Dance interventions or dance therapy for adolescents and young adults with mild mental health issues

Adolescents and young adults with mild mental health issues may benefit from support within a school-based setting. Physical activity and exercise improve mental health, and several young adults show interest in dance activities.

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SBU Enquiry Service

Consists of structured literature searches to highlight studies that can address questions received by the SBU Enquiry Service from Swedish healthcare or social service providers. We assess the risk of bias in systematic reviews and when needed also quality and transferability of results in health economic studies. Relevant references are compiled by an SBU staff member, in consultation with an external expert when needed.


Do dance interventions or dance therapy programs have any effect on mental health or stress related problems in adolescents or young adults?

Table with identified studies

Table 1. Systematic reviews with low/medium risk of bias
1 “For example, in the USA this would either be a trainee, or qualified and credentialed by the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA). In the UK , the therapist would either be in training with, or accredited by, the Association for Dance Movement Psychotherapy (ADMP, UK). Similar professional bodies exist in Europe, but in some countries (e.g. China) where the profession is in development, a lower level of qualification would mirror the situation some decades previously in the USA or UK. Hence, the review authors accepted a relevant professional qualification (e.g. nursing or psychodynamic therapies) plus a clear description of the treatment that would indicate its adherence to published guidelines including Levy 1992, ADMP UK 2015, Meekums 2002, and Karkou 2006.”
Included studies Intervention Outcome
Schwender et al 2018 [1]
24 studies, including:
11 studies on children/adolescents
(6 quantitative, 3 qualitative,
2 mixed methods)
12 studies on adults/ young adults
Dance as intervention content, of any dance style, duration, frequency, delivered by any instructor (excludes dance movement therapy and dance fitness)

Any setting: schools, universities, community centers, special education schools, gyms
Aspects of the self, including: self-trust,
body-related perceptions, perception of dance abilities
Authors' conclusion:
“The evaluated studies show a heterogeneous nature of populations, intervention contents, timeframes, outcomes, research methods and study quality.”

“This review indicates that dance may be a valuable approach to strengthen aspects of the self. However, as evidence for the different aspects of the self is still poor, further studies with high quality are required (e.g., large samples, active control group). Research considering the complexity and specificity of dance interventions in the design and reporting (e.g., choice of outcomes, presentation of intervention details) seem to be particularly suitable to capture the effects of dance considering its holistic nature.”
Meekums et al 2015 Cochrane review [2]
3 studies:
1 RCT on adolescents,
2 RCT on adults
Dance Movement Therapy, defined as:
participatory dance movement with clear psychotherapeutic intent, facilitated by an individual with a level of training that could be reasonably expected within the country in which the trial was conducted
depression symptoms, emotional distress,
body image
social and occupational functioning
quality of life
Authors' conclusion:
“The low-quality evidence from three small trials with 147 participants does not allow any firm conclusions to be drawn regarding the effectiveness of DMT for depression. Larger trials of high methodological quality are needed to assess DMT for depression, with economic analyses and acceptability measures and for all age groups.
Mansfield et al 2018 [3]
11 studies, including:
2 RCT on dance
2 qualitative studies on dance
Any form of sport or dance […] healthy young people 15–24 y. Any form of subjective well-being, including:
levels of depression, psychological distress,
mood, fatigue.
Authors' conclusion:
Regarding dance:
Conclusion: “Taking part in dance can lead to positive well-being outcomes in terms of mood enhancement and self-reported reductions in feelings of depression in some youth populations.” […]”.

Overall conclusion:
Based on the evidence in this study, it is necessary to build evidence on well-being outcomes of sport and dance in healthy young people using agreed measures of well-being […]”.


    1. Schwender TM, Spengler S, Oedl C, Mess F. Effects of Dance Interventions on Aspects of the Participants' Self: A Systematic Review. Front Psychol. 2018; 9:1130.
    2. Meekums B, Karkou V, Nelson EA. Dance movement therapy for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015; 2:CD009895. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009895.pub2.
    3. Mansfield L, Kay T, Meads C, Grigsby-Duffy L, Lane J, John A, Daykin N, Dolan P, Testoni S, Julier G, Payne A, Tomlinson A, Victor C. Sport  and dance interventions for healthy young people (15-24 years) to promote subjective well-being: a systematic review. BMJ Open. 2018;8(7):e020959.
Published: Report no: ut201919 Registration no: SBU 2019/281

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Malin Höistad, Ann Kristine Jonsson, Sara Fundell and Miriam Entesarian Matsson at SBU.

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