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Dance/Movement Therapy for Eating Disorders: Q&A with Susan Kleinman

Today, I’m very pleased to present my interview with Susan Kleinman, the dance/movement therapist for The Renfrew Center of Florida, a women’s mental health center that specializes in eating disorders, depression, anxiety and trauma.

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

Below, Susan talks about DMT, its benefits and how readers can try some of the techniques at home.

Here’s more about Susan:

Susan, MA, BC-DMT, NCC, is a trustee of the Marian Chace Foundation, a past president of the American Dance Therapy Association, and a past Chair of The National Coalition for Creative Arts Therapies. She is a co-editor of The Renfrew Center Foundation’s Healing Through Relationship, serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, and has published extensively on the use of dance/movement therapy in the treatment of eating disorders. She was the American Dance Therapy Association recipient of the 2009 Outstanding Achievement Award, and is a frequent presenter at national and international conferences.

Q: You’ve said that dance/movement therapy is “a little like talking through your body — quite different from talking only through your ‘head.’” Can you tell us more about what you mean and how dance/movement therapy works?

A: The language of the body is essentially our “native language.” It is the language we are born speaking. However, as we grow and develop we tend to count more on our intellectual and verbal language as expression.  It has been said that approximately 93 percent of all communication is nonverbal. So when we ignore our feelings we are rejecting an important part of ourselves.

Sufferers of eating disorders (ED) tend to avoid connecting in their bodies by “numbing out” and turning to ED behaviors as a way of coping. In dance/movement therapy, I help women reconnect with their “native language” by experiencing and expressing feelings and identifying the connection between what they discover and metaphorically, how they move through life.

Guiding them in moving in their bodies, I facilitate the experiences and actually participate with them so that I too can understand more regarding what they are feeling.  These experiences are explored in a variety of ways including nonverbal and verbal reflection.

Q: You’ve written extensively on using dance/movement therapy in eating disorder treatment. What has your research revealed?

A: All my efforts have been clinical, however, I can tell you from my experiences and those I have worked with, that there is “treatment based evidence” that this method has great benefits for those who suffer from an eating disorder. These include:

  • Experiencing a stronger connection with their body.
  • Experiencing rather then suppressing feelings and body sensations.
  • Developing the ability to trust their feelings and sensations.
  • Discovering the connection between how they move through life and problems they are facing that may underlie their ED.
  • Recognizing the relevance of the reciprocal relationship between body and mind.
  • Increasing awareness of and understanding of the importance of living in one’s body.
  • Processing of the non-verbal metaphors and emerging feelings that can lead to insights and new coping skills.

Q: Are there certain techniques from dance/movement therapy that readers can try at home?

A: I’d like to answer this question in two parts that emphasize the reciprocal relationship between body and mind.

a) I use what I call Cognitive Markers to help the women I see explore what they are feeling. The CMs provide a guide for journaling about one’s experiences.  [MT: With Susan’s permission, I’m posting this worksheet on Thursday.]

b) Dance expresses our joy, calms our fears, tames our anxieties and eases our loneliness. Each time we jump for joy, walk hand in hand with someone, or raise our hand in protest, we are experiencing a dance about life. Some suggestions follow to help you renew and revitalize your relationship with your body and yourself.

1. When you awaken in the morning, stretch like a kitten and give yourself a few moments, awake but at rest, before you get out of bed.

2. Play music that you like when you’re getting yourself ready to start the day. This may help you connect with the rhythm of the music and in turn with your own rhythm.

3. Choose specific music to facilitate motivation, calming or another experience that will enrich your day. For example, you might want to combine the experience of a soothing bubble bath with classical or new age music that you enjoy. While you’re lying in the tub, play with the bubbles, stretch your muscles, tense and relax or just enjoy yourself at rest.

4. If you have children (or know children) play with them, experience your own spontaneity and notice how they experience moving about. See if it is easier to experience your playful side when you are with them.

5. If you have a pet, play with your pet and see what effect this experience has on you.

6. Use your creativity to find ways to move that feel good to you. These could include dancing, bicycling, playing ball or even the process of baking a cake. By paying attention to your “inner dance” you will be able to determine which experiences are soothing and satisfying for you.

Susan, thank you so much for your insight into dance/movement therapy! Stay tuned tomorrow for part two!

What are your thoughts on DMT? Have you ever tried this type of therapy? If you feel comfortable, please feel free to share your experiences below.

Dance/Movement Therapy for Eating Disorders: Q&A with Susan Kleinman

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2010). Dance/Movement Therapy for Eating Disorders: Q&A with Susan Kleinman. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Sep 2010
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