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A mixed-methods evaluation of a dance therapy intervention for students seeking on-campus mental health services

Principal Investigator:
  • Isabel Fortier, McGill University
Team Members:
  • Sarah Berry, McGill University
  • Joseph FX DeSouza, York University
  • Debora Rabinovich, York University
  • Rebecca Barnstaple, York University
  • Les Grands Ballets 

Project Overview

Decades of dance research have demonstrated the positive benefits of dance in terms of improving quality of life and reducing symptomatology for diverse groups of participants. Dance may improve mood, body image, self-esteem, and support healing processes for persons suffering from physical, cognitive, and emotional distress. However, while research findings for therapeutic and rehabilitative outcomes associated with dance have been overwhelmingly positive, dance research studies have been critiqued as insufficiently robust to demonstrate effectiveness. For this project, Dr. Fortier and her team aim to specifically respond to these concerns through an innovative, mixed-method research design that measures both the quantitative and qualitative effects of dance as a therapeutic intervention for students seeking on-campus mental health services. They will study the comparative effectiveness of dance versus standard interventions such as medication and talk therapy. Study participants will be randomly assigned into dance versus no-dance groups, and will be tested with a range of both qualitative and quantitative assessment and evaluation tools, including neuroimaging. Imaging will be used to understand neurobiological changes associated with dance as a therapeutic intervention, and will be correlated with quantitative survey data and qualitative interview data. The team will apply these minimally-invasive techniques to a sample of students drawn from a population that is considered to be at particularly high risk for depression and anxiety – undergraduate students in Canada who are seeking psychological support in higher numbers than in previous decades, creating resource shortages, staff burnout, and long wait times for on-campus services. The potential for dance to produce improved outcomes for undergraduates may be profound, in terms of reductions to wait times, symptoms, distress, and also overall health systems costs. This study therefore has the potential to simultaneously expand our knowledge of how dance works therapeutically to produce subjective changes in emotions and objective changes in physiological, neural processes.