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Dance and Art Therapy

Recreational therapy, including specialties in dance and art, may be the ideal way to combine a love of dance, art, or music with the desire to make a difference in the lives of others.

Therapy rooted in art and self-expression provides an outlet for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Successful music, dance, and art therapists possess a number of special aptitudes to facilitate that process. Recreational therapists must also be sensitive, patient, emotionally stable, and able to work well with different kinds of people.

Therapists are employed in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals and clinics, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, correctional facilities, crisis centers, and others. They also work with all age groups and demographics.

After assessing the needs of each client, the therapist designs a plan and provides the indicated treatment. In music therapy, this includes creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music to strengthen cognitive abilities, alleviate pain, and improve self-esteem, among other things.  

Dance therapy involves using movement to help people deal with physical, emotional, or social problems. Therapists help people integrate their emotional and physical needs to relieve stress, build confidence, and overcome emotional problems.

Art therapists use art media, images, and the creative process to help people cope with illness or other challenges. The art therapist’s job might include helping people deal with emotional conflicts, develop social skills and self-awareness, and reduce anxiety through the use of creative exercises and assessments.

The education of recreational therapists is unique among college multidisciplinary programs because it allows a thorough study of art, dance, or music, along with behavioral sciences. Combined, these two areas of study allow students to understand where patients are coming from. Most students start by gaining significant experience in the discipline while also earning their undergraduate degree. Entry-level recreational therapists need a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation or in recreation with a concentration in therapeutic recreation.

With music therapy, the curriculum is designed to build entry-level skills in several areas, including musical and clinical foundations, and the principles of psychology. After completing academic and clinical requirements, prospective music therapists must also pass the exam offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists.

Dance and art therapists can become certified through the American Dance Therapy Association or the American Art Therapy Association, after completing enough hours of supervised clinical experience. Students may also be able to combine master’s-level study in dance or movement therapy with course work in a related field like counseling or social work.

Most practicing therapists hold a master’s degree in music, dance, or art therapy. Lists of accredited graduate programs can be found through the professional organizations listed at the end of this article. 

Job growth is excellent; the need for recreational therapists is expected to increase 15% by 2018, faster than the average for all occupations because of the needs of an aging population. Regarding music therapy, there are currently more jobs available than there are therapists to fill them. The demand for experienced, qualified dance and art therapists is also growing. About 24% work in nursing care facilities, while other primary places of employment include residential care facilities, hospitals, and government agencies.

The median wage for general recreational therapists is about $42,280, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You can learn more through the following organizations: American Art Therapy Association, www.arttherapy.org; American Dance Therapy Association, www.adta.org; American Music Therapy Association, www.musictherapy.org.

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