Virtual reality is already used in medicine to train surgeons, fight phobias, and even help with early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at Drexel University have now taken the first steps to apply virtual reality in the field of art therapy.
“Art therapy is founded on the idea that creative expression with an art therapist facilitates communication and problem solving, reduces inhibition, alleviates depressive symptoms and promotes personal development,” said Girija Kaimal, EdD, lead author of the study in Journal of Art Therapy Association that involved 17 people making art in a virtual environment.
The researchers were interested in evaluating the potential for virtual reality in art therapy, as the modality can create unique experiences, allow for immersive and three-dimensional creativity, and allow people to be placed in custom environments that can help them recover from a variety of psychological conditions.
Twelve women and five men participated in immersive virtual reality, in which they were able to create art for about 20 to 25 minutes. Afterwards, the volunteers were asked to save and discuss their work with an art therapist.
Participants mostly reported enjoying the experience and how they were able to escape to a different world, one of creativity and freedom.
“Most participants reported feeling energized and elated by the experience of being in an imaginal space that was unlike anything that existed in the material world,” said Kaimal. “Some were, however disappointed by the lack of tangible, physical engagement with the medium and for a few, the experience was disorienting.”
The study involved an HTC VIVE virtual reality headset, remote controllers, and a Leap Motion controller. The software running on the system was Google’s Tilt Brush, which allows users to draw images in a 3D envrionment, Kodon, a sculpting application, and Nature Treks, which places people into a relaxing environment.
It is hoped that virtual reality will help to expand the therapeutic capabilities of art therapy and also allow people with disabilities who may not be good candidates for traditional art therapy, to participate as well.
From the study abstract:
Findings indicate that VR-based self-expression is an embodied visual expression, generates novel artistic and imaginal responses, and requires a developmental trajectory in expression and mastery. The unique characteristics of art therapy in VR were identified as positive emotions, play and exploration, learning and mastery, access, and storage. VR has the potential to enhance psychological health and well-being through creativity, enhanced imagination, interactivity, and problem solving.
Study in Journal of Art Therapy Association: Virtual Reality in Art Therapy: A Pilot Qualitative Study of the Novel Medium and Implications for Practice
Via: Drexel University