An Exploration into the Practice of Dance Movement Psychotherapy with Autistic Adults


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Autism is a lifelong neurological and developmental condition that presents with varying challenges with social communication and the presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviours. DMP is an appropriate form of psychotherapy for autistic adults and the evidence reports that it is efficacious. However, whilst the evidence-based literature tests the efficacy of DMP practice; it does not describe how DMP is practiced with autistic adults.

This study aimed to identify how DMP practitioners work internationally with autistic adults and how their lived experiences, beliefs and values inform their approach.

A systematic review of the existing literature for DMP for autistic adults and an international qualitative interview study utilising a constructivist grounded theory analysis approach.

Due to autism being a spectrum of needs with each individuals’ experience and presentation of autism being different, adaptability and a focus on the individuals’ specific needs is important in the practice of DMP. The common use of identity-first language alongside a multimodal theoretical approach with emphasis on person-centredness is key to working with an individual. The needs of that individual dictate the therapy that is offered including the aims and goal of practice, sensory considerations that govern how the space will be set up, and the methods and props utilised within the sessions. Structured sessions, regular frequency, and long-term duration provide predictability and familiarity for an individual who has autism. However, this needs to be flexible for the individual.

The study created an evidence-based, theory-informed model of DMP practice with autistic adults. Additionally, discrepancies between the findings and the existing literature were identified and draft DMP guidelines were devised for future practice.
Date of Award11 May 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorKATHERINE KNIGHTING (Director of Studies), JOANN KIERNAN (Supervisor) & Simon Hackett (Supervisor)


  • Autism
  • Dance Movement Psychotherapy
  • Constructivist Grounded Theory
  • systematic review
  • semi-structured interview
  • qualitative

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