Rider University to offer concentration in dance movement therapy

Graduates will be prepared to become licensed counselors and registered dance/movement therapists
Keith Fernbach

Beginning in the fall of 2019, Rider University will begin offering a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with a Dance/Movement Therapy (D/MT) concentration.

Graduates of the program will have the educational requirements for licensure as counselors and will qualify for the entry-level credential as registered dance/movement therapists (R-DMT). The curriculum is aligned to be approved by the American Dance Therapy Association. Currently, only seven programs nationally that hold this distinction.

“Graduates can practice essentially in either discipline or in a combination of both. They can build their own unique practice using the dance modality, but can also do some talk therapy,” says Dr. Christina Peterson, chair of the Department of Graduate Education, Leadership, and Counseling. "This program is ideal for those who have always had an interest in mental health, but who also have a passion for dance and the arts."

The premise of dance/movement therapy is that the mind and body are not dichotomous, says Eri Millrod, a board certified dance/movement therapist and co-creator of the program. During her 25-year career, she has served on the task force that worked with New Jersey state legislators to create a license for D/MT practitioners, and currently works at Princeton House Behavioral Health.

Dance and movement are inherently conducive to therapy, says Dr. Kim Chandler Vaccaro, associate professor of dance.

“Traditional cognitive behavioral therapy is predicated on the idea that people can talk about what’s wrong with them, even though that’s often not the case,” she says. “But everybody moves. They don’t necessarily have to be dancers, but their movement exhibits dynamics and tensions that, once examined, can be catalysts for further therapeutic work.”

Students enrolled in the program will be required to complete 60 credits of coursework, as well as 800 hours of fieldwork. Prospective students are not required to have an undergraduate degree in either dance or psychology, however, there is a dance audition as part of the application process.

“We’re not looking for performance-level skill in dance. What we are looking for is an individual’s connection to the body, awareness of movement and the meaning of movement, and their ability to communicate through movement,” Peterson says.

Dance/movement therapy developed into a mental health profession during the 1940s as demand for psychiatric care increased with the return of veterans from World War II. It is now used to treat people suffering from a wide range of disorders, including disordered eating, addictions, dementia, autism, post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety.  Dance/movement therapists work in psychiatric hospitals, medical facilities, rehabilitation centers, schools, nursing homes, prisons, and drug treatment centers, as well as in private practice.

Millrod has seen firsthand the positive effects dance movement therapy can have.

“I remember one client in particular who said to me, ‘Thank you. I feel like I finally got to say through dance what I couldn’t say all my life.’ That was so moving to me. We’re expected to express ourselves verbally — she couldn’t express what it was like to be mentally ill, yet she was self-aware enough to know that she had this illness and that she couldn’t convey to others what she was feeling.”

For more information about the program, please visit