What is Arts Therapy? What is Dance Movement Therapy? And what's the difference?

Both dance and art (or arts) therapy use the creative realm to heal. It is a form of expressive therapy which combines the creative process with psychology to help individuals express themselves. This promotes emotional/personal development/well-being, enhances cognitive function, helps individuals resolve issues and manage behaviours/feelings, and supports healing. Art therapy unlocks the potential to reduce stress, improve one’s emotional state, increase awareness and self-esteem. To do so, it may use a wide range of materials and techniques, which offers the option to include two- or three-dimensional art making, as well as movement and more.

According to the Dance Movement Therapy Association of Australasia, dance therapy is ‘the relational and therapeutic use of dance and movement to further the physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and cultural functioning of a person’. In short, the aim is to achieve true well-being on all levels. In movement psychotherapy, your body is the key to facilitate profound healing of feelings which might be trapped within. Dance therapy is based on physical-psychological and scientific knowledge and it emerged as a profession in the US in the 1960s.

What both approaches have in common is that you don’t need any prior knowledge to participate, i.e. you don’t have to be a dancer (or even know anything about dancing) to benefit from dance therapy, and you don’t have to be an artist to do art therapy.

As you can see from reading the definitions above, the lines between art therapy and dance therapy are rather blurred, and this is often mirrored in my sessions. While the focus may be on dance therapy, I often bring in elements of art making and vice versa. I find that this flexibility enhances both healing and growth for my clients.

How does Dance Therapy work?

Dance has been used therapeutically for thousands of years. We all know that moving is good for both body and mind and has an abundance of mental and emotional benefits – as I like to say: ‘Moving is life’. When we move, endorphins are released which make us feel better, and they are the same endorphins that help us concentrate, sleep better, have more energy and arm us for mental/emotional life challenges. Due to the body-mind connection, motion can bring about change/growth of emotion.

What does a Dance Therapist do?

We combine elements of dance, movement systems and creative processes with psychological/scientific theories. Since we are trained in understanding the whole body/mind relationship within us, dance therapy sessions are beneficial in clinical, institutional, community and private settings. It is our job to adapt to each client’s needs to provide our therapeutic expertise to facilitate growth and change, using movement to help clients achieve emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration. After establishing a good base of trust and mutual connection, it is our aim for each individual to recognise and (re-)connect with their own full potential.

How agile do I have to be?

As mentioned above, you don’t need any experience with dancing (and you won’t be learning dance moves). Dance Therapy is suitable for all abilities. I have worked with clients ranging from toddlers through to elderlies in wheelchairs. You might be surprised how much movement you discover during a therapy session!

What happens in a dance movement therapy session?

A session is usually for 60 minutes. Since each client/group is unique and special in their own way, no dance therapy session is like another. There is no single fixed type of movement style, but we move our bodies mindfully and purposefully. Depending on the client’s needs I may also work with art material. During the session, I will observe and analyse movements and develop a therapeutic programme from there.

How does Art Therapy work?

In art therapy, creative processes are used to express and explore the unconscious. These may include (a combination of) visual arts such as painting, drawing and sculpture, sand play, drama, music, creative writing and story telling. Art therapists create a safe space for you to let your art making speak for you. This way, behaviour patterns can be detected and you can create new options for coping with problems. Art therapy is a key to foster social, emotional, physical cognitive, spiritual and cultural functioning.

What does an Art Therapist do?

Art therapists help you enhance your well-being through creativity. Highly trained, they have special arts knowledge which, in combination with psychotherapy/counselling skills, supports clients with a wide variety of treatment needs. Art therapists aren’t art teachers. You won’t be taught how to make art, but, with us as facilitators in the art making process, you learn about yourself. Here, my expressive art-based therapy approach supports each client individually within their window of tolerance regarding the physical, mental and emotional pattern. I have learnt to attune deeply with compassion, while holding the space for my clients to promote change within emotions and mind.

How talented or creative do I have to be?

You don’t have to be an artist (or even consider yourself especially creative) in order to take part in art therapy. The goal of our sessions is not to create an art masterpiece. The focus lies on the process and cues you communicate through art and to explore the wonders it can work in your life.

What happens in an arts therapy session?

First up, there is no one typical arts therapy session. One of the most important things I have learnt during my diploma is that I have to be entirely flexible in every session. My arts therapy approach is guided 100% by the client. Your individual needs lead into a restorative process where visual art-making, maybe words and writing, imagery and/or movement become part of the therapy. Art materials like paper, paint, many different colouring materials, clay, playdough, natural materials and others become props to enhance the restorative process within. During the session, the art-making itself is a journey as the creativity is used to bring light to the unconsciousness, the unspoken voice.


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What are the benefits of Art/Dance Therapy?

Holistic art and movement psychotherapy has helped people with many things such as:

Stress reduction

Mood management

Developmental delays

Psychological issues

Mental/emotional health conditions

Eating disorder recovery

Improving their body image & self-esteem

Improving communication skills


Mother-infant bonding

Traumatic injuries

Where can I try Dance and Art Therapy?

Simply joining one of my weekly drop-in group sessions (run by DTNZ) in Christchurch.

Classes run during school terms, and entry is by gold coin donation.

Who can book Dance Therapy sessions?

As literally, anyone can benefit from dance movement therapy, this form is suitable for all ages and physical abilities. As mentioned before, you don’t need to be a dancer to participate. As a Dance Therapist, I have worked with …

Authentic Movement Therapy

A sub-practice of Dance Therapy, Authentic Movement Therapy is an experience which is deeply nourishing to heart and spirit. Completely self-directed, you follow your impulses to move through space to lead you to your own healing process.