Monday, March 9, 2015

Exposing Trapped Feelings: Testing the Effectiveness of Art Therapy Through Research and Experimental Trials

Image Retrieved From:

While attending school for therapeutic art I have been asked many times if art therapy actually works. Of course I want to believe it does, it is something I have strong feelings towards and believe can be very beneficial to all types of people. Although art therapy can be used for an array of things, for example, rehabilitation for an injured hand, I wish to use it to help individuals express themselves. Some people have a hard time opening up and art is a wonderful outlet that can help relieve trapped thoughts and untouched or unidentified issues.
In order to test my theories and learn more about the pros and cons of art therapy, I am going to be using two investigative methods. The first is researching experiments and other related data that discusses art therapy. By exploring previous work of others I will be able to identify what techniques were successful and which were less so. This research will also help me understand how the scientific and psychological community views this type of therapy.
The other half of the research will be done through my own experiment. I will have multiple therapeutic art sessions with the Pemi Youth Center located in Plymouth, NH. The first session will just be used to gather a baseline of the participants average affect’s. I will be using the Positive Affect and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS) to collect this data. The next gathering I will pass out another version of the PANAS, however, this one will measure their current affect. After the participants fill it out, they will do a session of art. During this time they will be asked to express themselves and to create whatever they wish. When time is up, the participants will fill out the same PANAS as before in order for me to evaluate if their mood has increased, stayed the same, or decreased. This process will repeat for a minimum of 4 trials; there will be 1 trial (or session) a week.
After gathering an adequate amount of data, I will give the participants another PANAS. Once again I will measure their average affect in order to get obtain the new baseline. Once I collect all of the data, I will be able to evaluate the short term and long term effect of the therapeutic art sessions. I will then use this information to compare the similarities and differences with the previous research I have done.
Because I expect that I will have variations in participants for each trial, I will be able to compare the data from less frequent participants with the frequent participants to see if there is a difference in the change of their affect’s. This information is also useful because it will show if more sessions create a different impact of participants.
To show my findings I will be writing a formal lab report which can be distributed to those interested. I will also document the sessions by keeping a binder with the participants data along with photographs of the sessions.

*          *          *

As an interdisciplinary studies student, this project will be drawing a lot from different interdisciplinary theories. The biggest theory that I will be using is the integration theory. This is useful because it allows for the interaction of multiple disciplines. Therapeutic art does not use just one study, it requires the use of both art and psychology. I will also be using the complexity theory and perspective taking theory. Art and psychology do not go hand in hand, and in order to integrate them together I will have to connect them in unexpected ways and find the similarities and differences between the two disciplines.
This project can not be done alone and will require transdisciplinary work. With the help of the Plymouth State University art club I will be able to get the art supplies I need and they will also be providing me their set time with the Pemi Youth Center. I will also be gaining the help from a professor of Plymouth State University. She teaches psychology and is a clinical psychologist; she can provide me great tools and resources along with wonderful advice.
Finally, I will be using critical thinking attitudes and the broad model approach. With these skills I will be self-aware of my strengths and weaknesses, have intellectual courage, and be able to incorporate different approaches of interdisciplinary integration. These skills are important because they will help me stick within my personal limits, point out my own and other bias’, and will provide me a more comprehensive understanding of my project.
The main three disciplines I will be integrating for my project are art, mathematics, and psychology. Both fields are important for this project because they provide the two foundations I will need in order to be successful. Art will give me an understanding of what to provide to the participants and will help me grasp the different expressive concepts. Mathematics is useful because without it I would not understand or show the statistics of my findings. Psychology will help me comprehend the different emotions and will provide a meaning to the results along with guiding me towards the information and research that I need to gather. Without having a background in any of these fields I do not believe I would be successful in my research due to the fact that I would not be able to recognize or understand my study.

*          *          *

To make sure I complete this project in a timely manor, I have included a timeline of when I will be doing my work, which you can view here.


  1. Ok-- looking very good. Have you talked with Jess Dutille at the Pemi Youth Center yet? Obviously this requires lots of cooperation with the site, so we don't want to finalize the plan until we know they are on board. You may need to secure permissions to do this kind of research. You may want to talk to someone on the PSU Institutional Review Board ( so they can help you make sure you are following ethical guidelines as your research on human subjects. Also, I think you really need a good stats person on board, so talk with your Psych advisor to see who they recommend to help you make sure you are doing the stats work according to informed practice (I don't know much about it). Lots of research to be done here, so I hope you are well into it! Looks like a great project!

  2. Hi Christine, I agree with Robin-you'll need to have strong stats to be able to fully capture the trends in the data you collect. How many people do you intend to work with? This number will also determine whether or not you will be able to show any significant trends across your dataset. -Dr. O'Donnell

  3. The first four steps of the Broad Model are:
    1.Define the problem or state the research question
    2. Justify using an interdisciplinary approach
    3. Identify relevant disciplines
    4. Conduct a literature search

    These steps will affect my plans by providing a more thorough research project and will also provide me with a path on how to being my capstone.

    The problem I will be evaluating is whether or not art therapy is effective. It's good to know this in order to help stay on track and will lead me in the right direction of what I should be researching and looking at.

    Using an interdisciplinary approach is important because art therapy is not just one discipline and should not be viewed from only one side of a discipline. It's important to see the issue from all different perspectives in order to obtain the most accurate understanding.

    In order to be interdisciplinary, I must know what disciplines are relevant to my capstone project. Since I am doing art therapy, there is a lot that goes in to it, but since I am just looking at the research side of it, what I really care about is, art, mathematics, and psychology. These three disciplines will help me understand results and feelings that a participant may have.

    Lastly, conducting a literature search will be useful because it will help me find resources that can improve my project. By using other data I can narrow down what to look for and what has worked or failed in past research studies.

    All in all, the broad model will have a great affect on my project, but only in the best ways possible.