Standards and Ethics in Clinical Practice: Ethical Issues in Dance/Movement Therapy- Ruta Pai

Ruta Pai

Masters of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Dance/Movement Therapy

Expressive Therapies Division

Lesley University

The American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) defines dance/movement therapy as the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual. One of the most controversial ethical issues in Dance/Movement Therapy is the use of touch. In the context of therapy, touch may provide safety; support the client’s grounding, organisation, and regulation; establish body boundaries; facilitate self-awareness, human connection, and group cohesion; comfort and ease pain (Ethics, ADTA, p.6). In my opinion, the appropriateness of the use of touch differs according to the various therapeutic settings as well. For example, it might be acceptable to give a hug to a client in a Hospice than in a state prison (Dannunzio, 2016). Furthermore, it is also essential for a Dance/Movement therapist to take into consideration the specific rules, regulations and ethics of the setting when it comes to the use of touch. The treatment culture or the culture of the client also needs to be taken into consideration before initiating any kind of physical contact with the client during the therapeutic process.

Both American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) and The United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP), covers an entire section on the ethics related to the use of touch. According to the USABP code of ethics, “the use of touch may make clients especially vulnerable, body-oriented therapists pay particular attention to the potential for dependent, infantile or erotic transference and seek healthy containment rather than therapeutically inappropriate accentuation of these states.” According to ADTA code of ethics related to the use of touch, “1.5. c. Dance/movement therapists address the parameters of touch in an oral or written informed consent process and engage touch as agreed upon. Such consent includes the client right to refrain from touch or change the agreement at any time”. However, there might be instances when issues related to touch that the client was unaware of, may come up during the therapy despite having signed a written informed consent. Under such circumstances, shifting the direction of the therapy from the therapeutic process to create an informed consent regarding the issue related to a specific touch that has come up in the session may also disrupt the flow of the session.

Furthermore, there are also ethical issues related to offering a distance service of Dance/Movement Therapy. ADTA includes a separate section that covers the Ethical Considerations in Dance/Movement Therapy and Technology. There are several issues surrounding the provision of Dance/Movement Therapy using technology. There is a possibility that the therapy is so deep, personal and body-oriented that it is likely to lose its authenticity in distance therapy. Certain unexpected technical issues may also disrupt the flow of the therapy especially in the middle of a session when a client is trying to express something very deep and personal.

In addition to this, since movement therapy requires enough space to move which may not always be available for a client during a distance therapy. Therefore, the therapist may have to alter the movement structures which would fit well with the distance therapy. As a result of this, it limits the movement repertoire of the client and may restrict the client from reaching his/her full potential of movement expression due to the logistics. Another ethical issue related to distance Dance/Movement Therapy is the documentation of the videos for analysing the movement patterns of the client. Taking into consideration how unsafe and insecure the information on the digital devices can be these days, there is an ethical issue circled around the safe transmission of video of the client’s movements.

Last but not the least, in case of providing distance Dance/Movement Therapy services, it is essential that the therapist communicates the boundaries and the risks (privacy, limited access to visual cues) regarding the e-communication. In order to safeguard the client’s information it is essential for the therapist to find out a way in which the client can confirm his/her identity before beginning every session. In addition to the informed consent, a therapist must also create a contract explicitly for the e-therapy practices so the client can get a clear idea about the ethics of therapy as well as the ethics of e-therapy (Ethical Considerations in Dance/Movement Therapy and Technology, 2018).



USABP Code of Ethics. (n.d.). Retrieved from

The use of touch in dance/movement therapy. (2016, May 29). Retrieved from

Ethics | ADTA. (n.d.). Retrieved from 75F48911C816910073644991D7C68C1&rd=1&h=pgQHZUCRSsbx5UusjoDnLkiiP QuG3GfgZ1dG43v9XHA&v=1&r=,5532.1

Ethical Considerations in Dance/Movement Therapy and Technology (n.d.). Retrieved from 1FF9494FA61533D88F39C950760FC&rd=1&h=LvIE723O6p1YKekf1nJP7xac7qR 25H8Vozd54Pg0LsE&v=1&r=,5549.1

Ruta Pai is currently pursuing her second year of Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with specialization in Dance/Movement Therapy from Lesley University, Massachusetts. She holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Savitribai Phule Pune University. She has worked with elderly and young children using Dance/Movement Therapy as a tool to enhance their psychological well-being and creativity respectively. She has recently worked as a Dance/Movement therapy intern at an assisted living center in Cambridge, Massachusetts and has conducted group and individual Dance/Movement therapy sessions for elderly with Dementia and Alzheimer’s for over a year. She also has experience in conducting group Dance/Movement therapy sessions for children with Cortical Visual Impairment and Multiple Disabilities at the Perkins School for the blind, Watertown, Massachusetts. Her aim is to bring more awareness about the art-based therapies and to equip people with more creative resources to focus on holistic well-being. 

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