Thesis Title

Art Based Communication for Individuals with Dissociative Spectrum Disorders

Graduation Date

Spring 2019

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 experimental study with quantitative and qualitative methods was designed to explore noninvasive ways art might help people on the dissociative spectrum communicate their physical and psychological experiences to health professionals (HP). Dissociative disorders are often the outcome of childhood trauma, and individuals with a history of physical or sexual abuse have a higher chance of having physical symptomology during their lifetime than those who have suffered other types of trauma. Twenty-nine individuals on the dissociative spectrum, 19 of whom were diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), and 24 people with no diagnosable dissociative experience answered questions about their relationship with areas of their body, completed a body outline drawing, a bilateral scribble (BLS), and a self-report on their artwork. The results showed significant pretest to posttest increases in self-awareness for each of the groups after completing the art intervention. No significant differences were found between groups regarding pretest, posttest and the change in self-awareness score. Participants in the dissociative group increased the number of positive words when expressing a connection to areas of the body after the art intervention as compared to before the art. In addition, participants’ satisfaction with their descriptions increased significantly from pretest to posttest for the entire sample (p = .009), and upon further inquiry, results were significant for the non-dissociative group (p = .007), but not for the dissociative group (p = .14). Implications are that with the correct art medium, the art can create perspective shifts, give another way to express, and increase self-awareness. This study also found that the methodology was highly tolerable for outpatient individuals on the dissociative spectrum. Further study needs to be conducted on the exploratory findings of the word choices for the brain area of the body relationship and the typical nature of the Bilateral Scribble.