Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Individually Designed


Laurie E. Hicks

Second Committee Member

Dorothy Breen

Third Committee Member

Andrea Gilroy


This research was designed to explore what happens in the process of therapy when clients, having persisting symptoms of sexual abuse and having disclosed that abuse, have access to a wide variety of art materials to select and use in treatment. A blend of qualitative and quantitative research in design, the study is an initial step towards a greater understanding of the potentially transformative experience of art making and the role of art mediums in the practice of therapy. Treatment for abuse is a long, complex and arduous process. Persistent aspects of abusive experience remain deeply buried within the body and cause periodic, cyclical, somatic and psychological problems in an individual's life. Clients often feel words are too immediate and too explicit to describe the experience and the resulting emotional response generated by sexual abuse. Created within the context of what psychiatrist Winnicott (1971) described as the "good enough" therapeutic relationship, artwork may be viewed as more concrete and symbolic, or less immediately explicit and therefore safer than verbal communications. Sensory-based therapies such as art therapy are, therefore, particularly useful in accessing traumatic memories and transforming the experience to a less damaging state. For this study, the author set up private practice to work as therapist with eight individuals for eight fifty-five minute sessions in a traditional art therapy studio. Each session was documented on videotape. Artwork was photographed. Videotapes, artwork, intake histories and the researcherltherapist's notes were analyzed. Brief case studies were developed. Data were considered by frequencies and ordinal comparisons for immerging patterns. The data described art mediums as accessing cognitive, symbolic, emotional, perceptual, kinesthetic and sensory levels of understanding. A spiral model facilitated understanding the process. The potential to pace the process of therapy by direction and selection of more or less mediated, fluid and controllable art mediums was shown to exist. Through the spatial and kinesthetic processes of art making in art therapy, the individual controls recollection, comprehension, integration and resolution of trauma. Art mediums are central in art therapy as they safely provide the means of expression and reflection to transform trauma in the bodymind.

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