Dance therapy can be a successful method for reaching children and adolescents with problems. This has been shown in a research project at Karlstad University and the University College of Dance in Stockholm, Sweden.

Hyperactive and unruly boys with ADHD became calmer and played better with playmates.

Depressed and self-destructive teenage girls were better at setting limits, and their depression was alleviated.

For some groups in child and youth psychiatry it is difficult to find effective or sufficient treatment. These include boys with ADHD and depressed, self-destructive adolescent girls.

A research project in the province of Värmland, Sweden, shows that dance therapy is a form of treatment that can work when other more traditional treatments fail or are insufficient.

The research project was led by Professor Erna Grönlund, University College of Dance in Stockholm, and Assistant Professor Barbro Renck, Karlstad University.

Barbro Renck has also worked as a specialist nurse in both child and youth psychiatry and adult psychiatry.

“We are the first in the world to try and scientifically assess dance therapy as a form of treatment for boys with ADHD,” says Professor Erna Grönlund of the University College of Dance in Stockholm.

The research project has attracted a great deal of international attention. Findings from the ADHD study have been published in The American Journal of Dance Therapy.

There is a great need today for variation in forms of treatment in child and youth psychiatry. The assessment in the project Dance Therapy for Children and Adolescents with Mental Disorders shows that dance can truly help.

“Boys with ADHD calmed down. Their parents and teachers reported that they did their schoolwork better. One boy could only sit in a classroom for ten minutes previously, and after dance therapy he could attend a whole lesson. These boys could also play with other children without getting into conflict and fighting all the time,” says Erna Grönlund.

It may seem strange to prescribe movement and stepped up activity for boys whose problem is basically that they can’t stop moving or calm down. But it works. The exercises start at full throttle and then move on to components where you need to listen and mimic, play to music, play roles, and then perform slower and slower moves.

“It can be hard to use conversational therapy for silent teenagers who neither wish nor dare to speak about what bothers them. It turns out that dance is a good way to crank up the energy and joy of living in depressed girls. An exercise with flamenco, for instance, can also be about feeling pride and self-esteem and about setting limits and saying no,” says Erna Grönlund.

“The results for both groups were good, but this is a small group of children and adolescents, six boys and eleven girls, so we dare not be too sweeping in our conclusions. More follow-up studies needed,” says Barbro Renck.

The fact that several families have asked for the therapy to be continued also shows that the project was a success.

“Unfortunately this form of therapy is not used in child and youth psychiatry today, but we hope that the government authorities will actively recommend that counties introduce dance therapy as a complement. Above all in regard to boys with ADHD it seems as if the treatment needs to be repeated for the positive effects to be lasting,” says Barbro Renck.

The research project was carried out at the Clinic for Child and Youth Psychiatry in Karlstad during the period 2001-2005. The project is a collaborative effort involving the University College of Dance in Stockholm, the Department of Public Health Science at Karlstad University, the Clinic for Child and Youth Psychiatry in Karlstad, and Dance in Värmland. The boys in the project were age 5-7 and the girls age 13-17.

Source: Vetenskapsrådet (The Swedish Research Council)