POLYPHONYJournal of the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists
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Potential Spaces in Virtual Places: A Reflection Series

Published on Jun 17, 2024 by Áilbhe Hines

Potential Spaces in Virtual Places is a series of reflections exploring aspects of Creative Expressive Arts Therapy in an online setting. The reflection pieces will cover various aspects of this work.

The pieces are:

In Here Out There: Nature Connection
Therein lies a Being: Working with Image to Explore and Transform
Body Talks: Expression, Embodiment, and Acceptance: Trauma-Informed Approaches
Many Which Ways: Interdisciplinary Interventions
Speaking of Space: Client Conversations and Evaluation towards Research

Potential Spaces Intro Image Pictured Áilbhe Hines

'Public Opinion is Dead Matters is Poetry', 'What If',  Cork City of Culture/Cork Community Artlink 2005. A year long project culminating in a series of interdisciplinary performances and street interventions alongside community members. Áilbhe Hines: Performance Director/Facilitator

Introduction to the Series: Potential Spaces


I have worked in diverse settings, including home visits, studio-based work, community buildings, and urban and rural outdoor settings. I practice as an interdisciplinary artist, community artist, and creative expressive arts therapist. Over the past several years, I have been developing an online therapy practice.

There are a number of reasons why online therapy has become an important part of my overall practice. Having roots in socially engaged arts practice has made issues such as access and equity of support in the community an essential part of how I create and develop ways of working. I am interested in the development of community arts therapies approaches that oscillate within wider discussions on issues of oppression, social injustice, and intersectional practice. As Sajnani et al. state, “this includes the serious and radical acceptance of the participants’ knowledge and likewise their style of verbal and artistic expression” (2017).

Four strands of intervention are central to my therapy work: creativity, curiosity, connection, and change. Each of these strands has a myriad of subsections and is interrelated.

Using various expressive forms alongside clients, we move in sessions, to and from, noticing and connecting, expression and imaginative leaps, deepening and transformation. We explore the creative capacity for change, the self as healer, self as artist, our relationships, and the environments we inhabit. We navigate within a potential space and create potential spaces. My work is in providing meaningful and useful entry points for the client in a collaborative relationship.

Working Online: Virtual Places

Before video conferencing became popular and before the Covid-19 pandemic, I used other online and social network-based approaches when working with individuals and groups. Creating an affordable and alternative means of accessing therapy by moving part of my practice online has become an enriching and essential addition to my work with clients.

Some clients are in a particularly vulnerable place at the beginning of a series of sessions. The option to stay within their home but still access support may encourage them to seek help when they are not feeling able to make that trip to the therapist’s studio. Some of these clients may eventually meet in a studio space with a therapist. Others will complete their sessions exclusively online.

Equality of access is also something that can be improved when providing online services.

Some clients may have mobility issues or a flare-up of a co-occurring condition which makes it difficult for them to leave their home. Although I have done home visits in these cases, there is scope to serve a much broader area as the client could be located anywhere, depending on a reliable connection and suitable device. Not everyone has this.

Making the Space

A client prepares a space of their own to meet the therapist. Although they are not required to stock up on materials they might have access to in a studio setting, they have that option. Most sessions could be done with just client and therapist engaging in therapeutic dialogue, expressive body work, enactment or projective techniques, and using pens or markers and paper. It is important to be prepared for situations where a client either has no access to a variety of materials or may not yet be able to access them. What can be happening in this context, is that clients are taking ownership of their healing space both conceptually and practically.

In early conversations and online sessions, the client and therapist can discuss the online setting and whether everything is in place for them to feel safe and secure. There are guidelines on delivering sessions online, and it is important to consider these or check with your regulating body for the latest requirements. All clients participate in at least one initial assessment conversation via phone. This is the first step after a query is received or if agreement to do so is reached via email. It can be easier for a client to meet me this way before the face-to-face encounter online. Consent forms to proceed with therapy, consent to use materials in research, and other important emergency contact information are completed and returned by the client. We use email to correspond on session times, suggest ways and means of materials gathering, or introduce the work. We also use this format to exchange photos of the work in sessions, and I may share other relevant imagery or reading material. The platform I primarily use is Zoom, and if necessary, I will use other platforms as appropriate.

Clients have either weekly or fortnightly sessions. Extra sessions or a series of sessions over an agreed time frame have also been arranged with clients. They may wear a headset or do a session when the house is empty, such as when children are at school. They may have a setting-up ritual. These rituals can include preparing their materials, having a half-hour lead-in, making a cup of tea, or having something to eat. All of these arrangements and discussions are possibilities for insight and intervention. Clients are also encouraged to have a little lead-out time after a session to put away or photograph work, or continue to do breathing exercises used in the session to wind down and prepare for the rest of their day or evening. This lead-in lead-out activity is not always possible for the client, but it is still useful to introduce this idea as sessions progress.

The therapist becomes more intimately connected with the ‘home life’ of the client. We start with life inside the window of the session, the Zoom screen, within the home setting, moving towards the world outside their window and beyond.

All these spaces can be accessed as sessions progress. In some cases, the client completes tasks or self-directed extensions of interventions and activities between sessions, the results of which can become useful material to explore. The screen-share option or similar provision on alternative platforms is an extremely useful tool when meeting clients online. Images made from previous sessions can be revisited. Interesting imagery or imagery to evoke discussion can be utilised. Video, sound, and interactive drawing can also be used.

At intervals, I invite the client to participate in creative evaluative sessions, where we review work done and have a conversation about how the online therapy space is working for them and whether they would like to continue the work. We create a ritual for these conversations to mark them out from regular sessions, and I get the client’s permission to share insights we have gained.

By writing reflection pieces about various aspects of the work I do online, I hope to contribute to a knowledge base for therapists wishing to develop this type of practice. As one Dramatherapist writes, “online [drama] therapy space is uniquely creative, and can be seen as a digital call to adventure and to explore new methodologies and techniques” (Hill, 2020).

References

Sajnani, N., Marxen, E., & Zarate, R. (2017). Critical perspectives in the arts therapies: Response/ability across a continuum of practice. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 54, 28–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2017.01.007 
 
Hill, M. A. (2020, July 16). Drama therapy during COVID-19: A call to digital adventure. Polyphony, Journal of the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists. https://polyphony.iacat.me/drama-therapy-during-covid-19-a-call-to-digital-adventure 

Áilbhe Hines

ilbhe HInes BIO PIC

Áilbhe Hines is an interdisciplinary artist and creative arts therapist. They are concerned with socially engaged interdisciplinary therapy practice, with the potential of creative arts therapies in diverse communites of care and with trauma informed practice.

They are interested in how artworks can consider knowledge/knowing and in the interactions between artist, viewer and the wider environment.

They experiment with ways in which communication of ideas through artforms can have multiple layers of meaning and affect.

Using poetry, recordings, film, written works, performance art, visual work, in-situ artwork and materials exploration, as a means of inquiry, research, creation and presentation, their work considers the ecological, relational and structural interactions that surround us and the intersectionality that defines us - as individuals, communities and societies.

Their works include improvisational durational works installed and/or performed in diverse, non-traditional arts spaces and contexts.

Objects, texts, materials and ephemera are worked with anew in these durational works, creating new objects texts, and ephemera as residue, to be brought into the next stage of inquiry and making.

Áilbhe is currently working on a series of reflection pieces for the IACAT Journal, Polyphony, and a new body of work, :Beyond the Anthropocene", partly supported by a much appreciated Arts Council Agility Grant.



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