy for Trauma

young women dancing in dance studio

Trauma is a normal emotional reaction that can occur in anyone who experiences a deeply distressing or life-threatening event or situation. Unfortunately, this reaction can continue to have a damaging impact on your sense of well-being long after the moment of crisis passes, and unresolved trauma can lead to diagnosable mental health problems. One of the tools used to help people recover from traumatic experiences is dance therapy. This therapy aims to help you express and cope with unresolved feelings, emotions and memories.

How Trauma Happens

Mental or emotional trauma can occur when you experience events or situations that overwhelm your everyday psychological coping mechanisms. Specific causes of a traumatic reaction can vary, but commonly include such things as:

  • Exposure to a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake
  • Sexual assault
  • Child abuse
  • Serious accidents, and
  • Severe medical conditions

Most people gradually return to a state of emotional/psychological well-being in the aftermath of trauma. However, some individuals don’t recover a sense of equilibrium and go on to develop a diagnosable condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Dance Therapy Essentials

Dance therapy is a tool used as one component of treatment for a wide range of conditions, including unresolved trauma. A dance therapist does two basic things: guides patients through specific therapeutic body movements, and assesses patients’ physical and mental state while taking part in those movements.

The specific movements used vary from patient to patient, as well as from therapist to therapist. Some sessions may emphasize the performance of specific dance routines, while others may emphasize improvisational performance. The field of dance therapy also includes movement therapy, which follows the same basic principles but focuses on everyday movement instead of dance techniques.

Usefulness for Trauma Treatment

When dealing with cases of psychological/emotional trauma, a dance therapist focuses on helping patients express themselves in ways that lead to the release of traumatic memories, thoughts and emotions. Movement may provide a unique way to accomplish this goal, because it involves non-verbal communication instead of direct communication.

In 2015, a team of American researchers conducted one of the first-ever study reviews to examine the usefulness of dance therapy as a trauma treatment. These researchers concluded that the therapy can be beneficial in cases of trauma in people of all ages, as long as it covers four main areas:

  • Improved awareness of the connection between the body and the mind
  • Actual improvement of the range of physical movement (as an empowering tool)
  • Creation of improved personal, social and therapist-patient relationships, and
  • Creation of an improved relationship with the process of movement itself




“Trauma” – American Psychological Association

“General Questions” – American Dance Therapy Association

“Dance/Movement Therapy & Trauma” – American Dance Therapy Association

“A Meta-Synthesis of Qualitative Findings About Dance/Movement Therapy for Individuals With Trauma” – Qualitative Health Research

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