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A Decade of Making A Difference

17 Nov 2023

More than 18,000 people have been creatively uplifted by Dance & Arts Therapy New Zealand since it started ten years ago. Their services have never been more in demand - or more important.

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Photo: DTNZ.

Making a difference in someone's physical, mental and emotional wellbeing for just one day can be life-changing.

Doing it for a decade - for more than 18,000 of the people who need it most - is nothing short of inspiring.

Dance & Arts Therapy NZ (DTNZ) has just celebrated 10 years since establishing itself as a charity, using creative-based therapies to improve the quality of people's lives. In that time, they have seen demand for their service grow significantly each year.

DTNZ's kaupapa is to support both tamariki and adults - with a focus on people with disabilities, mental health challenges, at-risk communities and survivors of sexual trauma.

Since 2013, DTNZ has;

  • Offered 71,683 spaces for people to benefit from creative arts therapy
  • Facilitated 18,898 sessions around the country
  • Supported 17,592 people undertaking individual therapy
  • Observed a 280% increase in the number of creative arts therapists practicing in NZ
  • Seen a significant uptake in the use of its service supporting survivors of sexual abuse and trauma
  • Assisted an increasing number of schools using creative arts therapy for its students

In the last financial year alone, DTNZ's expert therapists helped nearly 10,000 clients and facilitated more than 4,000 dance and art therapy sessions, providing an average of 113 sessions per week. 

DTNZ Founder and Director Anaia Treefoot told The Big Idea "When I think about the impact of our kaupapa in terms of the number of people we have helped - both in terms of clients and their whānau, and all the dance movement and art therapy students we have supported or mentored who are now therapists working in other organisations - it makes us proud.

"It has been really inspiring to witness the impact and exponential growth at DTNZ over the past decade."

Making an impact

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Photo: DTNZ.

The praise from those whose lives are touched by the mahi of DTNZ is a testament to that impact. The manaakitanga provided does not go unnoticed - especially for those who might find it hard to find a place where they feel comfortable and accepted for who they are.

A parent whose child attends one of DTNZ's Arts 4 Us classes emphasises how glad they are such opportunities exist.

"We've been looking for a group to join for years! But all the other options like Scouts or sports require a child to be sporty, physically coordinated, able to follow strict instructions or glean information from social interactions - my child needs social interactions and 'normal' situational behaviour explained to him."

Another client enthuses “I am always happy leaving the class because I get to try something new each time, especially during the 'say hello to' activity. I am always full of smiles on Thursdays when my carer picks me up knowing I'll be at dance.” 

Treefoot explains "I think the way that we work with a client is unique. The combination of bringing together creativity and creative expression, combined with psychological awareness and understanding of relationships supports people to feel safe and to express themselves. This helps people to grow and heal in a very powerful and effective way."

Talent has nothing to do with it - the release that comes with creative expression and the sense of fun it can instil cannot be underestimated.

If you love to dance or love to make art, creative arts therapy is great for you. If you’re terrified to dance or can’t draw, this is not a barrier as it’s also a powerful modality to address so many different challenges and needs that come up in people’s lives.

Changing mindsets

Photo: DTNZ.

While DTNZ's mahi would seem like a no-brainer to most people in 2023 - that wasn't always the case when Treefoot started up the charity back in 2013.

"Ten years ago, not that many people had heard of dance therapy and there were hardly any dance movement therapists practicing in Aotearoa New Zealand. The number of dance movement therapists in the country has increased 30-fold since then.

"There was already a body of evidence about the efficacy of dance and arts therapy, but that evidence has grown significantly. More and more mainstream therapies like psychology and psychotherapy are recognising how crucial it is to include the body in effective therapy, particularly in relation to trauma. 

"For example, ACC now recognises creative arts therapists as registered providers under their Sensitive Claims contract.

"More broadly, creative arts therapy is better understood within the community and there is recognition that this form of therapy is an effective therapy option. This is reflected in the demand for our services."

Funding crucial

Even though its value is obvious, that doesn't mean it's not without its challenges. Finding ways to fund this important mahi can often be time-consuming - as many in the creative community can attest to. 

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Photo: DTNZ.

That's largely why the charity is so grateful to the individuals and organisations who see the value in the service DTNZ provides and support them to make a difference.

Treefoot reveals "There is such a great need for therapy that we feel compelled, drawn, and motivated to respond to the request for help, and are so focussed on delivering and doing the work, that sometimes we don’t have the time to let people know about us and how we can help them.

"As a charity without central government funding, we also need to spend a lot of time applying for and reporting on grants. We’re always grateful for any grant funding support we receive, it just takes a lot of time and takes us away from supporting people with challenges.

"One of our goals is seeking additional forms of financial support that can really help us so that we can focus on helping our clients and increasing our programmes. We’d like to be able to offer more services throughout the country - particularly in regions where there is a lack of support - and resources for vulnerable communities."

