Professor Susan Imus on the Therapeutic Impact of the Arts

Columbia College Chicago Professor Susan Imus shares how the healing power of art and performance led to a fulfilling career with a global impact.

For Dance Professor Susan Imus, the recognition, international success, and personal fulfillment that attends her current career has come almost as a surprise. “I never thought that I would have so much employment using dance in my life,” says Imus. “It’s been a constant and very fruitful profession.” From her career beginnings, which featured studying the Cecchetti style of ballet, performing in three dance companies,  to her training as an art therapist, nurse and her work in chronic pain with Harvard-affiliated Harvard Community Health Plan, to her leadership today as a Professor at Columbia College Chicago, Imus has long been at the forefront of how dance, movement and art can be used both to bring communities together in celebration of expressive art and for their therapeutic effect.   

For Imus, the joy in her current work comes largely from being able to lead her students towards successfully deploying their practices in the public sphere and her continued engagement with like-minded leaders in art and dance therapy around the world. Imus teaches students in Arts and Health Theory, Arts and Health Practice, Performance as Therapy, Expressive Arts Therapy, and Personal Creative Process in Contemporary Performance Making.  

In each of her classes, Imus’ students benefit from a carefully considered approach that encourages connection, community building, and creative exploration. “They’re using their arts for a purpose, and the purpose is to bring joy and creativity to and foster the creativity of the people with whom they’re working,” says Imus. “They're learning how to use their art form in a therapeutic manner to foster the creative process of the patient or the participant with whom they work. In doing that, it brings great joy to everybody. It's like you're co-creating art with people.” Imus’ method has proven successful. As she says, “Many of our graduates have gone on to get their PhDs, and they're directors of programs all over the world, which is really cool.” 

Imus herself is no stranger to the benefits of connecting with a global audience in service of bringing the therapeutic benefits of dance, theatre, and art to a new environment. She has taught, supervised, and consulted internationally, in Kenya, Seoul (where she taught for two years), Melbourne, Prague, and Milan. Upon her recent return from LaSalle College of the Arts in Singapore to giving a presentation of her latest research at Beijing Normal University , she has been invited to join Aalborg University in Denmark as a teaching fellow in November of 2023, a top research institution in her field, and has been invited to teach as a visiting professor at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Of her international recognition and demand, Imus is characteristically humble and gregarious: “It’s freaking me out,” she says. “It’s just unbelievable!” 

Imus hopes that her current work in teaching, presenting, research, and publishing will serve to encourage even more students to follow their passion and to use their love of the arts in support of building a better world. “It's incredibly rewarding to make art, to make dances, and to be with people, to help them reach their personal health outcomes,” she says. “And it’s incredibly timely to use the arts and counseling for therapy, for all the suffering in the world. It’s very rewarding.”