The Pandemic Palette

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves wanting to stay connected to family and friends. This brings us to technologies that let us connect while staying at home. For some of us, connecting also means continuing talk therapy online or even learning a new way to sit with the difficulty of physical isolation. One creative way to ease stress and alleviate tension may be art therapy. I imagine you’re wondering what is art therapy and how might you work with an art therapist online?

When we see “art therapy,” some of us might assume that art therapy is just for kids. It’s for adults too. Others wonder if we need artistic skills. The thing is you don’t. Some might think that art therapy is nothing more than colouring an intricate flower-inspired mandala, together. While that’s super calming to sit and colour with your family, there’s more to art therapy. The aim of this blog post is to show you that there’s more to art therapy for you, and it’s possible to work with an art therapist online.

Art therapy is a fun, experiential therapeutic activity for almost anyone. I write “almost anyone” because some may not want to pursue this approach and that’s OK. For anyone who does want to give it a go, art therapy offers all kinds of ways to express yourself creatively. Drawing, painting, working with clay, and even knitting are just some of the ways we can explore the felt sense of difficult emotions, trauma, grief, or other complex experiences. Art therapy can easily do the work of talk therapy at more of a comfortable distance. Art therapy can provide a chance to rest the mind and engage the body in richly immersive activities—whether we start with scribble drawings or pause to notice feelings as you move your fingers through wet paint.

As a professional art therapist and an international graduate student member (#M285269ID) of the American Art Therapy Association, the aim of my work is to help you enjoy the benefits of artmaking without having to worry about making art. Something magical happens when you create something meaningful to you and realize the transformative power of your creative side. I work with you in a way that offers encouragement but also gives you space to savour the process.

One of the most important aspects of this work is that you have the freedom to make your own choices without judgment from me. If you feel there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this, we may seek to understand that feeling in you. If you feel you’ve made a mistake, we make space for that feeling, as well. Throughout our work together I may gently remind you that the goal of art therapy isn’t to make a final work of art to frame and hang above the mantel. The purpose of art therapy is to tap into different parts of the brain using the imagination, symbolism, and images to gain new insights and understand ourselves in new ways.

Once the art has been made by you, I invite you to tell me about it. I listen. I may take notes so that I accurately reflect what you’re sharing with me. Then I encourage you to consider how this might relate to your current situation, your past experiences, or your feelings about the future. We take time here to pay attention to details that stand out for you. We pause to notice the present moment during healing work or the felt sense of it during Focusing Oriented Art Therapy, depending on our aim.

If this doesn’t take place in an art therapy studio, how can we work with materials? Virtual paintbrushes? 3-D-printed polymer clay? Not exactly, at least not yet. We work with what you have at home, whether it’s pencils and paper or magazines to cut up and create a collage. Most clients are pleasantly surprised by what we can access and use to create something meaningful.

How is an art therapy session facilitated online? Once we book an art therapy session, I’ll invite you to log in to the BC-based Jane App, which offers a private platform for us to meet by mobile, tablet, or computer video and audio. That will enable us to work together just like we would in person, except from my home office and you, perhaps, from your kitchen table. What it does require is a bit of space to work. Sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when everyone else is at home too. These days it requires a commitment from others in your home to give you space to create.