Dance alumnus discusses her unique doctoral programme combining dance and sport

Jillian Descoteaux in dance studio

A Trinity Laban dance alumnus Jillian Descoteaux is currently designing a unique doctoral degree as part of her studies at Ohio University.

Jillian talks to Angelita Faller of the Office of Research Communications at Ohio about the links between dancing and sport.

“Dancing makes me happy. It’s an art form I can really connect with,” she said. But Descoteaux isn’t interested in performing herself. Instead, she wants to heal injured dancers’ bodies and psyches.

Descoteaux is designing a unique doctoral degree, combining studies in athletic training and counseling through Ohio University’s Individual Interdisciplinary Program (IIP). The IIP program is intended for Master’s and doctoral students who want to complete an interdisciplinary graduate degree.

“I like the benefit of interacting with the two different professions, because the perspectives are so supplementary of each other,” she said. “Both professions are designed to help people in different ways. I really feel like I am preparing my future research to be more well-rounded and thoughtful.”

Descoteaux, an athletic trainer who has worked at the Boston Conservatory and Vanguard University, first became interested in the intersection of athletic training and counseling while working on her master’s thesis at Trinity Laban in London.

“I taught the dance-specific physiotherapists some psychological tools such as goal setting and imagery, while I also asked the dancers if they felt supported in a psychological way from their physiotherapists.  This research illuminated a practical need for additional psychological education for the physiotherapists,” she said.

Descoteaux believes it is especially important for physiotherapists and athletic trainers who work with dancers when they are injured and vulnerable to learn basic counseling skills so they can recognize psychological issues that also may affect performance.

“I think it is important to equip sport medicine clinicians with the tools to more effectively manage that basic counseling component,” she said. “They should be more comfortable having those conversations if they suspect things like eating disorders or performance anxiety.”

Descoteaux is no stranger to unique programs in higher education: Trinity Laban offers the world’s first dance science Master’s program, encompassing physiology, performance psychology and nutrition—everything one needs to know to improve, help and heal dancers, Descoteaux said. Prior to Laban, she earned her bachelor’s degree in athletic training from Keene State College in New Hampshire.

Armed with a master’s in dance science, she came to Ohio University to earn a second master’s degree in athletic training. She credits her decision to continue on toward a doctorate through the IIP program to Thomas Davis, professor of counseling and higher education in the Patton College of Education, who now serves on her program committee.

“He prompted me to reconsider graduation. He said, ‘If you’ve already got your master’s degrees and you love research, why aren’t you getting a Ph.D.?’” she said.

Descoteaux plans to complete her comprehensive exams in fall 2015, and then work on her dissertation, which will involve a combination of counseling, athletic training and performing arts medicine. Her advisor on her master's degree and doctoral degree is Chad Starkey, a professor of athletic training.

After graduation, she hopes to be a teacher and researcher, continuing to work with dancers and athletic trainers.

“My goal is to make meaningful research that will help this unique population,” she said. “I want to help people who are passionate about movement and performance, but are held back by injury.”

Photo Copyright Ohio University. Photo Credit – Ben Siegel, Ohio University.