When working in an inpatient hospital setting, it is very likely that an Art Therapist will encounter a patient who is in isolation. When a patient is in isolation, all those entering their room must wear protective clothing. Medical isolation can exist for many reasons, though in the second-year Clinical Topics in Trauma class, MPS Art Therapy students specifically discussed patients who have tuberculosis. In this case, the protective gear required is a face mask, preventing them from breathing in any airborne germs.
Instructor Irene Rosner David, ATR-BC, LCAT, PhD, brought in face masks that are used in hospitals so that the students could get an idea for what it could be like to conduct an art therapy session while wearing a mask. The students paired up and role-played an art therapy session with the “art therapist” wearing the mask and the “patient” making art as if they were in the hospital. The pairs then switched roles so that all the students could experience the mask.
This experiential enabled students to get a sense of what it is like to work with a patient and needing to wear the mask, as well as what it might be like for a patient to be working with an art therapist who has to wear a mask. The mask acts as a barrier between the patient and art therapist and creates feelings of unequal power dynamics, (un)safety, and inability to mirror and fully see one’s face. This is something many art therapists and patients in hospitals have to navigate, and this in-class experiential helps prepare future art therapists for those situations.