Dance therapy for schizophrenia

For previous PLS see Appendix 1.

The first line of treatment of schizophrenia is usually antipsychotic drugs. Usually, these drugs are more effective in treating the 'positive symptoms' than 'negative symptoms' of schizophrenia. Moreover, antipsychotic drugs have debilitating side-effects such as weight gain, shaking, tremors and muscle stiffness. 

Dance therapy (also known as dance movement therapy, DMT) uses movement and dance to explore a person’s emotions in a non-verbal way (without language or words). The therapist helps the individual to interpret their dance and movement and link them with people’s personal feelings. Dance has been used as a healing ritual since earliest human history, but the establishment of dance therapy as a profession is quite recent. Dance therapy can be used with people of all ages, races and genders. It can be effective in the treatment of people with medical, social, developmental, physical and psychological impairments. The review included one study with 45 participants. The aim was to compare dance therapy with standard care or other interventions. The one included study compared dance therapy plus routine care with routine care alone. In the main, there was no difference between those who engaged in dance therapy versus those who did not (for outcomes such as satisfaction with care, mental state, leaving the study early, quality of life). However, those who engaged in dance therapy showed significant improvement in negative symptoms. 

Overall, because of the small number of participants, the findings are limited. There is little evidence to support or refute the use of dance therapy.  Larger studies and trials are needed that focus on important outcomes (such as rates of relapse, quality of life, admission to hospital, leaving the study early, cost of care and satisfaction with treatment). Further research would help clarify whether dance therapy is an effective and holistic treatment for people with schizophrenia, especially in terms of helping people cope with negative symptoms that do not respond so well to antipsychotic drugs.        

This summary was written by a consumer Ben Gray (Benjamin Gray, Service User and Service User Expert Rethink Mental Illness, Email:

Authors' conclusions: 

Based on predominantly moderate quality data, there is no evidence to support - or refute - the use of dance therapy in this group of people. This therapy remains unproven and those with schizophrenia, their carers, trialists and funders of research may wish to encourage future work to increase high quality evidence in this area.

Read the full abstract...

Dance therapy or dance movement therapy (DMT) is defined as 'the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional, social, cognitive, and physical integration of the individual'. It may be of value for people with developmental, medical, social, physical or psychological impairments. Dance therapy can be practiced in mental health rehabilitation units, nursing homes, day care centres and incorporated into disease prevention and health promotion programmes.


To evaluate the effects of dance therapy for people with schizophrenia or schizophrenia-like illnesses compared with standard care and other interventions.

Search strategy: 

We updated the original July 2007 search of the Cochrane Schizophrenia Group' register in July 2012. We also searched Chinese main medical databases.

Selection criteria: 

We included one randomised controlled trial (RCT) comparing dance therapy and related approaches with standard care or other psychosocial interventions for people with schizophrenia.

Data collection and analysis: 

We reliably selected, quality assessed and extracted data. For continuous outcomes, we calculated a mean difference (MD); for binary outcomes we calculated a fixed-effect risk ratio (RR) and their 95% confidence intervals (CI). We created a 'Summary of findings' table using the GRADE approach.

Main results: 

We included one single blind study (total n = 45) of reasonable quality. It compared dance therapy plus routine care with routine care alone. Most people tolerated the treatment package but nearly 40% were lost in both groups by four months (1 RCT n = 45, RR 0.68 95% CI 0.31 to 1.51, low quality evidence). The Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale (PANSS) average endpoint total scores were similar in both groups (1 RCT n = 43, MD -0.50 95% CI -11.80 to 10.80, moderate quality evidence) as were the positive sub-scores (1 RCT n = 43, MD 2.50 CI -0.67 to 5.67, moderate quality evidence). At the end of treatment, significantly more people in the dance therapy group had a greater than 20% reduction in PANSS negative symptom score (1 RCT n = 45, RR 0.62 CI 0.39 to 0.97, moderate quality evidence), and overall, average negative endpoint scores were lower (1 RCT n = 43, MD -4.40 CI -8.15 to -0.65, moderate quality evidence). There was no difference in satisfaction score (average Client's Assessment of Treatment Scale (CAT) score, 1 RCT n = 42, MD 0.40 CI -0.78 to 1.58, moderate quality evidence) and quality of life data were also equivocal (average Manchester Short Assessment of Quality of life (MANSA) score, 1 RCT n = 39, MD 0.00 CI -0.48 to 0.48, moderate quality evidence).