What is Dance Therapy and Somatic Psychology?

Before psychology, dance has been a source of healing and psychological outlet for thousands of years. Shamans have been finding cures by listening to their bodies intuition and listening to their subjects bodies expression in order to find their needs, ailments and cure. Society has found dances to heal social strife and economical downturns. Communities has developed dances to differentiate themselves from one another and increase the bond among its members. Dance has been used to practice self defense and strengthen the warriors of the tribe. Why dance? Because to dance is to listen to our bodies, and that is to return home. If home is not in aligned with health, than there is a process to make the body a safe place again, and that is the art and science of dance therapy and somatic psychology.

Dance Therapy uses movement to help heal the same symptoms and underlying issues than other fields of psychology work would. It is not the use of “artistic” dance for performance. Rather, it is a search for authentic movement composed by each own personal felt sense at the moment.

Dance therapy to me is what Mary Whitehouse, one of the pioneers of dance movement therapy, says, don’t move, be moved. There is something quite magical that happens when one follows their intuitive body and allows that inner sensation to just dance and move from within. When one is authentic to their bodies, their sense of self, or ego becomes stronger and one can live from a more embodied perspective.

Exploring dance for the sake of the process of being authentic often brings up matters that are not as easily achieved when just using words. Before one dives into the world of pre verbal movement exploration, one touches in the what Christine Caldwell, the founder of dance therapy and somatic psychology degrees at Naropa University, called the first stage of the moving cycle: awareness. That first moment of awareness can lead into the next stage of the moving cycle, owning, that can be explored through dance or through a more somatic exploration.

Different than a classic Dance Therapy session where one is working for part of the time through movement and sounds in a pre verbal fashion, and the body has to unwind and speak before the mind can start making sense of what is happening in the healing process, somatic Psychology works in a more subtle inner dance.

When trauma gets locked in the body, just talking is not enough. One has to allow the trauma to be released in a very organic and embodied process. By beginning with what Eugene Gendlin, the author of focusing, names as a “felt sense”, one begins to find the cognitive correspondence to that sensation. This delicate process of integration of mind and body is very trans-formative. The locked energy transforms as one gives attention with a curious mind and body exploration.

Somatic Psychology has advanced a lot over the past years, demonstrating through research the importance of working through the body. Peter Levine and Pat Ogden, are some of my favorites masters on the somatic psychology field that has changed the face of how and what therapy can accomplish. Somatic Psychology heals from the the bottom up. From the body, the mind re-organizes and heals.