New online course helps schools address mental health issues through dance and movement

Updated 10/7/2021 8:46 AM

According to Centers for Disease Control data, the pandemic has created significant stress and trauma for school-aged children, even as they have returned for in-person learning this fall. It's a significant problem that underscores the important role of mental health - for all ages - in this current COVID-19 landscape. This is what inspired Erica Hornthal, a recognized dance and movement therapist on the North Shore of Chicago, to develop an online course that helps K-12 teachers and staff address the idea of maintaining mental health and wellness through body awareness practices.

The course, called Body Awareness for Mental Health, has five 30-minute modules that focus on the mind-body connection to equip adults and children with strategies and skills related to managing stress, processing feelings and improving overall mental health. "Understanding how movement can affect emotions, thoughts and mood is an idea that has been largely missing in our approach to mental health," Hornthal says. "And it's particularly important today, while so many people are dealing with pandemic-related challenges that could be addressed through simple movement therapy and activities."


Hornthal says teachers and staff can use her online course to educate themselves and their students about ideas like using body mapping to deepen awareness of one's emotions, how emotions can present themselves as sensations in the body, and applying directions of movement to explore connections with self, others and the environment.

The Body Awareness for Mental Health web-based course, which is available for preorders now and will be released in November from Human Kinetics, can be purchased for $39 at this link: Hornthal introduces each module on video and provides the text, downloadable application activities, self-reflection or group-discussion prompts, and brief knowledge-check quizzes. The course comes with a digital facilitator guide that provides pacing and time requirements for each module, implementation tips and prompts for discussion and group work.

Schools and school districts can choose to deliver the program through a half-day professional development workshop facilitated by the district, or through individual or small-group self-facilitated study. Once teachers complete the course, they can take an exam and download a certificate of completion to submit to administration for professional development credit. The course is worth three contact hours.

While the course is a great value for school districts that don't have the budget or time for in-person professional development, districts also have the option of purchasing one or more virtual visit hours with Hornthal so staff can hear and learn firsthand from the author.

Hornthal is a licensed clinical professional counselor and board-certified dance and movement therapist. Known as "The Therapist Who Moves You," she is the founder and CEO of Chicago Dance Therapy, a group practice based on Chicago's North Shore since 2011. The practice offers counseling using a body-centered approach that is focused on connecting mind, body and spirit. Therapists at Chicago Dance Therapy provide individual, family, group and couples counseling to clients of all ages and abilities, using a combination of body psychotherapy and traditional talk therapy to address mental health issues.

Hornthal, LCPC, BC-DMT, is an expert on the intersection of movement and mental health. She has appeared on television and radio, in publications and on podcasts, sharing her expertise on dance and movement therapy, cognitive and movement disorders, neurologic conditions, anxiety and depression, PTSD, trauma, eating disorders, loss and phase-of-life issues, including caregiving.

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