“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
-Maya Angelou

Art therapists are trained to listen, to be grounded, and to think therapeutically; as artists, we are expected to be expressive, emotionally astute, and understand expressive materials. Being an artist means having a deep understanding of the human condition that, along with therapeutic actions, adds to empowering others to heal, change, and flourish. Over the past three years, however, I have heard things daily that created such strong feelings in me that it’s been hard to be an ideal art therapist, artist or even person. I have said things in private, and only to close family and friends, that I’m not proud of; upon reflection, my words remind me of the words uttered by the people who elicited my own strong reactions in the first place! Bad behavior has become commonplace, particularly through social media where people can hide behind the screen to do their threatening and bullying. Normally calm and rational people have inadvertently been pulled into the fray, reacting in similar ways to people who are fomenting unacceptable speech, behavior, and actions. In this article, the focus is on three important Articles in the ATCB Code of Ethics, Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures that can help us, as credentialed art therapists, stay grounded, and provide tools to use to stay engaged and professional in the digital world.

It is particularly important in these times to find ways to combat the flow of threatening speech and behavior, racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. When people stand up to bullies on Facebook, Twitter and in person, the inspiring feeling is dramatically different from the stress reaction that derogatory remarks and ignorant rhetoric provoke. My current hero is Daryl Davis, an African American musician who, for 30 years, has befriended and dialogued with people who are members of the Klu Klux Klan. Using his art as an ice breaker, having a drink or meal with a potentially hostile stranger who has never interacted with a Black person, has been transformative. Mr. Davis has received 200 KKK robes from former members who realized that their “hate was misguided.” As difficult as it may be at times, responding, rather than reacting, is going to open people up to dialogue and change, instead of shutting them down, enabling them to remain rigid and hateful.

There are many commonsense ways to promote respect in our social circles, and on social media. According to the ATCB Code of Ethics, Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, “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.” This Article of the Code is a call for us to not only maintain civility, but also to confront injustices when they arise. There are times when protest and fighting back are absolutely necessary. However, as art therapists, we must do so in ways that are effective and ethical, and are in line with the ATCB Code.

“Rodia’s Tiles I, Watts Towers” by the author

There are many common sense ways to promote respect in our social circles, and on social media. According to the ATCB Code of Ethics, Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures, “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.” This Article of the Code is a call for us to not only maintain civility, but also to confront injustices when they arise. There are times when protest and fighting back are absolutely necessary. However, as art therapists, we must do so in ways that are effective and ethical, and are in line with the ATCB Code.

Additionally, “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,” and “In keeping with their duty to the profession, art therapists who respond to or post on social media shall ensure that their posts are reflective of the ethics and conduct outlined in this Code.” Here it is important to consider different social media accounts—a public one and a private one, perhaps. The public one may be seen by clients and potential clients, so obviously an art therapist must be continually aware of how she or he presents publically. In private (one hopes it remains private, but that may be aspirational when talking about the internet), expressing oneself is more fluid. Keeping the public/private dichotomy in mind can be challenging, but necessary. It doesn’t mean two personas, or not being true to oneself; it means being thoughtful about how we express language, words, tone, and attitudes.

Here are some suggestions and things to consider, from various sources, that can promote effective and professional interactions on social media, and in day-to-day conversations:

  1. Breathe. Deeply.
  2. Ask questions—art therapists are good at that. Asking questions for clarification can lead to a much more productive and informative discussion.
  3. Respect and foster diverse cultures and points of view, as that is what makes America great. The concept of “beginners mind” can go along way in learning about similarities and differences that make for a much more interesting and exciting world.
  4. Follow conversations through—take a short break if you’re angry, calm down, and then continue, rather than ghosting in the middle of a discussion.
  5. Don’t take the bait. Remember that there are people who just want to create mayhem and aren’t really interested in dialogue. If it were a client baiting you, how would you respond?
  6. Discuss personal issues in private, rather than in a public forum. Disputes are inevitable, but they may be better solved in a private chat room, in an email to someone who has the ability to do something about the situation, or together over coffee. 
  7. Be courteous and strive for honest communication in both face-to-face and electronic environments.
  8. Listen more, talk/write less.
  9. Refrain from harassing or using vulgar and offensive language; respectfully call others out if you are on the receiving end.
  10. Go offline; take a break from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter for awhile and make art.

Social media has irrevocably changed our world. It has provided the potential to enter into relationships with almost anyone in the world, and thus requires us to be more acutely aware of how we relate to others. What we say, how we react, the words we use, all reflect back on us. Piet Mondrian, the Dutch abstract painter, believed that, “Everything is expressed through relationship. Colour can exist only through other colours, dimension through other dimensions, positions through other positions that oppose them. That is why I regard relationships as the principal thing.” As artists and art therapists using the creative process, we work at mastering relationships—it is integral to who we are and what we do. With social media, we have another medium to master, and our awareness must be heightened in order to continue to act ethically in an ever-expanding and complex world.

 

Written by:

Lisa Garlock
LCPAT, ATR-BC, ATCS,
Director-Art Therapy Credentials Board