How does dance help mental health?

“I think dance is an incredibly personal thing,” Shetterly said. “Dance and people connect to the physical self, but not the soul in the same way. The soul is the mental side of you and can help with emotional issues, but dancing helps with that, too.”

While Shetterly said dance helps create a fun social environment, it also has been studied with the help of MDMA, or “ecstasy,” a psychotherapy agent. MDMA helps participants relax, while simultaneously creating a state of bliss with a dance. “The brain is much more connected in that way than with drugs,” Shetterly said.

But while Shetterly said that the use of dance therapy is being evaluated by a “small but growing number of therapists,” MDMA as a therapeutic agent has only been approved for those 15 to 45 years of age. “Until then there is no specific research that we have done on the treatment of anxiety,” Shetterly said.

What’s next for dance therapy?

“There’s a good possibility that we’ll see more therapists using dance therapy as part of their therapy as the world around us continues to evolve, I see that happening soon,” Shetterly said.

The first phase of dancers-as-dementia professionals has already begun at a retreat focused on cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of therapy that focuses on changing the way people think through behaviors, and using dance as a means of doing so.

In addition to helping with the emotional aspect of anxiety, therapists at Dance Therapy Institute are teaching about the brain, moods and emotions. “We’re trying to figure out what causes sadness and anxiety, because if you don’t know, it’s hard to change,” Shetterly said. “How do you know if you’re happy? You look at the people around you who are happy. We’re trying to figure out what the brain thinks about.”

Dancing could also provide relief for the sufferers of dementia, and it could help in the recovery process in general, Shetterly said. “I’ve known dancers who are recovering from dementia,” he said. “They’re going to have the time and energy to do what they choose to do in that time period. This can make a huge difference.”

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