March 19, 2021 | Olivia Dobson, MPS, ATR-BC, LPC


Creative Arts Therapies Week is an opportunity to honor the work of creative art therapists and continue to spread awareness about the benefits of the creative arts therapies (CAT). This year, it began on March 14th and lasts through the 20th. Visit the National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations website to learn more about each CAT profession and follow the conversations on social media using #CATWeek2021!

This past year of 2020 was especially profound for the many ways it impacted the creative arts therapy fields. In the months directly following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, inpatient and outpatient services were directly impacted. Treatment appointments were cancelled, procedures were postponed indefinitely, and patients and their families seeking treatment from outside of the state, let alone outside of the United States, were unable to travel to receive care.

Pediatric medical settings were experiencing a unique set of challenges due to the Coronavirus. As a practicing art therapist at the renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, I had firsthand experience in a medical setting during the height of the pandemic. It was largely a time of adjustment. The Creative Arts Therapy team, comprised of art therapy, music therapy, and dance/movement therapy, worked to align with the most current CDC and IPC (infection prevention and control) healthcare protocols that prioritized safe practices when engaging in patient care. While Creative Arts Therapy groups were paused, individual Creative Arts Therapy sessions continued to be offered. It was during these early months of the pandemic that I identified an opportunity to utilize the virtual platform to promote awareness of the Creative Arts Therapy services at the hospital.

We created a children’s book as a collaborative project to offer a tangible resource to patients and families. Sloth Goes to the Hospital: Introducing the Creative Arts Therapies, introduces the Creative Arts Therapy services at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and promotes normalization of the hospital experience. In addition, this book includes an index of information pertaining to how Creative Arts Therapy resources can be accessed and utilized at the hospital. The Creative Arts Therapy team’s inherent collaborative nature largely supported this venture.

To begin this project, I collected information from the Creative Arts Therapy and Child Life teams at the hospital. It was necessary to identify material that was of a sixth-grade reading level for our targeted population. At this time, I partnered closely with another art therapist on our team to begin drafting a storyline. We decided that the storyline would follow a fictionalized character as they experienced the pediatric hospital setting and were introduced to the Creative Arts Therapies. During this experience the main character, “Sloth”, would encounter various members of the Creative Arts Therapy team. These encounters would provide the reader with an explanation of each profession and how these services may benefit patients during their medical stay. The book also gave attention to the character’s process of adjusting to the hospital setting.

The storyline of the book is accompanied by my illustrations of Sloth and his interactions with art therapy, music therapy and dance/movement therapy while in the hospital. I drew each illustration by hand before utilizing digital design applications to enhance clarity and apply consistent line weight to each image. I selected characters that I felt embodied each profession of the Creative Arts Therapy team. For example, a swan character was chosen for dance/movement therapy. I wanted these illustrations to provide a visual experience for patients and their families. I felt that is was important to depict realistic medical equipment alongside the characters to promote normalization of the hospital experience.

Each phase of this book went through several stages of revisions. I collaborated with hospital team members from the Professional Development, Web Development, and Social Media departments in my efforts to finalize this book. These collaborations invited multiple perspectives that were supportive of my overall process. We determined that this book would be made available via the hospital’s outward facing website, accessible by a publication service that supports mobile and desktop viewing. This service offers an interactive experience with digital content in which you can “flip” the pages of the book as you read. Families could additionally choose to print out the book to add to their own personal libraries. Click here to flip through the book!

This book has further supported patients and their families receiving treatment in the hospital. Creative Arts Therapists and Child Life Specialists utilize this book in their patient care practices. It can be a valuable resource and intervention to use with new Creative Arts Therapy patient referrals. In summary, Sloth Goes to the Hospital: Introducing the Creative Arts Therapies, had aimed to provide continuity of care during an unpredictable time, and I believe continues to serve as a valuable resource.

Olivia Dobson, MPS, ATR-BC, LPC

Olivia is an art therapist in the greater Philadelphia area. She has a BA degree in Psychology with a specialization in Fine Art from Temple University and a Masters in Art Therapy from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Olivia is a board-certified registered art therapist and a licensed professional counselor in the state of Pennsylvania. She is an Art Therapist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Adjunct Professor of Art Therapy and Counseling at Drexel University. She has experience facilitating art therapy services with children, adults, and families in the setting of community mental and behavioral health. Olivia currently practices art therapy with children, young adults, and their families within the pediatric medical setting to support coping and promote normalization and adjustment to diagnoses, treatment, and hospitalization.