Art Therapy in the time of COVID-19 in Singapore

Art therapists are also mental health professionals. However, we were not deemed as essential workers in Singapore. In times like these, we had to adapt and be flexible to be there for our clients and provide them with the support that we can.

At Solace Art Psychotherapy, we provide art therapy services for clients (ages 7 and above) with complex trauma. Unable to conduct sessions on-site impacted us and our clients severely during the Circuit Breaker in April 2020. Our clients and our team were highly stressed and yet hopeful for betterment. Our team constantly kept our clients and followers on social media platforms updated on every step we took.

We did everything we could to stay updated, connected and supported. We hosted our very first International Art Therapists Meetup and provided online art therapy sessions. The Art Therapists’ Association of Singapore came in time to provide additional support for our local art therapists. Here are steps to stay prepared for any crisis that may arise, drawn from our COVID-19 experience.

 

1. Staying connected with clients, followers and other art therapists through online platforms, and supporting one another.

This was a vital step that we took during the time of the global pandemic. It is crucial to receive and provide the necessary support for one another. These are some steps that we took systematically that aided us to stay relevant and focused.

Firstly, we kept ourselves updated with the latest news each time there was a change or an update. With many on-going changes happening, it was useful to stay organised and receive accurate information from the appropriate sources.

Secondly, we emailed our clients and kept them notified every step of the way. We also stayed active on our social media platforms, providing our followers support through posts that reminded them to stay home and safe, posts that were encouraging and assuring, and posts that shared tips on managing stress and anxiety through art. We ensured that we kept our followers informed about what we were doing in response to the changes.

Thirdly, we reached out to our local Art Therapists’ Association of Singapore for support. We also reached out to art therapists all around the world by organising an International Art Therapists’ Meetup online to provide and receive support for one another virtually.

 

2. Adapting to changes and being creative in improvising. Finding new methods to continue providing quality services.

In April 2020, we were informed that mental health professions were not essential. In other words, mental health professionals were not allowed to practice on-site. Everyone had to move to online platforms and conduct sessions virtually. This was also applicable to us. We tried to appeal but it was unsuccessful.

This was when we decided that we had to find ways to provide art therapy sessions online. We provided a one-time free online session for our existing clients so that this could assess if they are comfortable to continue sessions online. We also needed our clients to have access to a wide range of art materials, as they always do at our therapy space. We were not ready to compromise on the quality of the art therapy sessions. Hence, we packed a wide range of art materials and had it delivered to their homes.

Zoom, an online platform for video sessions, was having security breaches at that point in time and many users were struggling to find a secure and safe platform. It was crucial to provide a private and confidential space for clients attending art therapy sessions due to the nature of our services. We were thankful that one of our vendors released a platform for virtual sessions for medical use that was highly secured and safe to use with our clients.

After figuring out the art materials for our clients and the secured platform to use, we had one more hurdle to overcome before we were able to conduct an online art therapy session successfully, which was the problem of every art therapist.

As art therapists, we need to be able to look at our clients as well as their art-making process. When our clients came online we were only able to see them and not their art-making. But one client, who understood the needs of her art therapist, set up two devices to capture both her art-making process and herself. The image below shows three screens: the therapist’s screen, the client’s screen and the client’s desk where the art-making process takes place.

 

Online art therapy session with two devices set up (laptop and mobile phone) so the therapist can observe the client and witness the art-making process at the same time.

 

With this hurdle being tackled thanks to our thoughtful client, our team shared this suggested set-up on our social media platforms in hope that it would be beneficial to other art therapists and clients alike. We also created a step-by-step guide for all our existing clients who were keen on trying out their first free online art therapy session.

 

 

Our client prepared 2 devices to connect with our therapist online. The screen on the left shows the client’s laptop camera facing her which is used to communicate with our therapist, the screen on the right is from a phone camera. It is an impromptu ‘phone stand’ our client made to balance her phone over the artwork so that our therapist have a clear view of the client’s art-making process. The impromptu phone stand was constructed from thick books and a large milo tin.

3. Moving forward to be part of the allied health profession in Singapore and continue advocating about the importance of mental health.

Within the few months of struggle during the Circuit Breaker, we as a team were anxious, stressed and tired but we were constantly pushing ourselves forward and adapted according to the situation.

We formed connections with local and international art therapists which helped us get through what we felt was a rough patch. We were also thankful for the quick-thinking and immense support from our clients, which consequently allowed us to provide online art therapy sessions. With this new arrangement, we have opened up more avenues to conduct online art therapy sessions to international clients and have become boundless. This is definitely a positive change for us at Solace.

However, we also see the need to step up and work towards a stronger art therapists’ community. Further, to work towards our vision, we would need to make art therapy a part of the wider establishment of mental health services in Singapore and to be part of the allied health professions as well.

As part of our core practices, we will continue to adapt and grow!

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