Why the sudden change? A qualitative study exploring factors influencing art therapists’ decisions to adapt to online art therapy delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.K
Purpose The purpose of this small-scale research study was to determine the compelling factors influencing Art Therapists’ decisions to adjust to online art therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The research aimed to discover the views of U.K. based Art Therapists on the adaptations to their practice, implemented due to the sudden restrictions in face-to- face delivery. It was hoped, through its findings the study would reveal the attitudes of Art Therapists towards online Art Therapy delivery and explore how this could impact upon its delivery. The study aimed to provide useful data in understanding what is helpful in the development of online Art Therapy working and thus further inform the expansion of the field. Methods This research study explored “Why are art therapists in the U.K. adapting their practice during the Covid-19 pandemic?” through the subjective experience of five Art Therapists in a small-scale study using a qualitative research design and the Constructivist Grounded Theory method. This was to allow for the co construction of theory that included both participant and researcher experiences, while offering in-depth analysis grounded in the data. The researcher conducted 30-45 minute online video interviews with participants where they were asked about their experiences and adaptations while working online as Art Therapists during the Covid-19 pandemic. The study was limited to Art Therapists living and working in the U.K. who were qualified and registered with the British Association of Art Therapy and not employed within the NHS at the time of interview. Data from interviews were transcribed and analysed consistent with the Constructivist Grounded Theory approach using theoretical sampling and the constant comparison method in interpretation. Findings Through analysis of the data generated from interviews with all five participants who consented to take part in the study, five main themes emerged in response to the research question: (1) Commitment to Clients, (2) Inherent adaptability, Reflexivity and curiosity (in practice), (3) Determination, (4) Feeling 16006819 3 Pressured and (7) Maintaining Identity. In addition to these the study also revealed other findings related to the attitudes of Art Therapists related to adaptations they had made: (1) Reluctance to Adapt (Facing an unknown and Lacking knowledge) and (2) Concerns about adaptations (Limitations and Safety). Conclusions Findings showed that the commitment Art Therapists felt to their clients and the need to maintain consistency in their practice was significant, as was their apparent innate adaptability, flexibility and drive to adapt sessions to suit their clients’ needs. Determination was identified as a potential cause of adaptation, evidenced in the efforts to maintain connections and the drive to provide meaningful therapy in a crisis situation. Pressure in the form of time limitations and financial responsibilities were key factors in their decision to adapt online delivery, alongside the need to maintain their identity as Art Therapists and define their practice. Findings also revealed significant data on the feelings of Art Therapists in regards to their adapted practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Themes that emerged were: reluctance (facing an unknown and lacking in knowledge) and concerns (limitations and safety). Art Therapists described feeling hesitant which they attributed to their concerns around the unknown and felt they lacked knowledge and training, were underqualified, unsupported and needing guidance. All of which contributed to feeling unconfident in delivering Art Therapy online. The limitations of what online delivery could offer when compared to face to-face caused apprehension and concern that the online platform omitted significant valuable elements in the work and was not as effective. Limitations & Implications The study, being completed in a short time frame, was limited to a small number of participants which allowed the researcher to focus on the quality of the data and subsequent in depth analysis, however, fully exploring phenomena and drawing conclusions from the data may have been limited. 16006819 4 The study itself took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, through which a further lockdown was imposed on the U.K. population, which may have had a negative effect on interest and participation. A more even distribution in terms of participants’ experience as qualified Art Therapists may have yielded more robust data. Prior to this study there had been limited evidence of research relating to attitudes of Art Therapists and little exploring what factors influenced their decisions to adapt their practice to online delivery during COVID-19. Findings may be of use in providing insight into factors influencing how Art Therapists may adapt their practice to new technologies in the future. Further research is essential to provide a broader and more widely reaching understanding of Art Therapists’ attitudes to adaptation in general, and in online work specifically, during the current rapid expansions in this field.