During challenging political and social times, it is difficult to remain indifferent. Accordingly, and most notably within the past decade, art therapy professionals have called upon themselves and others to consider roles as social justice advocates (Kaplan, 2007). As a result, art therapists have become more aware of how art therapy practices may be utilized to promote societal change and have documented these methods and examples in our discipline’s literature (Levine & Levine, 2011). Today, many art therapists thoughtfully engage in their work with clients and are called to speak out against views and activities that appear counter to their value systems. Yet, as art therapists, we may continue to wonder how we can be effective agents of change. Do we work to empower individual clients through artistic experiences, organize community art spaces, mount art exhibitions to foster awareness of social ills, or, do we facilitate social media communication amongst our peers as a call to action?

As we contemplate our responses, not limited to those mentioned, it is also important to consider the methods we use to communicate our messages. How do we assure that we are attending to our social responsibilities as well as our professional and ethical responsibilities as art therapists?

Two sections from the ATCB Code of Ethics, Conduct, and Disciplinary Procedures are particularly relevant to this discussion:

Responsibility to the Profession

1.5.11 Art therapists are accountable at all times for their behavior. They must be aware that all actions and behaviors of the art therapist reflect on professional integrity and, when inappropriate, can damage the public trust in the art therapy profession. To protect public confidence in the art therapy profession, art therapists avoid behavior that is clearly in violation of accepted moral and legal standards.

Social Media

2.10.1 Art therapists who maintain social media sites shall clearly distinguish between their personal and professional profiles by tailoring information specific to those uses and modifying who can access each site.

In terms of responsibility to the profession, it is important to note, that although we may have numerous roles in our lives, art therapist being one of them, others may see us as art therapists and/or representatives of the art therapy profession, even when we are not enacting our roles as art therapists. It is important to ask ourselves, at any time, how will our public behavior be perceived in light of accepted moral and legal standards? How will that behavior impact how others see us and our profession? Will my behavior reduce public trust in the art therapy profession? Proactively reflecting upon the methods that we choose to assert our social justice or other messages can be very, very important in this regard.

In a similar light, our presence and activities in social media realms can be tricky in terms of protecting professionalism. Are our postings public or private? Can we control who sees our comments and can we anticipate how people may be affected by them? Within various social media formats, it is often hard to assure that a private or rather anonymous communication will actually stay with the intended audience or out of the public domain.

As therapists, we must additionally be aware that in today’s world, where people are more and more engaged in communicating through social media, relationships and perceived relationships and dynamics have become increasingly more complex. The ATCB Social Media Ethics code, specifically instructs us to distinguish our personal and professional sites and their content, and to knowingly modify privacy settings that are available to us to manage access and to maintain professional boundaries. If you have any questions about what may be appropriate and where it may be appropriate to post your comments on-line, I encourage you to utilize your supervision resources. Supervision provides an excellent forum for exploration of such questions and is most effective when concerns are addressed prior to taking action to upload, submit, or send.

Whether we are communicating on-line, engaging with our clients in therapy offices and studios, or participating in community activism, ATCB ethical codes provide us with direction to guide our professional conduct and protect the public. ATCB codes do not dictate how we as art therapists enact our social aims, but they do help us to consider ethical behavior as we do.

Other References:

Belkofer, C.M. & McNutt, J.V. (2011). Understanding social media culture and its ethical challenges for art therapists. Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association28 (4), 159-164.

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This article was originally published in the ATCB Review Fall 2017, Volume 24, Issue 3 

Written by:

Barbara-Parker Bell
PhD, ATR-BC
Past President-Art Therapy Credentials Board