As an interactive therapy technique, art therapy helps people who are not adept with verbal expressions or don’t benefit from traditional talk therapy. Recently, art therapy has gained momentum in the media as well as in lives post-pandemic. Unfortunately, existing video conferencing apps make it hard for therapists to observe and interact with their art therapy clients. The online experience leaves both the art therapist and the client disappointed.
Art Therapi is a brand-new solution for online art therapy. It consists of a desktop app(for therapists) and a tablet app(for clients) to create art, have a productive dialogue, and take notes. It also provides a better way for art therapists to understand clients’ feelings and thoughts while helping clients to express themselves through art.
The digital environment has been incompatible with some interactive therapy techniques, such as art therapy and sandplay therapy. Compared with talk therapy, these methods have specific modalities that require specific design. As online therapy gains in popularity, additional tools are needed for these methods to work in nontraditional environments. As such, my focus became targeted interactive online therapy techniques.
In order to deeply understand the general psychotherapy field, I interviewed two therapists. YuehChun Chao, an art therapist and Ruidi Zhu, a talk therapist. Here are some insights and notes above.
After the understanding of the online therapy market that dominated by talk therapy tool and the comparison of these competitors, such as Talkspace and Betterhelp. I believe that my product as a platform for interactive therapy techniques, the non-verbal expression, immersion and interactivity will be the major differentiators for competitors.
I chose sandplay therapy and art therapy, two typical kinds of interactive psychotherapy, as my ideation directions. At the beginning, I believe that physical products are more fun than digital applications in the art-making process. They allow clients to physically interact with the tools and actually feel the textures of the material in ways that could better stimulate the sense and expression.
However, after reviewing my own psychotherapy experience, the process of beginning therapy can be especially trying. Both the client and the therapist need time and interaction with each other to ensure that the consulting relationship is possible. Therefore, it could be tricky to ask clients to buy a product before deciding that a psychotherapy technique is beneficial for them. So I believe apps are better ways for improving the online therapy experiences while also respecting the trial periods of new therapy relationships.
I designed two prototypes, one involving sandplay therapy and one involving art therapy, and I invited three users to test them, giving them a choice between topics. These simple prototypes were made from existing apps in order to test the basic online therapy process.
I gained the following insights and feedback from these initial experiments:
After comparing the population and accessibility between sandplay and art therapy, I decided to deep into the art therapy solution. Based on the MVP testing and the interview results, I found that the major pain points could be described as this:
In a traditional session, art therapists can set up a safe and interactive environment for the clients to express their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Therapists can observe the clients' body language and art-making process to provide better support. However, therapists might find it difficult to do all of these through a screen.
I've summarized the pain points into three:
I developed the second version of solutions based on the main pain points - material prep, environment, observation and one more thing - connection.
These ideas will be mainly applied to these sections of the product: painting panel, video chatting room and noting / tagging.
Introducing - Nancy, an art therapist, and Devon, an art therapy client. They are an example of the art therapi journey.
Now, they are going to use art therapi to perform an art therapy session. This platform is a desktop app for therapists and a tablet app for clients.
The first step is check-in. To understand the client’s needs and decide on an art-making prompt.
Nancy and Devon join the same video chatting room for their therapy session. From Devon's view, the virtual space makes the talking environment warm-hearted and relaxed.
Nancy will ask Devon how it's going and then choose an art-making prompt for Devon.
Take Notes While Maintaining Eye Contact
Nancy can take some notes on the windows. The input bar is close to the camera, so she can maintain eye contact with Devon while taking notes.
Now, Nancy and Devon have set-up a goal of their session. They will go into the art-making part.
Nancy chooses an artboard and starts.
And then, Devon begins to create her artwork using her stylus or finger on her tablet.
She can choose from 72 colors with 10 transparency scales. And there are some basic types of paintbrushes. These amounts of features allow her to choose but not be overwhelmed by too many choices.
Stickers & Photos
Not only painting, but Devon can also use stickers. In this way, Devon would not feel limited to express herself. Which helps the therapist provide a safe and contained environment for clients.
The timer for clients is hidden by default unless they click on it. This protects users from experiencing unnecessary anxiety.
Observation & Music
During this time, Nancy chooses a relaxing background music playlist while observing the painting process.
Question Prep& Note
If she had a question about the painting, she could click on the artboard and add a question prep.
Using this feature, Nancy can better prepare for the upcoming discussion part.
Now, Devon is completed with her artwork.
Nancy will ask the prepared questions with Devon and discuss them in the discussion part.
Adding tags to the parts of the artwork can help Nancy to note the details better.
After the therapy, Nancy can review the her notes for Devon. The view is organized, so Nancy can quickly build a clear image of Devon and recall what they talked about last time.
For Devon, she can review all the artworks she created. To recall her meaningful mental experiences.