How digital technology in art therapy is improving lives

Published: 21 Aug 2015

How digital technology in art therapy is improving lives

Michèle Wood, art therapist at Marie Curie Hospice and Senior Lecturer at the University of Roehampton in London, has recently returned from a four-week fact-finding trip to North America, as a result of a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship.

Her aim was to learn how digital art therapy is being implemented overseas in order to develop her ideas for joined-up 24/7 art therapy services for people living with terminal illnesses in the UK.

Journeying from Vancouver to LA, Minneapolis, Toronto, New York and Washington DC, Michèle met practitioners, software designers, digital artists and researchers involved in therapeutic applications of technology.

During her Fellowship she observed a computer art therapy group for in-patients of a Brooklyn psychiatric facility, sat in an inter-disciplinary team meeting at a palliative care unit, and joined a studio audience for a live TV broadcast within Mount Sinai’s Children’s Hospital.

The diversity of people benefiting from therapeutic applications of digital technology was evident as Michèle interviewed those working with young people in the criminal justice system, adults with autism, mental health needs, children with life-threatening physical conditions, and adults receiving palliative care in hospital and at home.

Michèle was also one of numerous art therapists specialising in cancer care who attended the Digital Art Therapy Forum in Vancouver. Here she used a web based tool, Nearpod, to allow participants to access and interact with her presentation using their mobile devices. She also learnt of art therapists running online support groups which make use of digital art-making applications, thus allowing therapy to take place across geographical boundaries.

"It has been incredible to discover the diversity of applications for technology in art therapy and beyond, from avatar therapy, to animations and short films, and software for mess-free painting; all with the same aim of giving people previously unable to take up therapy services the opportunity to do so."

Michèle returns with a richer understanding of debates surrounding care of clients’ personal data, vigilance regarding ethical and legal compliance of electronic art therapy practices, and the responsibility of therapists to protect clients beyond the boundaries of therapy sessions.

Michèle’s first-hand experience of US and Canadian practices will enable her to inform developments in art therapy education and practices in the UK, as well as being able to draw on a diverse network of contacts. She will be presenting her findings in October 2015 at the University of Roehampton’s Centre for Arts Therapies Research.

Read Michèle’s blog: www.powerinourhands.wordpress.com 

Contact Michèlem.wood@roehampton.ac.uk