Dance/Movement Therapy: A Unique and Enjoyable Approach to Support Children with Cancer

Dance/movement therapy can help children cope with their cancer experience.
Dance/movement therapy can help children cope with their cancer experience.

Typically, childhood is filled with laughter, dance, play, and unfiltered blissful movement. But children who suffer from cancer and childhood diseases have a different experience, one that is filled with hospitals, tests, pain, and restricted movement.

Lori Baudino, PsyD, BC-DMT, a licensed clinical psychologist and board certified dance/movement therapist offers children a way to cope with the psychological and emotional toll that accompanies childhood illness and returns a small piece of childhood happiness through a unique approach called dance/movement therapy.

Dance/movement therapy was introduced into western medicine in the 1940s and is the therapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration of the person.1,2 It is founded on the premise that the mind, body, and spirit are connected and that the body can heal itself through movement. Dance/movement therapy encourages patients to move, fosters body awareness, and allows for the expression of emotions through movement. This has been found to improve mood, body image, and overall quality of life.1 For children, it offers a distraction for that day, an opportunity for laughter and play, and a safe haven to share experiences and concerns.3, 4

Dr Baudino provides dance/movement therapy at Children's Hospital Los Angeles through the Andrea Rizzo Foundation, a nonprofit organization that offers grants to hospitals and schools to provide a qualified dance/movement therapist to children with cancer and childhood illness.

Dance/movement therapy does not always include dance. “What I advocate for them to see is that I'm not expecting them to do anything. They are already moving, whether it's their eyes blinking, their heart rate, their breathing, or their body shifting in their seat. Everything is movement. How they are experiencing their environment is movement,” explained Dr Baudino in an interview with Oncology Nurse Advisor. “What's so incredible is that when I show them they are already capable of moving and they are moving, there's so much acceptance, and so much excitement about the control that they have, that they are capable. Then across the board, what's so magical is they do tend to move more,” continued Dr Baudino as she chuckled in fascination. “Just with that permission, to not have to do something for someone else. So it's just kind of giving them this understanding that you don't have to be anything other than what you are.”

Indeed, dance movement therapies are tailored to individual patients and can look different each day. Some sessions might just be sitting and doing relaxation exercises; others might include going on a pretend journey where you are moving your body. Others may include looking at specific movements and noticing the location of pain. In each case, the session begins by acknowledging the body, the parts that are moving and the parts that are not moving and helping the patient to link these movements with what he/she might be experiencing physically or emotionally.

Dr Baudino does not use dance/movement therapy as physical therapy, but rather as psychological or emotional therapy. Still some physical benefits are observed. “They might change in terms of smiling or feeling more relaxed or their breath changes, where they are more regulated and calm. I'm seeing children being able to increase movement range, where they felt like they can't move and they seem to be restricted,” explained Dr Baudino. “I'm not moving them, but they are increasing their range of movement, their flexibility, their strength.”

“What I also see, with children especially, is with increased movement comes increased language. That's that foundation, that building block, where once you have that full range of movement you have this way of feeling regulated and supported. Then you can articulate it, use that executive functioning, and communicate more,” said Dr Baudino. Once that communication is established, Dr Baudino and the patient problem solve together to discern a plan for coping or handling pain, but ultimately the patient leads the solutions.

Dr Baudino, who once tap-danced her grade-school book report, is passionate about dance/movement therapy and about helping her patients. “When there's a challenge point, it's just my job to try to find out, like a detective, what process works for the family, what will support them,” Dr Baudino explained.

She described a couple moments she experienced at the hospital prior to our interview. “It's those moments, where I'm having a child be able to see that they are capable, and there's this little gleam in their eye, and they say to me, ‘I didn't know that I could do that. I didn't know I could move. I didn't know I had someone that could hear my feelings.' You know even if a kid can be very angry and upset, that I'm still there when they're being that way. I've had too many incredible sessions.”

Dr Baudino also runs a private practice. To find a dance/movement therapist near you visit the American Dance Therapy Association Web site.


Tiffany Garbutt is a medical writer based in Cary, North Carolina. 

References

1. Baudino L. The best way to help your child – introducing dance/movement therapy [video]. YouTube Web site. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYH8FZTG338. Published June 5, 2016. Accessed March 9, 2017.

2. What is dance/movement therapy? American Dance Therapy Association Web site. https://adta.org/faqs/. Accessed March 9, 2017.

3. UCLA Health. Dance movement therapy | Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA [video]. YouTube Web site. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3o2ii5rEaI&spfreload=1. Published January 19, 2016. Accessed March 9, 2017.

4. UCLA Health. Dance Movement Therapy at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA [video]. YouTube Web site. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4KkQkv3vKk. Published February 8, 2011. Accessed March 9, 2017.

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