Therapy in crisis: a review of the impact of COVID-19

Contributor: Alice Rich

This term marks the first time in five months that our therapists and clients have danced and made art together, without a screen between them.
Back in March when community transmission of COVID-19 broke out in Aotearoa our programmes were abruptly cut short. Fortunately, thanks to the flexibility and dedication of our team, we were able to quickly develop online iterations of our STARS, Arts 4 Us Specialty, Arts 4 All and Dance 4 Us programmes to continue to support and empower our clients during this unusual and uncertain time.

Our online programmes focused on creative skill-building, strengthening parent-child or parent-carer connection and addressing the exacerbation of cognitive difficulties due to lockdown, isolation and COVID-19-related anxiety.

We were unsure about how successful online programmes would be, as it’s harder for therapists to pick up on non-verbal cues over video and we weren’t sure how easy it would be for our clients to focus on a screen. Excitingly, however, some of our clients engaged better online than they have in person and an added bonus of online delivery was being able to connect with new clients – some from as far away as Melbourne in Australia.

Over the five-month suspension of normality we delivered 128 group and individual sessions via Zoom serving 232 children and adults with special needs and disabilities on a regular basis (with 687 attendances recorded). 80% of our ACC sensitive claims clients also opted to continue therapy online.
Thanks to funding from the Ministry of Social Development, and flexibility from many of our regular funders, we were also able to resource some of our arts therapy clients with art packs, purchase two chromecasts for Christchurch-based care facilities so more clients were able to participate, and provide 14 phone catch ups with parents.

Additionally, we launched a Facebook group for DTNZ parents in acknowledgement of the extra pressure of COVID-19. The group, which continues today, is run by our very own Dance Movement Therapist trainee, contemporary dancer and pilates instructor, Brittany Kohler, and promotes self-care and re-centering through guided meditations, stretch/exercise sequences and somatic movement practices. Let us know if you’d like to join this private group by emailing

At the end of the term we asked parent and carers to complete evaluations about their online experience and the feedback was fantastic. 89% of Dance 4 Us and Arts 4 All carers, 67% of STARS parents and 50% of Arts 4 Us Specialty parents agreed these programmes had reduced their child/client’s sense of fear or discomfort through lockdown and 89% of parents and carers across all of our programmes agreed their child/client’s sense of loneliness or isolation had reduced.

We’re continuing a free Dance 4 Us programme online for adults with special needs and disabilities, to serve those who don’t feel ready to return to in-person delivery, or who are unable to do so due to geographical barriers. This programme runs on Mondays, 10-11am on Zoom, and is facilitated by one of our senior Dance Movement Therapists, Emilia Rubio, assisted by Tanvi Rodrigues. If you would like to register, please contact

Alice Rich has a Postgraduate Diploma in Arts Therapy and has spent the last two years as DTNZ’s Programmes Manager. Alice loves how movement and creative expression can have such a profound impact on people’s lives.