COVID-19 Material Management and Best Practices for Art Therapy

This week I started to cautiously ease into providing in-person art therapy groups at one the sites I am at that has re-mobilized face to face group therapy programming for clients.  A lot of consideration has been made organizationally to create a physical environment that will be safe for clients needing services.  This starts with mandatory healthcare screening measures and clearance upon entering the overall facility such as temperature checks, self report questions about potential COVID-19 symptoms and risk, lots of signage and visual cues for physical distancing in common spaces, and being provided a mask to wear if you do not already have one.

Within the program space in which I provide services, every group member is required to physically distance at least 6 feet from other members and the facilitator, which also includes limiting the maximum number of clients allowed in the group space depending on the required amount of space needed for physical distancing.  Everyone on-site (group leaders, staff, and clients) wear masks throughout the day’s programming.

As an art therapist facilitating primarily group work, I want to keep clients, their families, staff, and myself as safe as possible during this transition of navigating to this next normal of gathering together again, even if it is 6 feet apart.  The usual use of art therapy materials that are commonly available to the group or used in a session (often shared or handled by multiple people and as a community), as well as the way materials are managed or distributed in the art therapy space required serious reconsideration.  In an effort to make sense of this new, developing practice for myself and help educate or reassure those coming into the art therapy space, I drafted this COVID-19 Material Management and Best Practices in Art Therapy two pager. 

The two pager provides practices on three areas: Hand Washing/Sanitizing,  Material Management, and Disinfection of Art Materials to help promote infection control and decrease the spread of germs and illness.  I also provided examples of media that I use in my art therapy space to help distinguish between supplies that would be considered single use or could be used multiple times if properly disinfected.  I also started to individually put art materials into ziploc bags that could be given to clients to use (and clean before putting back into the bag) or if not possible to clean (such as oil pastels) to keep for their own use at home or discard.  Obviously in a group setting, where the amount of clients and number of groups throughout the week can be several, there may not be the necessary budget to sustain giving materials away or throwing them out.

As this evolving situation with COVID-19 continues to emerge, additional practices and approaches will certainly also surface within the art therapy community.  Medical art therapists who regularly work with immune comprised patients have instituted infection control procedures with their materials and their way of working as a common form of practice.  Considerations are made for providing meaningful and therapeutic art interventions that not only emotionally support a patient they are working with and appropriate treatment goals, but also the necessary use of handling, prepping, and using materials in the physical space to ensure this is a safe practice and will do no harm to ones health and wellbeing.   Art therapists’ knowledge and understanding of materials are a primary foundation to our practice, expertise, and training.

The two pager I created was informed by the valuable experiences of the medical art therapy community, as well as art educators working in classrooms with lots of students who are trying to figure out how to teach and make art together safely as a group when they are finally able to return to some form of in-person learning.  This American Art Therapy Association (AATA) COVID-19 related resource and recent journal publication, as well as AATA webinars that were hosted in March and May also provided helpful information about working in this new environment.

I am curious if you have any suggestions for practices you’ve started to use or consider for face to face art material use in this time of COVID-19, especially related to work with groups or more than one individual at once?  We can definitely keep learning from eachother as we face unfamiliar situations and working because of this pandemic.

Published by

Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC

Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC, ACTP: Registered Board Certified Art Therapist, TLC Certified Trauma Practitioner, Art Therapy Community Organizer, Artist...

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