Thesis Title

A Heuristic and Qualitative Study Investigating the Mechanisms of Change in Art Therapy

Graduation Date

Summer 2017

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Art Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


This study used a unique, integrative heuristic and Delphi method qualitative design to explore and generate new knowledge related to the phenomena of mechanisms of change in art therapy. Further understanding and identification of mechanisms of change that advance clients toward therapeutic goals is needed in the field of art therapy. This study was particularly focused on gaining further understanding of the triadic therapeutic relationship that is unique to art therapy as a mechanism of change. The triadic relationship includes the client’s relationship with the art therapist, the client’s personal relationship with the art process, and the art therapist’s understanding of client’s art. Data were gathered from the researcher’s engagement in a heuristic experience, which included attending 10-weekly sessions with an art therapist, which was documented through journals and art work and conducted utilizing Moustaka’s six-stage heuristic process. The Delphi method required administering three rounds of questionnaires to a panel of 13 expert art therapists. The first round included five open-ended questions, and the themes that emerged were placed into two-rounds of questionnaires with Likert scale items. The findings of this study revealed emerging themes that function as mechanisms of change in art therapy. The findings have implications for how change occurs in the field of art therapy.