-Written by Akash Bhatia, MA, MT-BC, LPC
Families around the world experienced upheaval as the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to close, necessitated physical distancing, and impacted financial stability. In ITA’s shift to remote work and telehealth, our clinicians responded to these new challenges that affected the families we serve. We found the need to make adjustments particularly for clients that have benefited from the multi-sensory experience of face-to-face engagement in creative arts therapy. We asked ourselves, how can creative arts therapists continue the vibrant and transformative experience of our work through a screen? One solution was to rethink the manner in which we involve and support our clients’ parents or caregivers.
With all of the aforementioned challenges resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, many of our clients have experienced a disruption in their regular education and therapeutic services. Due to the need for physical distancing, some might be engaging in fewer or shorter classes or therapy sessions. Clients with attention difficulties, visual or physical limitations, and lack of technology might be struggling with on-screen interactions, which make it difficult to continue the progress that was being made in creative arts therapy. The therapists at ITA have worked with parents and caregivers to identify the changes and challenges occurring at home and have modified treatment plans accordingly. For example, therapists have suggested multiple shorter sessions throughout the week to support clients having difficulties attending to the screen for long periods of time throughout the day. Therapists have also taught caregivers techniques to facilitate sensory regulation at home, both during and outside of the therapy session, such as using a simple movement-based song or creating toys from household objects that provide tactile input.
The goals of creative arts therapy often translate to improvement in areas of life outside of the therapy session: academic settings, work, home life, and social relationships, among others. Coming to ITA for therapy allows the client to learn and practice new skills in a safe setting with the support of a therapist before trying out these skills in the world. However, telehealth has caused the therapy space to overlap with the home, which can consequently also overlap with school or work. Some clients have worked with their therapist to ensure a private space at home, where their parent, sibling, or partner cannot hear the session. Using white noise apps, designating a room for therapy, or creating a structured time for family check-ins at the start or end of sessions has established confidentiality for clients, similar to what they experience when coming to ITA’s clinic.
Other parents or caregivers choose to remain in the session to support the client in using technology, assisting with the client’s movement or physical space, and encouraging the client to focus on the screen. This results in a great opportunity to generalize or translate new skills directly to the client’s everyday environment. At ITA, a client might be using the structure of predictable and familiar music to facilitate turn-taking with the therapist, who later will follow-up with the family to see if this social skill has improved at school and at home. Over telehealth, the therapist has a chance to see the skill occur at home and to coach the parent, caregiver, or sibling in encouraging the client to use the skill with music. This coaching can look like the parent learning and singing along to the turn-taking song or modeling what turn-taking looks like among family members in the room.
The therapists at ITA also acknowledge that pandemic-related stress affects each of the client’s family members and their relationships to one another. Parents might be working from home while simultaneously schooling and caring for their children. Unemployment might cause families to scramble to find funds and resources in the community. All of these stressors can impact family members’ well-being and health. Our therapists have offered to have family and couples therapy sessions to not only support the client but to also support themselves. We have therapists that can help parents and caregivers better manage their emotions and stressors and find creative solutions to find balance during this difficult time. Parents or caregivers might find that their own engagement in the arts and having their own space to process their emotions can help alleviate stress.
Now more than ever, ITA finds it important to work with our clients’ caregivers and loved ones. Social distancing, concerns about one’s health and security, and disrupted routines can lead to significant stress, and the dynamic work of creative arts therapists can help our clients and their families find ways to cope until we can be together again in the same room.