Art Therapy and Social Media - Can we help art therapy clients through digital platforms?

Source: © 2017 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD "Social Media Word Art," digital art created with Word Photo app.
Source: © 2017 Cathy Malchiodi, PhD "Social Media Word Art," digital art created with Word Photo app.

Social media and networking platforms are technically not “tools” found in a proverbial digital art therapy toolbox. In fact, most art therapists and mental health professionals may not have perceived social networks and social media beyond forms of communication and information sharing. Art therapists, just like counselors and psychotherapists, usually use social networking platforms to communicate with colleagues and to promote their services as well as widen public exposure of the field of art therapy. In other words, social networking is used as a way to advertise to the marketplace, elevate status in the eyes of peers, build independent practices and consultation services, and promote the value of their field to the public. This is understandable because art therapy as a profession is often still misunderstood; it is also a relatively low-cost way to promote one’s services and reach an extensive audience through available digital media.


Additionally, art therapists use social networking to display personal artwork for responses from peers (Malchiodi, 2009) and in somewhat altruistic ways for the purpose of sending art supplies or even handcrafted items to support those in need. For example, Operation Sock Monkey (2017) assists with humanitarian efforts through volunteer-created sock monkeys (dolls crafted from socks) that are sent to children and adults around the world. But as mental health care professionals, art therapists’ purpose in social networking and social media is beyond simply leveraging it for personal gain or carrying out charitable “arts as social action” programming. The actual purpose of art therapy is to provide psychotherapeutic services to others; therefore it is essential to understand how we can use social networking with their therapeutic interests in mind.


Considering the widespread use of social networks and social media by clients and their undeniable role in 21st-century human interactions, these platforms may actually support therapeutic goals for some individuals. But can practitioners successfully integrate social networking platforms within the framework of an art psychotherapeutic relationship? The short answer is this—it’s complicated. However, as telehealth, virtual reality, digital storytelling and other digital media continue to expand, it is likely that at least some art therapy services will involve not only digital technology, but also social networking platforms. Here is one example:


A Moodle-Based Psychoeducational Group for Chronic Pain Patients


Moodle (modular object-oriented dynamic learning environment) is a free, open-source learning management system that is available to anyone who wants to set up distance education and is used by universities and businesses. It has customizable features that include a variety of options to load text, post documents, films and PowerPoints, add quizzes, request short feedback responses, and upload assignments including images. Groups and “galleries” can be included so that users can interact and post comments and questions. Numerous plugins are available that can extend the features of a Moodle site; these plugins can be downloaded free of charge from the Moodle website at www.moodle.org (link is external).


At the request of a pain management clinic, I designed a psychoeducational program for patients with chronic pain issues using Moodle as the platform; like the resiliency programming described in the previous section, a secure, password-protected site was used and only individuals who were cleared by the clinic were given access. These patients had a variety of conditions resulting in pain from back, hip or knee pain to headaches such as migraines or tension-related conditions. Because Moodle can be structured to allow users to participate as individual learners, patients who registered for the program could access it at their own pace and remain anonymous to other users. The program included six “modules” (topics) ranging from self-assessment of pain to mind-body techniques; each module provided a downloadable summary of the topics covered and additional self-care strategies.


An optional part of the program involved several hands-on art activities, including using body outlines to track pain and simple drawing exercises for stress relief. Patients who participated in the online activities had the option to post their work to the site for review by the facilitator or share comments and impressions in a group forum open to all participants. While not all participants chose to use this option, for those who did, it added a dimensional to their experience and learning. Surprisingly, several of these participants decided to opt for art therapy services as a result because of they were surprised at what they learned about their pain and its management through simple drawing activities and online sharing with cohorts.


While art therapists may simply see social networking and social media as platforms to advertise services or promote the profession, when we keep our clients’ needs as our first priority, our understanding and exploration of how social networks may help clients will continue to emerge. I hope this brief overview and example inspires more art therapists to explore and design new platforms and to consider the multiple ways that we can provide support to our clients through creative, engaging, user-friendly, secure and ethical social networking experiences. For more information, see The Handbook of Art Therapy and Digital Technology (link is external) premiering in June 2018.

First appeared in Psychology Today




Malchiodi, C. A. (2015, May 31). The Art Therapy + Happiness Project. Retrieved at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/arts-and-health/201505/the-art-therapy-happiness-project

Malchiodi, C. A, (2009, November 2). Art therapy meets digital art and social media. Retrieved at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/arts-and-health/200911/art-therapy-meets-digital-art-and-social-multimedia

Operation Sock Monkey. (2017). About OSM. Retrieved at http://www.operationsockmonkey.com/about/ (link is external)

Wright, K. (2016). Social networks, interpersonal social support, and health outcomes: A health communication perspective. Frontiers in Communication, 1(10), no page numbers. DOI: 10.3389/fcomm.2016.00010.


about the author

Cathy Malchiodi is an art therapist, visual artist, independent scholar, and author of 13 books on arts therapies, including The Art Therapy Sourcebook.




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