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Qatar Foundation to use art therapy to help fight depression and anxiety in children

  • Apr 14, 2021
  • Author: QT-Online
  • Number of views: 1013
  • Top News
Tribune News Network
A Qatar Foundation partner university is leading efforts to develop a pilot program in Museums Telehealth Art Therapy to address the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress in Qatar. 
One of the themes the project – led by Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar and funded by Qatar Foundation’s (QF) Qatar National Research Fund – will focus on is national identity. In collaboration with the National Museum of Qatar (NMoQ), the project will use the museum’s artifacts to offer children virtual opportunities to explore their history and roots, while also aiming to counteract some of the effects of social distancing and isolation.
While children have remained largely shielded from the physical impacts of COVID-19, they appear to be the ones suffering most in terms of mental health. Isolation from friends and drastically limited in-person social interaction, while for their own good, has slowly but surely creeped up on their mental well-being. In a time where the need for counseling has increased but in-person counseling is not an option, an increasing number of therapists have resorted to using telehealth. 
“Telehealth refers to seeing a doctor or healthcare professional using digital means. In therapy, telehealth sessions are done through video conferencing allowing psychiatrists and therapists to provide services to patients virtually,” said Dr. Alan Weber, Professor at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar.
Led by Professor Weber, an arts-in-health specialist, the project will bring together an international team of art psychotherapists, psychiatrists, and physicians in Qatar and the UK to conduct the research. Michelle Dixon, Art Therapist at Sidra Medicine, also a member of QF, will serve as a co-principal investigator of the project and will facilitate the online art therapy sessions. The initial group to benefit from this project will consist of adolescents at Sidra Medicine.
Art therapy is an exploratory process that uses art media as its primary mode of communication and is based on the belief that the creative process involved in the making of art is healing. 
It involves the use of creative techniques such as drawing, painting, coloring, or sculpting to help people express themselves artistically and examine the psychological and emotional undertones in their art. 
“Art therapy can be helpful especially if somebody is having difficulty verbalizing their struggle,” explained Dixon. “This is especially common in teenagers. They are often hesitant to talk about their feelings and art can be a more inviting method for them.”
Explaining how national identity is a key theme of the project, Professor Weber said: “Exclusion and isolation are issues commonly faced by the youth of today. While isolation is a problem exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic COVID-19, exclusion is a much older one. 
“Because of the rapid urbanization of the country, many youth today feel disconnected from their past and ancestors. This is why we chose the theme of national identity; the collaboration with NMoQ will be very valuable in helping us bring this theme to life.”
Sahar Saad, Museum Development Specialist at NMoQ, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with QF on this project that will allow us to use our resources to make a positive impact on children in Qatar. 
“The current situation has meant that children have had limited opportunities to visit the museum, so responding to these challenging times we have made our artifacts available virtually. We are actively ensuring that accessibility and inclusion is at the forefront of NMoQ’s vision through making available a range of assistive technology, sensory backpacks, inclusive programing, and interactive displays.
“And in doing so, we hope to not only offer youth the opportunity to learn about Qatar’s history, but also try to counteract some of the effects of social distancing and isolation.” 
While art therapy may seem like a completely new thing, it is not. In 2019, doctors in Canada started “prescribing” visits to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
Once the model has gone through the pilot phase, the team eventually hopes to deliver it to Syrian refugees in Turkey. The telehealth mode will be particularly useful in reaching refugee children that are in dire need of therapy but are often located in areas that are difficult to access. 
Professor Weber said: “Children that have witnessed war are either too young to verbalize what they’ve been through or too traumatized to talk about it. Art therapy can offer these children a nonverbal way to process their emotions at their own pace which is so important for them.”
While telehealth is a relatively new concept for this region and it comes with its own set of challenges, most critical of which is maintaining patient privacy - especially in group sessions, the team believes they can all be addressed, and it can ultimately be used for the greater good. 
Dixon said: “Kids today are so used to being online, I actually think they are more comfortable doing teletherapy than doing it in-person. Also, it is very convenient to fit a virtual session into a family’s schedule as opposed to an actual visit that needs the parents to drop and pick up the kids.”