• Jeanne Marie

Moving into Mental Health: Can dancing make a difference?

Sound created by Jeanne Mallorey, using Adobe Audition and Sound Cloud; Featuring Erica Hornthal and #353733784 created by © P.a.p./Jamendo

Psychotherapy, a talking based treatment, is one of the most commonly suggested remedies for mental health disorders according to Mental Health America, a non-profit dedicated to promoting mental health. However, what happens when psychotherapy only goes so far? What happens when individuals feel as though it hasn’t fixed everything? Dancing may be an overlooked answer for those looking to cultivate a positive psychological experience, even as a pandemic rage.

According to a data set published by the National Institute of Mental Health, 18.9% of adults residing in the United States have a mental illness. Of those 46.6 million adults, 42.6% of them received treatment in 2018, according to the second figure in the study.

While professional dancers are not immune to mental health struggles and are even more susceptible to developing disorders such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and disordered eating, according to a study in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, dance itself may have various beneficial impacts on the every-day lives of the average adult.

Erica Hornthal, a Dance/Movement therapist, believes that adding dance and movement into the therapeutic process can make a significant impact on the healing effects of talk therapy.

“For me, Dance/Movement Therapy is really about utilizing the body and movement to observe, to assess, and to intervene in that therapeutic relationship,” says Hornthal.

“People either have been in talk therapy and have reached a plateau; It’s not expressing 100% what’s happening to that person,” she said

Hornthal has appeared in her current residence of Chicago’s news stations on multiple occasions and has written articles for a number of publications on the topic of Dance/Movement therapy, according to her website.

“I think for my clients, more often than not, it’s actually talking pretty extensively, if we’re able to, about what is being experienced and then getting into the blockages in terms of, you know, how connected are you to your body? Are you aware of this? Can you notice what you’re feeling right now in this moment?” explains Hornthal

Dance/Movement therapy combines the healthy outcomes of psychotherapy with the healing power of movement.

Adding aerobic exercise into a weekly routine can have a significant impact on both physical health and those suffering from mental health disorders, according to an article from Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

A recommendation, created by the Center for Health and Human Services, suggests that adults should engage in at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity a week and include two days of muscle-strengthening activities of the same intensity.

Dance and walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and gardening are mentioned in the Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry explicitly as activities proven to reduce anxiety and depression as well as can help individuals achieve the recommended exercise by the HHS.

Another suggestion made by an MHA article to reduce anxiety and depression symptoms is creating a routine.

Gabrielle Epifano, a teacher at The Marat Daukayev School of Ballet, a prestigious dance school located in Los Angeles, California, and practicing dancer for 21 years, relates to this on a personal level.

“I could be at school, I could be super stressed out, I could not really have a great day and every day I knew that I was gonna end my day at the ballet studio,” says Epifano

“It’s so calming because while there’s variation and while you’re always expanding and you’re learning and you’re being challenged in new ways, there’s still the added comfort, or the underlying comfort, of I know I’m gonna do plies,” she explains.

The structure provided by taking dance-related classes, virtually or in-person, may assist individuals in creating a routine that includes the recommended exercise that both the NIH and the healthcare providers attributing to the Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggest.

Entering into the U.S.’s seventh month battling the coronavirus, the impact of the global tragedy on mental health has become a topic of discussion.

The Center for Disease Control even released an article in July addressing the stress individuals may be feeling as a result of COVID-19.

Could Dance/Movement Therapy significantly influence those currently struggling with the emotional impact of COVID-19?

Could creating a daily routine that includes dance movement give some relief to the physical impact of those struggling with psychological health at this time?

Whether it’s adding dance into a daily practice or including it in a therapeutic method, movement seems to create a positive emotional experience, allowing individuals to work through the internal struggles they face; no matter what stressors (pandemic or otherwise) come into play.

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