Moving Through the Trauma: Dance/Movement Therapy as a Somatic-Based Intervention for Addressing Trauma and Stress Among Syrian Refugee Children

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2019 Nov;58(11):1124-1126. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2019.07.007. Epub 2019 Jul 23.


Traumatic experiences are common in youth, with some reporting that 20% of youth have experienced trauma.1 Some populations have higher exposure. More than 50% of refugee youth with exposure to civilian war trauma and forced migration experience high anxiety; up to 30% screen positive for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).2,3 Trauma exposure during critical developmental periods can have detrimental social, educational, and physical consequences. Current evidence-based therapeutics have primarily been researched in adults; child anxiety disorders are undertreated and underresearched.4,5 Psychotherapy for refugee and other highly vulnerable populations may be limited by high cost and scarcity of skilled trauma specialists; culturally informed and language-capable clinicians who can meet the needs of refugee populations are even more rare. Furthermore, pharmacotherapy is limited by a sparse evidence base, parental and child preferences, and cost-all factors that again are more prevalent in refugee populations. Overall, evidence for treatment of PTSD and anxiety in refugee children is limited and largely extrapolated from treatment for children with other types of trauma exposure. Dance/movement therapy (DMT) is a manualized, multimodal intervention that aims to strengthen emotional, cognitive, physical, and social integration. DMT sessions are led by a licensed dance/movement therapist with joint education in counseling.6 Owing to its integration of exposure, mindfulness, and somatic components, DMT may be a candidate for a multifaceted, multitarget treatment approach to trauma and stress addressing psychological and somatic symptoms, both of which can be present in trauma-related conditions. However, evidence of use of DMT to help traumatized children is lacking. With the state of Michigan's high volume of Syrian refugees and knowing the need for intervention with understanding of barriers of culture, language, and access, our team selected to test acceptance and feasibility of DMT as a possible way to address trauma-related symptoms in Syrian refugee youth.

Trial registration: NCT03515564.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

Associated data