Reward in service

While the reason DTNZ's devoted team of leading creative arts therapists do what they do is to improve the lives of others throughout the country - it ends up making a difference in them too.

Jenny, a DTNZ therapist in Wellington shares “One of my clients started out very internally focused when he first joined our Dance 4 Us group, not having much interaction or eye contact with our team or the other participants. 

"Recently, he became enthusiastically engaged with an activity we frequently do involving one of the other participants in the group playing a drum beat for him to interact with. 

"His carer approached me at the end of the session and said that she was crying when she saw him participating so fully, she had never seen him so engaged in any activity in her entire year working with him daily.” 

Sarah a, DTNZ therapist at STARS Mt Albert in Tāmaki Makaurau, recalls “An 8-year-old boy diagnosed with autism had previously tried other forms of therapy but didn’t show interest in any of them and didn’t seem to adapt well. 

"During the first session of dance movement therapy, he clung to his father and showed no interest in any materials or response to the music. By the fourth session, he started arriving for the sessions with joy, smiling, and emitting sounds of happiness. 

"According to his parents, dance movement therapy has become the highlight of his week. He becomes extremely happy whenever he hears about the therapy.” 

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Photo: DTNZ.

"It is very rewarding mahi," Treefoot notes. "There’s quite a lot of support that is available for people with disabilities at school, but when they leave school there’s a gap/chasm where there isn’t that support. 

"That transition is difficult for young people with disabilities. Our Dance 4 Us programme bridges that gap, providing meaningful community engagement and creative activities for them.

"For various reasons, mainstream activities are challenging for younger tamariki who want to participate in after-school activities, develop their talents and try new things. Through our programmes, they can have an experience of developing skills and abilities that are really safe and in an empowering environment."

Support for sexual assault victims

DTNZ's services are also proving to be an important support for another at-risk group. 

Treefoot details "Over the last year, the number of sessions we have provided to clients who have experienced sexual trauma has increased by 62%. There’s a huge need and it is hard for ACC Sensitive Claims suppliers around the country to meet the growing need."

DTNZ's Trauma Therapy programme sees ACC fund group and individual therapy to help people with complex matters including post-traumatic stress disorder, regaining a sense of control over their emotions and reconnecting with their body.

Treefoot explains how this service differs in approach. "When working with people with disabilities, we might focus on increasing their motor skills or their social skills or supporting them to be a part of a community to build their confidence. 

"When we are working with survivors of sexual trauma there’s a real focus on safety and resourcing themselves in their body.

"It is a more individualised process, there’s a level of sensitivity and therapist expertise required. The impact of the trauma for these clients can show up in many ways.

"When we work with them, we want to address the challenges arising from their trauma, and also resolve the underlying trauma so that it can be released and no longer impact their everyday life."

How to find support

DTNZ offers services throughout the country, including in Auckland, Northland, Christchurch, Whanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington and Dunedin.

Their programmes are;

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Photo: DTNZ.

STARS - A programme Treefoot originally set up in 2010, using dance movement therapy to empower children and teens with intellectual and physical disabilities including autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, cerebral palsy, global development delays and brain trauma. Clients develop social skills and emotional literacy in a supportive, physical, and fun activity-based group.

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Photo: DTNZ.

Trauma Therapy – The programme supports survivors of sexual abuse and violence. ACC funds group and individual therapy to help people with complex matters including post-traumatic stress disorder, regaining a sense of control over their emotions and reconnecting with their body.

Arts 4 Us Speciality – A clinical arts therapy programme for tweens, children, and teens on the autism spectrum (or related delays) or with developmental delays. It helps clients with social skills, emotional literacy, communication, coordination, and sensory integration.

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Photo: DTNZ.

Arts 4 Us – A free arts therapy programme operating in low-income neighbourhoods for tamariki aged between 5-12. It incorporates preventative measures in the fight against violence, bullying and other antisocial behaviours.

Dance 4 Us and Arts 4 All – Programmes cater to people with a range of intellectual and physical disabilities. Participants foster social connections and emotional literacy through creative and expressive dance, movement, and arts-based activities in a fun environment.

Arts Therapy in Schools – The clinical creative arts therapy programme is tailored to each school’s requirements. This collaboration results in small groups of students being able to participate in a therapy designed to support them in a way that will suit them best.

Individual therapy programme – Individual clients (including children and adults) can pay to receive specialised sessions. This enables the client to participate in sessions that can address an area of development such as movement or communication.

Outreach – The opportunity for organisations and families to have DTNZ develop workshops specifically for their needs. Aged care providers, large families and other businesses are among those who have requested sessions.

Written in partnership with Dance & Arts Therapy NZ. If you’d like to know more about their programmes, learn about creative arts therapy or would like to support the organisation, click here.