Thesis Title

Three Decades of Trauma-informed Education and Art Therapy: An Effectiveness Study

Graduation Date

Spring 2016

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 mixed method study examined the effectiveness of a school-based program that has been integrating trauma-informed education and art therapy for three decades to treat adolescents who have experienced complex trauma, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and toxic stress. To date, no clinical-effectiveness outcomes research or systematic program evaluation had been conducted at Northern California School (pseudonym). This research included 15 former student participants who attended the program over the past 15 years, as well as 28 current and former staff employed over the past 30 years. Research methods include tenets of effectiveness studies, program evaluation, and narrative analysis. Quantitative and qualitative data were collected from 195 archival clinical files, questionnaires distributed to former students and staff, and in-depth, semi-structured interviews. The results provide demographic characteristics of each sample; for former student participants, this includes ACE scores describing the prevalence of the 10 major types of childhood trauma, and GSE scores describing present-day level of functioning. Results also provide characteristics of treatment, significant correlates of graduating from the program with a high school diploma, and ratings of process and outcome variables as well as various treatment modalities by former students and staff participants. Dialogical narrative analysis was utilized to analyze qualitative data gathered during the in-depth, semi-structured interviews, and the stories of three former students, four art therapists, and the voice of the researcher are presented in the form of short stories to provide an overview of the experience of art therapy in the voices of former students and staff. This research contributes evidence that art therapy is an impactful and effective component of treatment for adolescents with complex trauma and higher ACE scores, and may create lifelong patterns for these individuals of seeking therapeutic support in times of distress.