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If you’ve considered seeking therapy, you may have discovered the various types available. Because so many things can be therapeutic, therapy can take many forms, and not all include you sitting across for a practitioner in an office setting.

Talk therapy is highly beneficial for many, but sometimes an option that engages more of your body is needed. An example of this is dance therapy.

Dance therapy is a form of somatic therapy that utilizes movement as a pathway to healing, particularly for those navigating trauma.

Because of this, many practitioners believe in the efficacy, or effectiveness, of engaging your body within therapeutic modalities.

According to the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA), dance therapy is an intervention that promotes health by intentionally connecting all parts of a person. This includes aspects of our mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

According to the ADTA, one of the primary premises of dance therapy is that separating the mind and body is not possible. Because of this, the association says that the mind and body can affect one another.

Per the association, dance therapy’s efficacy is based on an understanding saying:

  • Nonverbal language is just as important as verbal, and dance is a form of nonverbal communication.
  • All types of movement can be expressive, functional, and developmental.
  • Movement can be used for both assessment and intervention.

What Is Somatic Therapy?

If you’re unfamiliar with somatic therapies or interventions, you might wonder why movement is essential in healing from trauma.

“Trauma lives in the mind and body,” says Aisha Dixon-Peters, PsyD, licensed clinical-community psychologist and senior adjunct professor at The University of La Verne.

“When one experiences a traumatic experience or chronic trauma, the central nervous system promptly assesses and determines the most efficient response for survival.”

According to Dixon-Peters, the approach to somatic interventions can vary between practitioners but often involves process-oriented therapy alongside mindfulness and some movement.

She describes somatic intervention as one that “…incorporates a mind and body approach [and] centers the mind and body as the pathway to healing and recovery.”

Other forms of somatic therapy, or body therapy, include options like:

Dixon-Peters points to ancient practices that center the mind and body connection, saying, “Because mind and body are intricately intertwined, it is limiting to attempt to conceptualize and respond to concerns without deep awareness and acknowledgment of this mind-body relationship.”

Tyde-Courtney Edwards, a trained ballet dancer, founder of Ballet After Dark (BAD), and recent recipient of the Community Care Grant created in partnership with BEAM and Healthline, echoes the importance of addressing this connection when embarking on a healing journey.

“T…traditional talk therapy mainly focuses on conversations to understand how to process the emotions and how to move forward, but a lot of times, it doesn’t provide space for trauma stored in the body to be explored, healed, and released,” Edwards says.

But this does not mean traditional talk therapy can’t benefit folks who’ve experienced trauma.

In fact, Dixon-Peters says that each practitioner is different, and her sessions have included a merging of talk therapy, tapping (or EFT), and breathwork.

According to the ADTA, some major benefits of dance therapy include:

  • increased bodily awareness
  • transformation of energy and experiences
  • new coping mechanisms

Somatic interventions can also aid in psychological symptoms surrounding stress, grief, and depression — dance therapy included.

According to a 2019 research review of 41 clinical trials, data suggests that dance therapy can have a positive impact on many psychological factors, including:

Chronic Illness

According to different studies done over the last couple of decades, dance therapy might also help manage symptoms of chronic pain, headaches, and chronic illnesses, including:

Survivors of Trauma

According to Dixon-Peters, somatic therapies can benefit many, especially those who’ve experienced trauma.

“It is so important for people healing from trauma to learn and practice strategies for regulating the nervous system,” she says.

“Somatic therapies can be particularly helpful in these ways with centering mind-body strategies for soothing, grounding, and nervous system regulation.”

Discrimination and Trauma in Black Communities

Acknowledging how trauma can show up differently for Black people and others of color is integral to understanding how to address them.

This includes racial trauma (which can be underlying or overt), intergenerational trauma (which passes through family lineage), and racial disparities within other traumatic experiences such as:

  • Domestic violence or intimate partner violence (DV/IPV)
  • sexual assault
  • houselessness
  • incarceration and contact with the carceral system

When it comes to dance therapy as an intervention, the source of the trauma is just part of the story. Dixon-Peters says that people of the African Diaspora share a unique link between healing and dance.

“African spiritualities and African-centered psychology center the mind-body-spirit connection,” she says.

“To survive, enslaved Africans created sacred subversive spaces to sing, chant, sway, dance, strengthen their bodies, self-soothe, regulate, and release the chronic and persistent mind and body trauma of enslavement before being repeatedly traumatized by the atrocities of enslavement.”

Despite modalities like dance therapy serving as a viable and transformative experience for Black people, services are not often always accessible due to cost or location.

Edwards ran into this issue when seeking mental health support. “I very quickly recognized the lack of recovery programs that were centering somatic interventions available to Black women,” Edwards says.

“There was literally nowhere for me to go — especially as someone who was uninsured — where I could access this type of service.”

Recognizing the link between the body and trauma and the barriers to programming that addressed it, Edwards created BAD in 2015 to support her community in Baltimore.

As an organization that provides financially accessible dance therapy and other somatic interventions, BAD centers on Black girls and women who’ve experienced trauma.

Edwards cultivates this space through a trauma-informed curriculum and an environment that does not require participants to be re-traumatized.

“Through strategic partnerships we’ve created, survivors are directly referred to us. So we know if you’re coming to us from certain organizations, you’ve experienced some pain, some trauma — we don’t need to rehash that,” she says.”

“We know you’re coming to us because you’re strong enough to start this part of your journey now.”

Because everyone is different, there’s no one “right” way to approach healing from trauma.

But something many experts agree on?

Because the mind and body are undeniably linked, regardless of your dance skill or ability, engaging your body through some sort of movement can benefit your journey.

Stay tuned to read more about Healthline’s partnership with BEAM and other Health Equity initiatives.