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Introduction: what is the World Wide Web?

Why is the Web relevant to art therapists?

What are art therapists already doing on the Web?

Is there an opportunity here for someone?

Art Therapy on the Web: an Introduction

July, 1996

What is the World Wide Web?

The World Wide Web is an enormous collection of documents that is distributed throughout the Internet and available to anyone with a computer, a modem and an Internet connection.

The Internet is an ad-hoc collection of tens of thousands of computers that together serve information and forward email to millions of different computers around the world. It was originally developed in the '60's to serve the needs of research scientists working on US government-funded projects.

The Web is a hypertext publishing medium. This means that words and phrases within a document can be linked to other documents. These documents could be stored anywhere on the Internet. By linking to other documents in this way, an individual can effectively act as editor of her own publication with the entire Web as her source material. Some of the most useful Web sites have very little original work but instead contain judiciously chosen links to other people's sites. On the web, this is not plagiarism; it is normal practice.

The Web was created in the early 1990's by physicists working at CERN near Geneva, who wanted to share their research results with their colleagues all over the world. It was rapidly adopted by groups of people working in other academic fields who wanted to do the same thing.

The Web is increasingly being used outside academia, and the number of academic articles published on the Web is now dwarfed by other material of a personal, collaborative, public-spirited, commercial, and sometimes dubious nature.

There are very few limitations to what information gets published on the Web. Access is cheap and global. Almost anyone can publish on the Web.

Why is the Web relevant to art therapists?

Like nuclear physicists, art therapists are a global community who need to communicate with each other in order to do their work, to stay in touch with new developments, to build professional consensus, and to share new ideas.

The Web provides a medium where art therapists can: publish articles; publicise events, conferences and courses; advertise job vacancies; share opinions (about courses, about theory, about practice); ask for help and offer advice; and leave messages for each other.

The Web offers many of the things that existing forms of communication (newsletters, magazines, conferences, meetings) offer, but it also offers many advantages: it is cheap; it is global; it is collaborative; it is democratic; it creates fast feedback loops; and it is becoming increasingly ubiquitous.

What are art therapists already doing on the Web?

Six months ago there were almost no information resources for art therapists on the Web. Currently there are just a handful. The American Art Therapy Association has a site as do a few individual art therapists.

In general, sites maintained by individuals or small groups are often more interesting and useful than institutional sites. This seems to be because individuals tend to understand the non-hierarchical, inter-linked nature of the Web better than organisations. The Art Therapy in Canada site maintained by Petrea Hansen is a good example of this, with prominently displayed links to other sites and a good local archive of material that Petrea has either written herself or obtained from others.

The number of sites will inevitably grow.

Is there an opportunity here for someone?

Emphatically, yes. The Web is new. Its potential is not fully understood. The majority of people are not yet communicating using the Internet or publishing on the Web. This will change. It is a fair bet the Internet will soon become the primary means of regional, national and international communication for most working professionals; it will become the principal tool for research; and the principal publishing medium. This has already happened in many academic disciplines; it is beginning to happen in several professions; and there is no reason at all why this transformation should not take place fairly rapidly among art therapists. At some time in the next couple of years it is likely that there will be enough art therapy material on the Web to make it worthwhile for art therapy students to use it to research their course work. Familiarity gained at college will make it more likely that they will continue to use the Web in their working professional lives. The American Art Therapy Association already publishes a list of members' email addresses in their newsletter in order to encourage communication between them. The list currently numbers about twenty. This figure will grow; it will probably grow exponentially.

People like Petrea Hansen in Canada have already demonstrated that individuals, perhaps working in collaboration with a small group of colleagues, can produce useful resources. In developing her Art Therapy in Canada site she is opening up a path for others to follow. As more art therapy material is published on the Web, the value of sites like Hansen's will also grow as links to other sites are added to existing documents and collaboration increases.

For art therapists with the time and the inclination, there is currently a unique opportunity to contribute to the growth of the art therapy community on the Internet in the very early stages of development.

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This document was prepared by Danny Sofer for a discussion at the London Regional Group meeting of the British Association of Art Therapists that took place on Saturday 6th July, 1996.