April 6, 2020 | Trica Zeyher

 

Read Trica’s related blog post, Virtual Intimacy in Therapy and in Life”  and the accompanying blog post from Edinboro faculty Dr. Carolyn Brown Treadon, “To My Colleagues that are Changing Everything, Here are 5 Tips for Effectively Teaching Art Therapy Online”

 

When I found out that my internship site, Mental Health Partners in Boulder, Colorado, was going to be transitioning to telehealth therapy from face-to-face services due to coronavirus social distancing, I felt prepared from my online graduate experiences. Edinboro University’s online art therapy program provided me with practice to succeed even in these challenging times.

Here are my top 5 tips of how to succeed in an online art therapy master’s program. Although I am glad to share these tips as a last-semester, online dual-degree graduate art therapist and clinical mental health counseling student, I know I do not have all of the answers to help art therapy students through this global crisis. I hope as students and future art therapists, we can lean on one another for that.

 

1) Keep your environment and schedule structured

My designated work/study corner in my apartment.

Structure in your environment and schedule can help you to stay on task and to feel a sense of control and calm in an online learning program. I personally have a corner with a desk and a chair in my apartment that I use specifically for work and school. My couch in the other room is reserved for leisure, me time and family time. In addition to providing structure, there are more things to consider in your environment when working with clients in your practicum or internship.

Opening up our cameras to people from outside of our homes, we are letting others in. But we can choose what to disclose. A professional setting with a comforting visual for clients helps create a feeling of safety and shows you have yourself together. Zoom, the platform I use, has background options, so you don’t need to change your physical environment. I re-arrange my physical setting anyway. I personally choose to show my white walled background in my apartment with a few paintings and a plastic six-foot tree in my background when I interact with clients or staff at MHP (my internship site). I also regularly adjust a few elements in my environment, such as the lighting and the smells in the room, to give myself a ritual and to help me transition my state of mind between student, intern, and resident.

As I work from my corner study/work space at home, several MHP staff members have noted that they felt that they and their clients were being more open than when they were in their own offices at the physical site. I believe this is because I have opened up my personal space to them.

There are a few questions I often ask myself when setting up my space to work with clients:

  • Is what I’m going to show or tell my client going to benefit their current needs?
  • What in my background is a conversation starter or an object of safety or comfort?
  • Does my background represent my professional self?

Keeping a schedule for school, internship, and studying helps me clarify boundaries on when I am available for time with family and friends. Knowing your own boundaries and sharing them with others helps hold yourself accountable for deadlines, be they for self-care, family, school or your internship. For example, prior to the coronavirus crisis, I would physically go to my internship site daily—except on Fridays. Now as a telehealth art therapy intern, I still don’t answer internship phone calls or sign-in to any internship sites online on Fridays. While it’s important to be as accommodating as possible to clients in this time of crisis, I recommend finding ways to uphold your previous boundaries with face-to-face clients as you transition to offering telehealth services.

Although we may be great at multitasking, being able to focus on one thing at a time can allow us to work with smaller objectives to reach our larger goals, be it in a day, week, or for the entire semester. Think of the SMART Goals we help our clients set, and make that effort towards yourself. For myself, I set timers as a reminder not only for when I need to call a client but also for when I want to take a lunch break. This helps me feel that I can give my all into whatever I am doing. It also helps me to know I have been productive and am accomplishing what I set as my day’s goals.

 

2) Make technology work for you, and be prepared when it acts out

 

Using technology may be completely new for some students and professionals, while for others, it may already be a part of their everyday lives. Before a class that is meeting virtually starts, test out your internet connection, the sound (e.g. are you using headphones, the computer monitors speaker, or Bluetooth?), and the camera (e.g. is it built into your computer or a separate device?). Most applications have a test button to help with this testing.

If you have an assignment that is due in the future, and you are not sure your internet or electricity will be consistent, save your assignments on Word documents with due dates and then save them again to a personal safe external hard drive or USB drive. It is important to save your work in as many places as you can and in a secure way. If anything you are saving relates to your work with clients, be sure to follow the Art Therapy Code of Ethics on Electronic Means (2.9).

When obtaining supervision online, come prepared with a set of topics you would like to discuss, such as notes on a particular client that you feel you can better serve in sessions. Ask what online resources your supervisor knows of that can provide you with further information, support, and creative ideas on the topics you are concerned about for your clients or for your own professional development.

Be specific about when you are going to meet and through what technology and applications. For example, I meet with my internship site supervisor on Microsoft Teams and with my university supervisor on Zoom. Keep track of the links to all your meetings. I often set notifications on my computer’s calendar or set an alarm on my phone to remind me when a meeting is coming up.

 

3) You can still connect with your clients online

 

There are many tools available to help us connect virtually with our clients. When providing therapy services online, we are able to record our interactions with consent, and our clients can too. Clients can take screen shots, and we could also share our screens with each other and show art on our desktops — even if we or our clients don’t choose to show our faces.

