Interview with Dance Movement Psychotherapist (DMP) Claire M. Perriam

What brought you to Dance Movement Psychotherapy work?

My work as a DMP began after a lengthy career as a dancer and choreographer in the commercial and private sector. This work was fulfilling and exciting but I was ready for new challenges and wanted to offer more to my local community. A career that fitted around being a mother of two was appealing and working within the educational system was perfect as a mother, but also within a supportive framework with others to create the most value for clients. I was drawn to the therapeutic use of dance and movement, as I found it utilised both mind and body, with an emphasis equally shared between moving and verbalising. I was impressed by the use of DMP in the arena of Mental Health, (eg. Children with special needs, the elderly with dementia and adult mental health care).

This led me to study for an MA in DMP at Roehampton University. We were encouraged to absorb the theories surrounding the uses of the mind body connection from Freud to Jung, to child developmental theories. This study aroused my curiosity, offering an intriguing exploration into its therapeutic uses. I discovered this to be a vast subject.

My exploration led me to explore the numerous theories for conditions and outcomes for DMP. One of the American pioneers for DMP Marion Chace put it simply saying “I am merely the person creating a favourable situation for others to make use of the dance” which in a way oversimplifies the many layers to the framework that constitutes the foundations of DMP.

Some of my chosen foundations are from theories proposed by Sandel (1978). She is a contemporary DMP who proposes that we develop multiple empathic cues from both verbal and non-verbal cues in a non-judgemental atmosphere. Empathy is also ascribed to by Carl Rogers (1951) as one of the key conditions for therapy. Empathy is deemed a critical condition for healing (eg. Chaiklin, 1975; Fromm-Reichman, 1950; Moreno, 1946; Rogers,1951; Sullivan, 1953)

Talking a little more on empathy within DMP it can manifest by the therapist mirroring or developing the movements of clients, or responding with and to action, pattern, image or sound,  (Sandel, 1978). It is a very intuitive process of being with a client and allowing and encouraging personal process.

The immense importance of group work therapy theories, especially those of Yalom (1975) have informed my current practice as a DMP.  He has covered extensively how group process can unfold and also its curative factors, such as socialisation, universality, imitative behaviour and instillation of hope.

These eclectic theories have helped to form a framework from which to view and review my current practice.

Where are you currently employed?

Employment gradually grew alongside my experience. First placements during university, within mental health care in hospitals, were a learning curve. I also started as a DMP in residential and day care units for the elderly with Dementia and Alzheimer, later graduating to work with children in secure educational units, at times with groups and at times individually. This body of experience informs my present work..

My work now takes me into areas of education working with children with special and profound needs. At present I am working for a charity called icandance, which has a broad spectrum of diagnoses for children with Autism, Downs Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. Many experience epilepsy with varied degrees of severity. Icandance works in schools, for children with special needs and runs a Saturday School too. The age group of the children participating rises from infant, to adolescent, to young adult. This culminates at the end of the school year with a big show, which includes all the children.

I am also currently involved in a 10 week research project by consultant Frank Roricht on the use of DMP with schizophrenia.

As you can see I have been taken into challenging areas, and worked in places I never imagined existed such as the educational secure units for infants and adolescents, working with special needs and undertaking big performances, and undertaking research, which is a privilege to further the spotlight on the amazing uses and outcomes of DMP in society.

What have you contributed?

At present what I have hoped to contribute is within the expected goals and outcomes of therapy, such as being with, mirroring, expansion of movement vocabulary and a sense of group. Inclusive for me is also the basic tenet that within icandance the children are having fun, the most therapeutic factor of all.

The goals with these children are both physical and behavioural, as well as encouraging group awareness and participation, for the younger children basic skills such as turn taking, independent creative movement and simply tolerating being in a group is growth for some on the more autistic spectrum. I have watched the almost magical, alchemical developments take place in these goals for many children. Many similar goals are taken into different populations as well.

The work with adults from different populations has outcomes that are worked towards with the client, if they are able to communicate verbally. So it could be on the comfort or discomfort of working in a group for example with relational distance whilst moving, perhaps encouraging eye-contact or tolerating being in the room for the whole session. The goals and outcomes are richly varied.

On a more global landscape the charity icandance endeavours to build awareness within the local community by inclusion of children with special needs in mainstream schools. We have disability awareness days run by icandance, to encourage deeper respect and understanding and perhaps encouraging deeper understanding of difference and encouraging contribution in whatever form within the local community through the non-verbal, universal language of movement and dance.

To sum up to move to music is ancient, primal and universal, it is a unique way in which to reach difficult populations, where the clients may find simply verbalising extremely difficult or impossible. I am passionate about DMP, becoming better known as a more global intervention, as well as on many levels within the community. I have experienced the great value that it can bring with its multi-layered approach to both the mind and body for so many people.


Chaiklin, H. (Ed ) (1975).  Marian Chace her papers, Columbia, MD:     American Dance Therapy Association.

Fromm-Reichman, F. (1950). Principles of intensive psychotherapy.      Chigago: University of Chigago Press.

Moreno, J. L. (1946.)  Psychodrama (Vol 1) NY: Beacon House.

Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-centred therapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Sandel, S. L. (1978). The Process of Empathic Reflection in Dance Therapy.  (Ed)  Chaiklin, Marian Chace Foundation.

Sullivan, H. S. (1953). The interpersonal theory of psychiatry. New York: Norton.

Yalom, I. D. (1975).  The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.


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