Mariam El-Halawani, MA, ATR, is a US-trained art psychotherapist and has an MA in Art Therapy from NYU, New York. Her clinical experience includes working with clients in psychiatric, medical, educational and clinical settings in different countries including the US, Italy and the UAE. She has a special
interest in working with adolescents and young adults experiencing psychological distress, suicidal ideation, self-harm and/or identity confusion. Being born and raised in the Middle East, Mariam’s expertise also lies in supporting Arab families in navigating multi-generational patterns, trauma and difficult relational dynamics. She is passionate about bridging generational gaps and different cultural and ideological perspectives that can sometimes surface in Arab families. Mariam is currently pursuing her PhD in International Psychology in order to expand her clinical skills beyond borders. She is a published author and contributor to art psychotherapy journals and books. Her research focus includes vulnerable and stigmatized groups and the use of art psychotherapy services as a form of support. Mariam is also a part-time lecturer and has presented in international and regional mental health conferences.
Technology & Art Psychotherapy: The pros and cons
Research in art psychotherapy has demonstrated that it maintains its effectiveness when it is moved to the digital space (Levy et al., 2018; Spooner et al., 2019; Zubala et al., 2021). However, the impact of culture has yet to be considered, and this paper explores how art psychotherapy translates to online, telehealth, and digital services in the Arabian Gulf. This paper will integrate the findings previously published about how COVID transformed art psychotherapy (Gomez-Carlier et al., 2020; Dixon et al., 2022), a report regarding moving art psychotherapy groups for children in the Autism Spectrum to telehealth (Gómez-Carlier & Powell, 2022), developing online services with museums in Qatar (manuscript in preparation), with recent findings in our practice regarding working in trauma and addressing mental health stigma.
As previously reported, online art psychotherapy reduces stigma (Wong et al., 2018) and enhances access. Access is particularly relevant since so few art therapists are practicing in the region. The digital space also shifts the power dynamics, affects engagement, and problem-solving technological problems can cultivate confidence and self-esteem when managed consciously (Collie & Čubranić, 1999).
However, it is also important to identify the cases where there might be better choices than the online environment, and the use of technology might not be beneficial. Art psychotherapists have often identified that the capacity to observe the process and the image created are particularly hindered in the digital space (Levy et al., 2018). In cases of heightened risk, interrupting online services was often necessary. Moreover, integrating embodied expression and non-verbal communication (not seeing the whole body, decreased eye contact, and not co-regulating nervous systems) needed constant attention. In this region, it also becomes essential to address privacy and confidentiality issues, as collective cultures have different ways of perceiving the therapeutic relationship (Al-Krenawi & Graham, 2000; Pope-Davis et al., 2001).
We conclude that creativity plays an important role in how art psychotherapy adapts to the digital age. We hypothesize that when creativity is mindfully integrated, we can observe increased empowerment, engagement, and appreciation for the unique benefits of art psychotherapy. The presentation will also discuss how new technologies, including virtual reality (Kaimal et al., 2020) and working with social robots (Partridge et al., 2022), has been explored in the field of art psychotherapy.
Al-Krenawi, A., & Graham, J. R. (2000). Culturally sensitive social work practice with Arab clients in mental health settings. Health and Social Work, 25(1), 9–22. https://doi.org/10.1093/hsw/25.1.9
Collie, K., & Čubranić, D. (1999). An art therapy solution to a telehealth problem. Art Therapy, 16(4), 186–193.
Dixon, M., Gómez-Carlier, N., Powell, S., El-Halawani, M., & Weber, A. S. (2022). Art Therapy Service Provision during the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). QScience Connect, 2022(3-Medical Humanities in the Middle East Conference), 32.
Gómez-Carlier, N., Powell, S., El-Halawani, M., Dixon, M., & Weber, A. (2020). COVID-19 transforms art therapy services in the Arabian Gulf. International Journal of Art Therapy, 25(4), 202–210.
Gómez-Carlier, N., & Powell, S. (2022). Brief Report: An Art Therapy Pilot Dyadic (parent/caregiver and child) Telehealth for Children Living with Autism Spectrum Disorder. QScience Connect, 2022(3), 33.
Kaimal, G., Carroll-Haskins, K., Berberian, M., Dougherty, A., Carlton, N., & Ramakrishnan, A. (2020). Virtual reality in art therapy: a pilot qualitative study of the novel medium and implications for practice. Art Therapy, 37(1), 16–24.
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