Infant/Parent Psychotherapy

This treatment focuses on nurturing this primary relationship, by encouraging observation and interaction through both verbal and nonverbal expressive modes of communication. With support from current infancy research, these sessions highlight the dynamic interplay between the child's unique style, the parent's unique style and environmental influences.

The dance movement psychotherapy session enables the child to actively participate through their own evolving nonverbal and verbal communicative system. The initial goal is to broaden the child's social and communicative base by first helping the child experience their movements as communications, enabling exchange and interaction with others. Embedded in this process are sensory integration activities which enable the child to experience and learn about regulating and organizing their sensory system. The dance movement therapist and parent enter into a physical dialog with the child to develop a socially and emotionally supportive relationship as a way to gain insight into how the infant may be experiencing their world. Special attention is paid to those aspects of the experience that may be causing difficulties for the child.

The role of the dance movement therapist is to share, support, and decode the child's expressions through this exploration. During the decoding process, verbalizations become important also. This brings cognitive awareness to the child's nonverbal expressions, and supports the acquisition of language as a communicative tool that can effectively integrate verbal and nonverbal expressions.

Enabling the young child to actively participate in the environment in a communicative way through nonverbal, movement expression enhances not only social/emotional development but motor, cognitive and verbal development as well. Encouraging a positive social interaction can be the primary motivating force for achievement on all other levels of development. Encouragement and motivation through positive and loving social experiences is the key to successful growth supporting children to reach their potential. In this way dance movement therapy fosters the integration of all aspects of a child's development.

Child Psychotherapy

Developmental Difficulties & Trauma

Dance movement psychotherapy is an effective treatment modality for the observation, assessment and treatment of infants and children with developmental difficulties and delays in all areas; children considered "at risk" due to environmental circumstances; children who have experienced early trauma through birth or illness; as well as those children who are having difficulties, but no specific diagnoses capture the child completely.

My approach in working with such populations is to regard the child's nonverbal behaviors as a form of communication portraying their experiences and sense of self. Specifically, I respond to the child's particular movement expressions as he or she interacts within the surrounding spatial environment. It is this interaction between self and spatial environment, observable in these personal characteristic movement patterns, which display how the child is relating, adapting and responding to their environment. In this way the child becomes the catalyst of the therapeutic intervention.

From such observations and interactions I am able to derive an understanding of the "whole child." This enables me to be opened to all aspects of the child's development and experience – motoric, sensorial, verbal/communicative, emotional, cognitive – which may influence how they perceives and responds to their surroundings. My initial considerations when observing a child are:

  • How does relating and moving in that child's unique way color their experience?
  • What does it feel like to experience the world through that child's particular expressive movement repertoire?
  • How can a therapeutic environment be structured to enable the child to experience their way of relating and functioning as a communicative tool, while simultaneously enabling the child through that experience to explore new ways of interacting with their environment?

Based on these questions the intervention strategy focuses on how the individual child is using their own unique internal structures to cope, adapt and respond to the environment. In the therapeutic setting the child's personal nonverbal movement style directs the movement interaction dialog between the child and the therapist. The "dance" in the dance movement psychotherapy process begins as these movement elements unfold throughout the child's spontaneous choreography. These may involve actual dance actions as well as creative play and storytelling activities. The salient elements of each weekly dance play become reconstructed in the new dance play the next week under the child's direction.

In this way this environment enables the child to take us on their own personal journey sharing with us how they have experienced the world. Through this process my role as therapist is to uncover and integrate the child's felt-sense memories, concerns and action-based representations of their experiences by translating them into multilevel expressible understandings for the child. This therapeutic environment acts as a secure container for the child's expressions – a "holding" framework from which the child can experience a response to their movement language. A sense of wholeness and completion is felt by the child as their symbolic expressions are heard.

As the child receives recognition for their efforts and expressions, then they become receptive to engage in expanded movement exchanges. This mutual sharing of experiences provides a safe environment to explore alternative communicative methods while simultaneously encouraging growth in physical, emotional, and cognitive development.

What is Dance/Movement Psychotherapy?

Dance/movement therapy is a New York State licensed form of treatment recognized as a practice within Creative Arts Therapy (LCAT). Dance/movement therapy is an experiential form of psychotherapy that utilizes nonverbal movement observation, dance, music, play, multi-sensory and relaxation/meditative techniques for the assessment and intervention for all ages.

Dance/movement therapists have at least a Masters level degree training and are required to have 2 years of supervised training before they are able to conduct a private practice. The national dance/movement therapy association provides board certification to their senior dance/movement therapists (BC-DMT). In New York State all trained dance/movement therapists must now also have the credential of Licensed Creative Arts Therapist (LCAT). More information about training and dance/movement therapy are available at the national website

Dance Movement Psychotherapy

Based on the principle that body and mind are interrelated, dance movement psychotherapy is defined by the American Dance Therapy Association as "the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional and physical integration of the individual." In dance therapy the movement qualities and anatomical, postural structure of an individual's body are regarded as a reflection of emotional expression. Each individual's nonverbal movement style becomes the fundamental communicative tool. The actual tempo, rhythm and spatial orientation of the movement actions enhance the spoken dialogue. Becoming attentive to the qualities of a person's nonverbal cues provides a window into that person's experience, expression and development of their sense of self. These qualities include the rhythm, tempo, muscular tension, spatial pathway and amount of strength used to perform the movement sequence. Each individual's personal movement style is made up of a unique organization of these qualities.

