Video Recordings Help Art Therapy Students Hone Their Skills (Opinion)

The George Washington University students work with clients and then analyze how they did by watching a recording with an instructor.

by Tally Tripp / October 30, 2013 0

Future art therapists improve their skills by reviewing video recordings of their therapy sessions at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (GWU).

We’ve found the technology enables students to identify their strengths and weaknesses by tuning into visual cues and areas for improvement in their interaction with clients.

GWU has used video for student supervision over the past five years in a student-staffed art therapy clinic for the university community and nearby residents. We’re now in the second year of using high-definition video-conferencing technology from LifeSize, and student learning is greatly enhanced with this video recording and live playback capability.

Video recording has helped students understand micro behavior, which is vital for therapists. Art therapists have a considerable amount of information to observe and process in every session. Analyzing and discussing a piece of artwork is only the beginning. 

In a single session, we must pay attention to the nuances in the relationship between client and therapist, focus on how the client approaches the art materials and art task, while tracking the complex process of creating a painting or sculpture. Video recording aids in this practice by allowing us to notice and really tune into what happens in a therapy encounter.

For example, in one session a student was working with a highly traumatized and dissociative client who struggled with symptoms of PTSD. She had noticed that when working with the art materials, this client would often get flooded with painful feelings and become overwhelmed. During one session, this client became so distraught that she actually collapsed into a helpless, dissociative and unresponsive state.

The student therapist working with the client later confided to her supervisor that she had not known how to respond to this client’s behavior. While reviewing the video together, the supervisor and student were able to de-construct how things progressed. Together, they were able to identify what the student had done well, and also point out the visual cues that indicated when the client was becoming overwhelmed. This review offered the student a way of really seeing the process evolve, to learn how to pick up on important cues more quickly.

With video, students can tune into and process the clients’ actions. In this video review, students become more aware of their own behavior (voice, eye contact, tone, body movement) and how their actions might affect the session. It’s one thing to teach a student in theory how to work with a client; it’s another to have video to analyze the action.

I also video record many of my own clinical sessions, both as a teaching tool for my classes, and for better insight into my own practical experience. Therapists improve their skills by being observed, observing their own behavior, and modeling best practices and skills.

Students who simply present cases without the help of the video may inadvertently skip over potentially important details. It is hard to do therapy and honestly observe yourself at the same time. Video allows us to see ourselves as we are. It humanizes the experience of being a therapist by helping us understand how things develop and what is going on in the moment.

About the author: Tally Tripp is a licensed clinical social worker and registered art therapist. She is the director of the George Washington University Art Therapy Clinic. She can be reached at