When I or a fellow MHP intern offers a comprehensive assessment, we ask clients if they prefer video chat or a phone call. Some might not have internet access and others may be uncomfortable showing their current external environment. It is the client’s choice, and we as art therapists are there to help them in the way they are most comfortable. Ask your clients how you can help support them to meet their own needs, be it through phone therapy services or through a virtual face meeting.

As in all areas of therapy, it’s important to set boundaries with your technology. I always block my personal number (using *67), so clients aren’t able to call me directly. I do have my work (internship) phone set up so that I can still receive phone messages with a passcode when I call my work phone. Clients can also connect with me through my internship designated email, with a consent form. When a call cut off during a session with a client who had no internet and only very limited phone connection, I called back to show I was there for them. It meant a lot to my client that I did call them back.

When going through a process of an art experiential or art directive, let the client decide if they even want to show you their art product. I feel that intention is a large aspect of how to succeed as an online student and telehealth art therapist; intention as to why and how we do what we do. When we as an art therapist ask clients to reflect on their art with process prompts, be it over the phone or in person, it is the client’s choice on how they choose to describe their artwork or process, and also what it may mean or represent to them. We are already open-minded and practicing non-judgment as art therapists, so this is just an expansion of that knowledge through our technology.

During my practicum at Colorado Recovery, the clients I was helping treat were dealing with severe mental illnesses such as schizoaffective and schizophrenia, but they also had the socioeconomic status of being able to afford resources. When I started my internship with MHP, my treatment training and experiences changed due to the clients’ available resources. I went from serving clients who could afford luxury treatment to working with homeless individuals struggling to find an open public bathroom (during coronavirus isolation) in the middle of a snowstorm to keep up their hygiene and health.

Here are some questions to consider when connecting with clients over technology:

  • What does your client’s environment look like?
  • How are they interacting with their technological device they are reaching out to you with?
  • What are their facial expressions? What does the client choose to show you or tell you?

 

4) Use your online community as a remote student

 

Your online community extends beyond your university and internship site. It includes the entire art therapy field and the wider mental health community. Use your resources!

As states began closing institutions due to coronavirus, the directors of the graduate art therapy and counseling programs held a Zoom meeting on March 16th for the entire department to connect and process the challenges unique to these times. It felt good to see their faces and feel the presence of my educational community —and to know that we are in this together.

It is important to know your university’s online resources to stay connected with your classmates and instructors. If you are not aware of discussion forums or your school’s online hub for example, reach out to professors and fellow classmates. Edinboro uses the D2L program for class discussions, assignment submissions and Zoom meeting information.

Consider joining associations and clubs and exploring services they provide online for group interactions, such as discussions, meetings, trainings, conferences, resources, and support. For example, to connect with your art therapy community, you could find a mentor through AATA’s Mentor Match program, or post a comment or question to AATA’s Open Forum. Look out for professional and educational emails about free or paid trainings from your state’s art therapy association as well.

When doing research for assignments, use your university’s online library chat options for research help. Another tip is to look in the back of your textbooks and peer-edited journals in your online university library for references as to what other sites may be most useful to your current clients treatment needs. These can include art therapy assessments, directives, and interventions.

 

5) Dont neglect your own self-care

 

An art piece I made participating in the online open art group with Edinboro students and faculty.

Being a therapist, helper, emotional support, and caregiver to our clients and community in addition to showing up for our family, friends, and selves is a lot to take on. But if we are able to support our own needs with intention and boundaries, we can give to others what we can provide to ourselves.

Our professional and educational training is about helping others, but we must also look at ourselves first to see if we are ready, willing, and able to help them. When we provide ourselves with love, non-judgment, and support, we can model this to our clients, our community, and our families. Please meet your health needs, get rest, eat healthy, exercise, take breaks, practice a ritual, make a schedule with boundaries you set, obtain telehealth art therapy for yourselves, and reach out for help when you need it.

I recommend scheduling time to make art just for yourself. Here are some questions I ask myself when getting started:

  • What are my favorite mediums, or art materials?
  • What materials meet my current feelings or emotional needs?
  • What creative ideas do I want to let out of my mind, body, and soul?
  • Do I have a set amount of time to allow my self-expression?

While I am glad to share these tips, I do not have all of the resources to help art therapy students through this global crisis. I, like all of my fellow art therapy interns and practicum students, will continue to explore in creative ways our roles in telehealth services. If you feel you have more information to share, please reach out to one another. We all can be here for each other as a nation of developing mental health professionals as future art therapists.

 

Online resources I’ve found helpful

 

On connecting with clients online:

On self-care:

Facebook communities I’m part of:

Other social media accounts I follow:

Additional resources:

 

Patrica (Trica) Zeyher, Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Art Therapy Candidate

 

Trica Zeyher is a student at Edinboro University’s online dual master’s program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Art Therapy and plans to graduate in May of 2020. She earned her BA at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Potsdam, where she majored in Studio Art and minored in Expressive Arts Therapy. Trica lives in the Boulder, Colorado area and is currently completing her second internship at Mental Health Partners in Boulder, Colorado, where she provides telehealth art therapy services. She completed her practicum at Colorado Recovery. Read more about Trica Zeyher on her website.

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