One of the key therapeutic techniques in the field of dance movement psychotherapy is observing the expression of the body's movement qualities. By focusing on the essences of the body in motion, we can listen to its tune, gaining insight into how that individual organizes their experience of the world. Originally, this field developed from dancers' own experiences with using the power and the universality of dance to communicate. The drive to know oneself and to express the deepest feeling of self through the body by using dance and movement is primal, enabling the mover to cross the barrier of language. Experience is another element key to dance therapy technique. The dance therapist aims to help individuals use their bodies through dance and movement to express their experiences of relating, to and developing within, their surroundings. The postural qualities of a person's movements reflect the mover's sense of self on an interpersonal level. The way that the mover interacts with their environment is observable in how the mover then moves within that body posturing through the spatial environment.

During intervention, the therapist looks at the individual within this context of expression of self (body movement) in relationship to interaction with others (space). The dance therapist looks to see how the individual has coordinated all aspects of self - motoric, sensorial, verbal, emotional, cognitive - to communicate with and to interact with the surroundings. These observations are crucial even if the movement pattern that the person displays is not synergistic or efficient for that person's total functioning, or if it is influenced by an organic developmental difficulty.

Through movement interactions based on stimulating, exploring and expanding these observable patterns, new experiences in relating become possible. The improvisational atmosphere of each session supports the participant's free expressions while encouraging more social relatedness. As each person begins to experience their movements as a rich source, facilitating self expression, and social engagement, they also learns how to regulate their sensory system through body awareness supporting development in all areas. The knowledge a dance therapist brings from the understanding of the universally expressive qualities of movement provides crucial access to a person's body and mind. Understanding the expressive quality of movement, when combined with other traditional forms of treatment has been the greatest facilitator for change and therapeutic intervention.

Ways of Seeing Program

Dance Movement Psychotherapy for Children with Autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Asperger Syndrome

What is Dance/Movement Psychotherapy?

Dance movement psychotherapy is a New York State licensed form of treatment recognized as a practice within Creative Arts Therapy (LCAT). Dance movement psychotherapy is an experiential form of psychotherapy that utilizes nonverbal movement observation, dance, music, play, and multi-sensory techniques for the assessment, intervention and educational programming for children and their families. Because this method makes use of the body, and nonverbal experience as key elements of intervention, this form of treatment supports growth and integration of motoric, perceptual-motor, verbal processing skills, cognition and communication, along with social emotional development. The strong emphasis on the nonverbal analysis of the parent-child relationship enables the therapist to also assess the role the attachment relationship plays in the emotional and social aspects of the child's development.

Description of the Ways of Seeing Program for children on the spectrum

The Ways of Seeing program is child-centered providing each child with the opportunity to share thoughts and feelings in an atmosphere that is both fun and considerate of individual needs, communication styles and sensory sensitivities. The goal of Ways of Seeing is to support each child to feel seen, understood and listened to through creative explorations. Using dance/movement, music, play and body awareness activities as the key communicative tools, children are able to express themselves while simultaneously gaining skills in communication, self–regulation and social interaction. The music, dance and art-related activities support peer social relationships as the ASD children learn about each other by sharing through creative self-expression. These activities support the development of intersubjectivity, by helping children learn to think about and read the nonverbal expressions, thoughts and feelings of their peers by following and responding to their actions, dance moves, and musical dialogues. At the core of the program is the belief that all nonverbal actions have the potential to be communications.

Ways of Seeing Programs Available

Both individual psychotherapeutic and group sessions are available. There are four types of programs:

  • Wellness creative dance/movement classes for typically developing children.
  • Integrated wellness creative dance/movement classes for typical children
    with children with special needs.
  • Dyadic and small group multisensory dance/movement-based social skills groups for children
    with special concerns.
  • Individual dance/movement psychotherapy sessions – which may also include parents
    and other family members.

You can read more about Dr. Tortora's work with children along the Autism Spectrum in her book The Dancing Dialogue: Using the Communicative Power of Movement with Young Children (2011) Paul H. Brookes Publishers and in Malcolm Gladwell's book What the Dog Saw: and other adventures (2009).

Adult Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy/Stress Reduction/Chronic Pain Conditions

Adults come to dance movement psychotherapy with a wide range of concerns. Many people are interested in working with a more experiential psychotherapy. In this process both verbal and nonverbal processes are used to examine the link between an individual's emotional and physical self. Nonverbal activities may include using dance, movement, music, breath, relaxation, and the awareness of nonverbal expressions, as a way to uncover and examine their metaphoric significance in an individual's life experience.

This is an especially useful approach for stress reduction, and stress related physical issues such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and rehabilitation from injury. In this context the adult gains awareness about how their pain literally and metaphorically influences their life.

First a movement analysis is performed to determine the individual's movement range, coordination and mobility. Through activities that focus on proper alignment, muscular tension-release & relaxation, increased body awareness is developed.

Working from the concept that the mind, emotions and body form a continuum, each impacting the other, the individual is then guided to explore conscious and unconscious images, metaphors, and experiences they associate with their pain and emotional stress. These images are then explored through dance, movement, body awareness activities, music and verbal discussion to bring further insight to their personal meaning.

Through this process the individual has new awareness of their pain/stress, gaining information about the role their pain is playing in their total functioning. From this knowledge the individual develops tools to feel more in control of the pain/stress in their daily life. This enables the individual to become more comfortable in their body, positively affecting their body image, emotional lives, and physical functioning. As they expand their movement repertoire, they will develop skill in managing and reducing their pain and stress.