eNewsletter - June 2016

Behavioral Health Partners


Dance and Movement Therapy
Wei-Chiung Chen-Martinez, MA, R-DMT & Ashlea Palafox, BS

“I saw a flashback and I thought I had to run and hide. But, I followed your voice and I feel grounded and calm now. It is the first time that I feel okay after seeing it [a trauma flashback].”  These are the words of a patient after she shared her trauma experience through dancing, moving, embodying, voicing, and meditating in a dance/movement therapy (DMT) group. 

According to the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA), dance/movement therapy is defined as “the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual” (ADTA, 2016). 

DMT has been used in different therapeutic settings as a psychotherapeutic modality of treatment since the 1940s. It is rooted in the concept of a body-mind connection, which fosters healing processes, promotes body awareness, increases positive socialization, and improves relationships with yourself and others. 

DMT has been shown to benefit people with mental illnesses, intellectual disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse issues, as well as survivors of brain injury and trauma. DMT can also be used for people who just want to deepen their sense of self though the modality of dance.

Dance/movement therapy in behavioral health treatment

DMT is used in both inpatient and outpatient behavioral health programs and with many different populations. At Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, we incorporate DMT into all our programs for our adult, adolescent and geriatric populations. DMT is even used with specialized populations including patients with Aspergers and anxiety/mood disorders, chemical dependency issues, self-injury concerns, and eating disorders. 

Below is a collection of patient statements after experiencing DMT:

  • I forgot I have a body.
  • I can soothe myself. It’s empowering to realize this.
  • Now I know how to calm myself down when I’m anxious.
  • I can finally breathe.
  • I see my body as a boxing bag when I have self-harm urges, but now I am more connected to my body and have peace.
  • This is the first time I’ve felt genuinely happy in years.
  • I haven’t hugged myself or kissed my body for a long time. It looks funny, but I feel something in me.

Dance/movement therapy myths

Typically when first approached, many behavioral health patients are hesitant to participate in a DMT class. As DMT therapists, the objections we commonly hear from patients are:  “I don’t dance,” “I don’t know how to dance,” “I don’t want to dance in front of others,” or “I have pain and I can’t move too much.”  

However, we are careful to explain the differences between traditional dance class and DMT. That is, a DMT session is not a dance class where you learn and perfect dance techniques or aim to increase fitness goals. 

Instead, a DMT session provides a safe space for patients to connect and learn how to safely cope with their emotions. It is an expressive, creative and functional approach to connecting with therapy. 

For example, a patient with self-harm behaviors can be led through a session of decelerating movements that help them reconnect to their breathing. This can help increase feelings of stability, self-compassion and inner peace — and ultimately help to soothe self-harm urges.  

What do dance/movement therapy groups look like?

A typical DMT session takes place in a group therapy setting with a facilitator. It includes:

  • Structured stretching and warm-up incorporates all parts of the body to improve body awareness
  • Movement and dance happens within a circular formation while using interventions, such as creating movement representing one’s mood or embodying other’s movement qualities
  • Movement responses are elicited through guided imagery, props and improvisation
  • Groups are led through verbal processing up until the end of the session to elicit body responses in relationship to emotional processes
  • Relaxation and meditation techniques are incorporated to create an inner safe place and rediscover peace of mind

Dance/movement therapy and recovery

DMT not only provides a body-mind connection but also helps patients develop their sense of self through expanding movement repertoire and neuronal patterns in the brain (Siegel, 1999). It has been suggested that “if a certain pattern has been stimulated in the past, the probability of activating a similar profile in the future is enhanced.” (1999, p. 24). This could take place through firing and connecting the neurons to create a neuronal firing pattern because of the concept of neuroplasticity. 

For example, a patient with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) explored rhythmic movement inspired by the image of a cat and rediscovered joy, laughter and safety for the first time in six years. This experience showed that joy is possible and can be accessed again in the future. 

This concept was validated by a DMT pioneer, Trudy Schoop, who said, “If psychoanalysis brings about a change in the mental attitude, there should be a corresponding physical change. If dance therapy brings about a change in the body’s behavior, there should be a corresponding change in the mind. Both methods aim to change the total human, mind and body” (Bartenieff, 2002, p. 141).


