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Art Therapy in the Digital World: An Integrative Review of Current Practice and Future Directions

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Simon Hackett



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© Copyright © 2021 Zubala, Kennell and Hackett.Background: Psychotherapy interventions increasingly utilize digital technologies to improve access to therapy and its acceptability. Opportunities that digital technology potentially creates for art therapy reach beyond increased access to include new possibilities of adaptation and extension of therapy tool box. Given growing interest in practice and research in this area, it is important to investigate how art therapists engage with digital technology or how (and whether) practice might be safely adapted to include new potential modes of delivery and new arts media. Methods: An integrative review of peer-reviewed literature on the use of digital technology in art therapy was conducted. The methodology used is particularly well suited for early stage exploratory inquiries, allowing for close examination of papers from a variety of methodological paradigms. Only studies that presented empirical outcomes were included in the formal analysis. Findings: Over 400 records were screened and 12 studies were included in the synthesis, pertaining to both the use of digital technology for remote delivery and as a medium for art making. Included studies, adopting predominantly qualitative and mixed methods, are grouped according to their focus on: art therapists’ views and experiences, online/distance art therapy, and the use of digital arts media. Recurring themes are discussed, including potential benefits and risks of incorporating digital technology in sessions with clients, concerns relating to ethics, resistance toward digital arts media, technological limitations and implications for therapeutic relationship and therapy process. Propositions for best practice and technological innovations that could make some of the challenges redundant are also reviewed. Future directions in research are indicated and cautious openness is recommended in both research and practice. Conclusion: The review documents growing research illustrating increased use of digital technology by art therapists for both online delivery and digital art making. Potentially immense opportunities that technology brings for art therapy should be considered alongside limitations and challenges of clinical, pragmatic and ethical nature. The review aims to invite conversations and further research to explore ways in which technology could increase relevance and reach of art therapy without compromising clients’ safety and key principles of the profession.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Zubala A, Kennell N, Hackett S

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Psychology

Year: 2021

Volume: 12

Print publication date: 01/04/2021

Online publication date: 08/04/2021

Acceptance date: 12/03/2021

ISSN (electronic): 1664-1078

Publisher: Frontiers Media S.A.


DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.600070