Challenging the Videoconferencing Gold Standard:
   Art Therapy and Tele-Mediated Communication in Behavioral Telehealth

Kate Collie, University of British Columbia

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University March 7, 2003

In the world of behavioral telehealth, high-quality videoconferencing is usually assumed to be the best way for a psychiatrist or therapist in one location to communicate with a patient or client in another location. This assumption is being challenged by work being done at the University of British Columbia (UBC) by an interdisciplinary team of researchers, led by Kate Collie, who are looking at Internet-supported art therapy as a form of psychotherapy that may be particularly well suited for distance delivery when the modes of communication are speech and hand-drawn images.
Art therapy is psychotherapy that employs non-verbal communication and creative expression. Among other things, it is used with both children and adults to treat the effects of trauma, including trauma associated with life-threatening illness. The UBC team's research is aimed at using the Internet to make art therapy services more available to people with mobility limitations due to illness or disability. The research has included the creation of customized audiographic software for distance art therapy and the development of communication protocols for online therapy. Although the modes of distance communication (speech and hand-drawn images) were originally chosen because of their low bandwidth requirements and the possibility of reaching people in their homes this way, the research has highlighted additional advantages (over videoconferencing) of using audiographic systems for distance psychotherapy.

In this presentation, Kate will give an overview of the work being done at UBC as a starting point for discussing research from a wide range of fields in which modes of mediated and non-mediated communication have been compared on measures related to task completion and relationship formation. She will highlight key differences between visual and verbal, written and spoken, and synchronous and asynchronous communication that have been identified, and examine why videoconferencing is often preferred, in spite of the demonstrated superiority of audio-only communication for most types of distance interpersonal interactions.

Kate Collie is doctoral candidate at the Institute of Health Promotion Research at the University of British Columbia. She is an artist who has exhibited nationally and internationally and an art therapist with a specialty in trauma and major physical illness. For the last five years, she has been conducting research about Internet art therapy-for the purpose of expanding access to this kind of service, particularly to people with mobility limitations due to illness or disability. This telehealth research has included examinations of strengths and weaknesses of different forms of tele-mediated communication.

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