Digital Art Therapy

Apr 11, 2021 by: vart_admin

Is it a real thing?

One friend of mine is a teacher at the school of art in Lviv (Ukraine). Maryana is a specialist at making ceramics. And she has a strong need to teach others, despite age, gender, knowledge, or even artistic thinking. Usually, people were working with basics, like pottery, mostly because it’s fun.

However, the struggles arrived when she had to guide children with developmental disabilities. Some of them were deeply afraid of dirt.

And what is the process of ceramic making? You create forms with clay or other ceramic materials and, sure, with your own hands. Of course, they will be greasy and filthy in the end.

“It was stressful and exhausting, – she recalls the experience of teaching one kid with autism. -I kept his hands with clay, saying that it won’t harm him. But anyway, he would escape and run to wash his hands, and then back to me. Over and over again. I am not a big specialist in art therapy, but I definitely can say that it’s not going to help him. Or anyone with similar conditions.”

Digital art therapy is a relative newcomer to art therapy methods and materials that can be defined as “all forms of technology-based media, including digital collage, illustrations, films, and photography that are used by therapists to assist clients in creating art as part of the process of therapy (Malchiodi, 2011, p. 33)

Today, art therapy’s “palette” has expanded from expensive materials to approachable digital forms of self-expression and communication. For now, these digital forms start with various ways of image-creation, film editing software; animation; gaming, virtual reality (VR) and participatory environments; tablet technology; light painting; artificial intelligence; and digital storytelling as well as other techno-media. Also, you can download different painting and drawing apps on your phone.

Why did digital art increase curiosity among art therapists?

Well, there are several reasons, says Cathy Malchiody. Firstly, digital art became a significant part of expressing yourself, your ideas, and what’s more — you can sell it at auction houses, or exhibit, or present it as a holiday gift to friends and family. Secondly, in general, people are influenced and involved daily with digital media and networking. The young generation is especially “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games, the Internet, and eventually, social media.

And the last “why” that is very predictable — we live in the COVID-19 world, where keeping distance is our current rule, and who knows how long it will be like this. Therefore, digital art therapy proposes accessible, creative cost-effective tools for treatment.

An additional benefit is that digital art therapy is a solution for a selection of individuals with developmental disabilities who dislike paint on their hands, especially those on the autism spectrum with touch, tactile, and olfactory sensitivity.

In 2015 a group of researchers did an experiment to see what changes will happen when in their art therapy sessions with adults who have developmental disabilities, they include digital technology. (Darewych OH, Carlton NR, Farrugie KW). Eight adults with a developmental disability who were enrolled in a traditional community art program volunteered to partake in the study.

What were they doing?

Participants attended five one-hour individual art therapy sessions during which they created on a Lenovo Yoga 13.3-inch Windows 8 Convertible UltrabookTM and a Samsung 7-inch Galaxy Tab 3 Android touch tablet.

Researchers had geared activities towards each individual’s level of cognitive and physical ability. However, for all participants, the sessions consisted of warm-up activity, art-based intervention (free drawing, scribble drawing, house-tree-person), and closure activity. Besides, therapists used music to design safe and creative therapeutic spaces for marginalized and vulnerable clients. Only one patient refused the option due to his auditory-processing challenges.

At the end of each session, participants were asked the following questions: “What did you like about the image-making and creative activity application used today? And — were there any challenging qualities with today’s applications?”

So, what were the results?

Patients enjoyed working with three image-making applications: Fresh Paint, Coloring Mandalas, and Sand Draw. Meanwhile, the two most preferred creative activity applications were: PuzzleTouch and Sticker Tales.

The most common acknowledgments about sessions were that they are simple (“Easy. You just pick what color you want and then just start.”), mess-free (“I don’t have to worry about getting too messy.”), independent (“This is fun. I can do this by myself!”) and empowerful.

One participant during session four while colouring his mandala and listening to the Beach Boys song titled “God Only Knows” stated “God only knows what I’d be without this computer course.”

Written by Marie Avandegraund


A few words who wants to know more

Digital art is progressing and digital art therapy as well. For now, two books propose methods and techniques for digital implementation in traditional art sessions. The Handbook of Art Therapy and Digital Technology by Cathy Malchiodi and Digital Art Therapy: Material, Methods, and Applications by Rick Garner.

But for those who are interested due to personal reasons, there is a blog by Jeff Lohrius. You can find out about virtual reality art therapy and see what qualities of a good app for your treatment are.


Darewych, Olena Helen, Natalie Rae Carlton, and Kevin Wayne Farrugie. “Digital technology use in art therapy with adults with developmental disabilities.” Journal on Developmental disabilities 21, no. 2 (2015): 95.

Malchiodi, C. A. (2011). Materials and media in art therapy. In C. Malchiodi (Ed.) Handbook of Art Therapy (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Publications.

Apr 11, 2021 by: vart_admin

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Read More