On...line dramatherapy; does it work?
Online therapy during COVID-19
One of the biggest changes and adaptations that society has currently taken particularly because of COVID-19 pandemic is the use of digital technology to 'meet' and communicate. At a time when social distancing appears to be the only way to keep one safe, contact through screens, texts, emails or phone calls appear to have replaced the gap that lack of physical contact creates.
In the same way, mental health professionals and psychotherapists have adapted to this 'new normal' by transitioning their therapy sessions online. Online therapy seems to have offered an advantage in this case where access to face-to-face therapy is limited although, very much needed and perhaps more so, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this article I discuss what are the pros and cons of online therapy and if it can be effective. I then further explore how adaptive a creative arts therapist can be within an virtual environment and share my views on online dramatherapy.
Is online therapy effective?
Studies have proved that teletherapy and particularly CBT has been as effective as face-to-face therapy particularly when treating depression and anxiety disorders. It has also been proved that online therapy is effective, acceptable and practical.
What are the pros and cons of online therapy?
Online therapy has got both some benefits and challenges.
In pros, online therapy can be overall more accessible. It is particularly useful for individuals with any health or physical conditions that would otherwise require further assistance or be unable to access therapy otherwise. It can alos be more accessible to individuals leaving in rural places. Individuals living in a different country than their origin can also begin therapy with therapists speaking their first or preferred language.
Additionally, online therapy can be cost effective as does not require any travelling costs. Professionals may also offer reduced rates as they can avoid costs (e.g. renting a space to provide therapy in).
Individuals who access online therapy can also feel more secure in maintaining their confidentiality as no need to ‘bump into’ others. They can also arrange sessions more conveniently and at their preferred time.
Finally, the distance that already exists in online therapy may also provide some safety for individuals to open up about information that they perhaps would hold back if in a more intimate face-to face setting.
In cons, the natural face-to-face contact gets lost. Non-verbal communication, such as body language, is limitedthus information important for the therapist may be missed. The therapeutic relationship may also take longer to be formed because of the unavoidable distance that gets created by ‘not being in the same room’.
Additionally, tech difficulties such as bad network connection, mic or sound issues may interrupt the process. It is good practice for the therapist to have established what process would be followed with their clients in such cases.
When in online therapy, therapist may not be able to intervene ‘physically’ in cases of extreme distress or risk related circumstances. A list of emergency contacts as well as a next of kin details are important to be available to manage such potential circumstances.
Does online dramatherapy work?
Creative arts therapies and particularly dramatherapy are creative-expressive and action-based methods of psychotherapy. It is common then for one to wonder how could this work in an online environment?
In my experience, I have found that arts therapists background as artists has now been more useful than ever because of their skills in being creative and to improvise. A recent study explored what digital resources well established Dramatherapists around the world have been using in their clinical work when working online. Limitations and opportunies are dicussed.
As a Dramatherapist I have adapted my work in online environments. Despite the limitations particularly around the lack of physical presence I believe, 'It works!'. I have been able to use creative means such as drawing, storytelling, movement, and images in very similar ways as in face to face sessions. Online tools such as screen sharing have assisted in sharing content with individuals such as images or sounds which can then be used within a session. Storytelling and development of scripts or characters through writing have been also very useful when role-play gets trickier throuhg a screen.
It is my belief that many arts therapists out there have been using their imagination to offer clients creative means of expression despite not being in the same room with them. For example, as the screen may seem somewhat limited at the same time it offers huge opportunities for creativity and playfulness; think of its ‘hide and seek’ function or its ‘zoom in and out’ one. It is the creative arts therapists use of imagination and use of limitations really that I believe allow for online arts therapy to still be creative, expressive, supportive, and thus effective.
I would finally like to mention the importance of ‘being with’ and sharing the ‘here and now’ with another individual in any therapy forum or circumstance. Being present, offering space and time are still hugely significant within the therapeutic process and these can be achieved in my opinion both in face-to-face and online therapy.
In conclusion, online therapy has got a lot to offer especially, when circumstances, global or personal, make face-to-face contact harder to get. Although face-to-face contact is perhaps for many irreplaceable, I would confidently suggest that online therapy offers a way moving -and supporting- forward.