  • American Dance Therapy Association (2016). What is dance/movement therapy? Retrieved from www.adta.org
  • Bartenieff, I (2002). Body movement: Coping with the environment. New York, NY. Routledge.
  • Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind: Toward a neurobiology of interpersonal experience. New York, NY: Guilford Press. 

Wei-Chiung (Coco) Chen-Martinez, MA, R-DMT, GL-CMA
Wei-Chiung is originally from Taiwan and a graduate of Columbia College Chicago. Wei-Chiung currently serves as Vice-President of Illinois American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) Chapter. Wei-Chiung works as a dance/movement therapist serving inpatient geriatric and adult patients with acute mental illness as well as adults and adolescents with eating disorders at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health. Wei-Chiung practiced DMT in many settings including Chicago public housing residents, adults with chronic mental illness, adults with brain injury, and children with cerebral palsy and vision impairment.

Ashlea Palafox, BS
Ashlea is originally from Fort Worth, TX, received her Bachelors of Science degree in dance at Texas State University. She spent five years living in New York City as a professional modern dancer. Ashlea is currently finishing her master’s thesis to complete her Masters of Arts degree in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling at Columbia College Chicago. Ashlea works as an expressive therapist at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health and Chicago Lakeshore Hospital serving various populations including children, adolescents, adults, and older adults within the inpatient psychiatric setting. 



The Therapeutic Benefits of Adult Coloring Books

Not just for small children, adult coloring books have become increasingly popular in recent years. Many publishers are capitalizing on this popularity and creating special adult coloring books for those looking to relax from the increasing amount of stress in everyday life. The use of art and coloring has also been a widely-used technique in the treatment of mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, for some time.

World renowned psychiatrist, Carl Jung is said to have often prescribed coloring to his patients to calm and center their minds. Coloring is commonly used to combat anxiety, but it may also have the potential to improve motor skills and mindfulness, and to combat other symptoms of mental health disorders. 

"Because it’s a centering activity, the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that is involved with our fear response, actually gets a little bit of a rest, and it ultimately has a really calming effect over time," said Ben Michaelis, a clinical psychologist based in New York. 

The use of a coloring book may have added benefits over coloring without a book. A 2005 study from Knox College showed that people who colored in mandalas (round frames with geometric patterns inside) exhibited lower levels of stress and anxiety, compared with people who colored on a blank piece of paper. 

Those who engage in coloring, either in groups or individually, swear by its therapeutic effects on anxiety and stress. “As a pastor, I am fascinated by how easily coloring becomes meditative,” said Dee Ledger, a former English teacher and hospice chaplain. “By selecting colors and working with the design, I find that I can lose myself in ways that are healing and creative.”

Other research has explored the use of coloring books in the treatment of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. In these studies, coloring books are used in conjunction with general art therapy. Art therapy, according to the American Art Therapy Association, can be used to explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, manage behavior, develop social skills and reduce anxiety in behavioral health patients. 

Art therapy treatment, including the integration of coloring activities, is prevalent in programming at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health. Art therapy sessions are facilitated by qualified master’s level art therapists in outpatient and inpatient programs. Elizabeth Gardner, supervisor of rehab services at Linden Oaks, notes that patients who participate in art therapy sessions learn to express themselves through nonverbal means; learn skills to aid in grounding, mindfulness and containment; and use creativity to help heal from mental health issues such as anxiety, among other conditions. 

Coloring can have overwhelmingly positive benefits for those with mental health issues if used in the right context, according to Drena Fagen, an art therapist and an adjunct instructor at New York University’s Steinhardt School, who has used coloring books in art therapy sessions.

“Any creative endeavor that can in some way help somebody discover something about themselves or find a space that makes them feel safe and comfortable or allows them an opportunity to be with their own thoughts, I don’t see how we can criticize that,” she said.

Whether used as a relaxing tool at home or as a therapeutic technique in a professional behavioral health setting, adult coloring books are a helpful tool to reduce stress, decrease anxiety and increase mindfulness.