Already engaging its patients more in art therapy than what can be found at most addiction treatment centers, Virginia-based Williamsville Wellness recently began supplementing its art sessions with digital art therapy using tablet PCs and the iPad. Regardless of the medium, administrators at the center that specializes in residential treatment for gambling addiction believe art therapy facilitates the process of understanding feelings—both for the patient and the treatment team.
“Art therapy draws out things that often can’t be drawn out in other forms of therapy,” says Williamsville Wellness founder Bob Cabaniss. When a patient draws something to be interpreted later by a therapist working with the patient, “You can’t hide. You can’t lie,” Cabaniss says.
Adds Laurie McArthur, Williamsville Wellness’s art therapist for the past year and a half, “Art therapy gives a person a good way of looking at themselves. It also slows them down—you can’t draw fast.”
And the latter is especially true because most patients lament when first introduced to art therapy that they have no art skills and haven’t drawn or painted since middle school, McArthur says. She tries to put patients at ease by reminding them that they have strengths in other areas, and she emphasizes that this therapeutic work is about gaining information, not judging the quality of one’s art.
With art therapy now moving into digital formats along with the traditional methods, patients can see their work in more vivid colors, edit their work on an ongoing basis, and be readily reminded of past works when doing so is useful to the treatment experience. “The therapist can now e-mail a drawing to the patient and say, ‘Remember this drawing?’” Cabaniss says.
McArthur says she conducts mostly individual art therapy sessions with patients, in an organization that emphasizes individual therapy overall. She does conduct one group art therapy session per week. Patients typically receive two to four hours of art therapy a week while in Williamsville Wellness’s art therapy program.
McArthur collaborates with the rest of the center’s treatment team daily, which allows the art therapy to function as an integrated element of the treatment experience as opposed to a stand-alone exercise.
“Without it, it would take a little longer to get information about the patient,” McArthur says. “Patients don’t always want to report things upfront.”