By Karolina Bryl, PhD, R-DMT/DMP, CMA, RSMT/E, Suzi Tortora, EdD, LCAT, LMHC, BC-DMT, Jyothirmai Gubili, and Latisha Andre-Jones, MSN, RN, CPNP

Dance/movement therapy (DMT) is an integrative symptom management modality that uses the elements of dance and movement along with other body-focused activities, including guided imagery, mindfulness, breath awareness, and therapeutic play to support self-expression and promote well-being. Defined by the American Dance Therapy Association as “the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual,” DMT has been used in pediatric cancer settings. However, data on its delivery and outcomes are limited.

For a new study published in Current Oncology, researchers analyzed chart record data for 100 pediatric patients, selected randomly, who received 1,160 DMT treatments at their institution between 2011 and 2021 to identify reasons for referral to DMT, DMT visit characteristics, key techniques and processes, and clinician-reported outcomes.

The majority of patients were female (63%), White (64%), and not Hispanic or Latino (83%), with a mean age of 8.24 (± 6.26) years. Their common cancer types were neuroblastoma (45%), sarcoma (16%), leukemia (13%), and lymphoma (11%). The top two reasons for referral were psychological distress (including anxiety, stress, and depression) and pain, regardless of the setting (93.3% inpatient versus 52.9% outpatient) or visit type (72.5% new visits versus 78.4% follow-up visits). Other reasons for referral were psychological or developmental support, end-of-life care, or fatigue. A typical session lasted 15–25 minutes, and patients often received a follow-up service.

Notably, clinicians reported that their patients exhibited enhanced coping with the hospital experience (58%) and self-regulation (21%) following DMT sessions. Improvements were also reported in pain management (27%) and increased physical activity (13.2%). Caregivers were present during 43.7% of visits, with 5.5% of visits dedicated to caregiver education and support, leading to reduced caregiver burden (16%) and enhanced parent-child relationship (0.9%).

Qualitative analysis of DMT visit notes revealed four main processes through which DMT exerts its salutary effects:

  • Self-expression and meaning-making
  • Emotional self-regulation (e.g., feeling identification, processing and validation, creative expression)
  • Embodied coping strategies (e.g., relaxation, anxiety reduction activities, distraction)
  • Socialization and caregiver-child interaction

The researchers concluded that further research is needed to expand the evidence base surrounding DMT and ultimately facilitate its integration into standard of care for pediatric patients with cancer.

What Oncology Nurses Need to Know

DMT is a safe, noninvasive modality that has been used in pediatric patients since the 1940s. The latest study findings support its use to manage psychological distress and improve pain management in children with cancer.

Oncology nurses use their knowledge and skills to deliver comprehensive care that minimizes risks and promotes optimal outcomes. They assess, monitor, and evaluate the effects of treatments and are instrumental in managing distressing symptoms. DMT has been shown to have beneficial effects for patients and caregivers in the pediatric outpatient setting. In developing individualized care plans with the interprofessional cancer team, nurses can collaborate with the DMT team to optimize symptom management.