Dance Movement Psychotherapy and The Touch Trust Programme

I am sharing a synopsis of my thesis that explored the differences between Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP) and the Touch Trust (TT) programme. The learning disabled child being the point of exploration as both approaches attend to his/her needs/well-being in a creative, holistic and therapeutic way.


A qualitative research was chosen where the comparison of the two approaches in respect of the child who is learning disabled is made through the perspectives of me as the researcher and the respective professionals.

The learning Difficulties/Disabilities spectrum is where profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) appears and is referred to, as complex needs. Recent research by the Learning Disabilities’ Observatory shows that approximately 30% of those who are learning disabled have some form of autism. It is in light of reading this report plus my own experiences with groups of children who are learning disabled and on the autistic spectrum that ‘autism’ is included for the purposes of this study in the PMLD framework. Children with PMLD have a self-body that could develop along an atypical route but it is important to understand that this self-body is the root of their existence. Their movement may be highly restricted or erratic and deemed a behaviour problem. Many do not use formal communication rather make noises, gesture, use their faces which is their way of trying to be heard, there are different reasons for a child having a learning disability and there are different types mild, moderate or severe. However, in all cases according to (Mencap, n.d.) the child will be affected for their whole life.


This study explored the social and emotional themes as they relate to these children because, throughout the eight years of working at the Touch Trust I have become more aware of their real significance in respect to the learning disabled child’s quality of life. For the purposes of this research, the ages of the children are babies to early adolescence.

To explain briefly the aims of DMP are to promote and build emotional, physical and mental integration. As an example, the child who has difficulties in completing schoolwork may not have a cognitive impairment at all. Her learning difficulties may be a result of emotional stresses. The TT programme entails the use of touch as a therapeutic intervention and different movement dynamics allows the child to experience different moods, build relationships and generally an enrichment of their quality of life.

I am a qualified DMP trained with Dance Voice in Bristol, through Canterbury Christchurch University. I currently work at the TT and am the DMP representative for the Wales Arts Therapies Advisory Forum (WATAF).

This research project, I feel, has grown out of my body. From being a senior TT session leader myself and a DMP therapist I have been curious about how the two approaches really differ and what exactly it is that works with these children. People have written on DMP for the learning-disabled child but nobody to date has compared and contrasted it with the TT programme.

The question that I choose to explore was:

  • What are the differences in DMP and the TT  programme when working with the child who has learning disabilities?

I carried out a systematic literature review and found that many people highlighted the importance of play and its inception with the mother / child relationship. Also that addressing the senses and the pre-verbal importance for change in teaching learning disabled children is very important. Also that the both sides of dance therapy; movement and psychotherapy are equally and at the same time different and vital.

The three main themes chose for my study were,  studies main themes were, parents of the child with learning disabilities; emotional well-being and the social well-being. These themes were explored through a qualitative methodology in which a literature review, two semi-structured interviews and my own reflective journaling were the methods used to research.

Some of the literature relative to DMP was that Conceptual learning and development of body image grow from structure in movement and the therapist’s vital participation, verbal and non-verbal as a guide and container is inherent in this. It is through the observing of non-verbal gestures of the children that dance therapists enter into communication with them through dance, play and talking. DMP therapists address the earliest experiences of the baby which are inscribed and remembered on a somatic, kinaesthetic and sensorial level which shapes how they feel and enter into relationship with the world. Moreover, it informs the work of the therapist. The DMP therapist is informed by Rudolf Laban’s movement vocabulary which encompasses effort, space, harmony and body/shape as a means of expression, communication and developing the kinaesthetic sense as well as awakening creativity. In addition the literature regarding the person centred approach to human relationships, which is the foundation of my practice brought light to how essential a real embodied knowing of this is necessary for true growth / development and change.

The literature found regarding the TT programme showed how the TT consists of a simple structure that provides security and safety that can be taught by a non-professional who has commitment and a real desire for leading it. It is adapted to suit each child and hones in on the positive outcomes, reached through a creative approach that enables children to discover authentic sound and movement in an environment of positivity and care. Touch through massage is a huge and essential part of the programme that has a profound impact on the children. A high level of thinking is related to the sense of touch, it not only helps in the grasping of abstract concepts but also in making distinctions, recognizing relationships, organizing and the taking of many perspectives.

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