Thesis Title

Facilitating the Therapeutic Alliance Through the Art Process in Short-Term Family Art Therapy

Graduation Date

Fall 1989

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Document Form


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


The focus of this research project was the qualitative examination of the establishment of the family therapeutic alliance, and the role of art work and the art process in fostering that alliance throughout family therapy treatment. The research design used was the intensive case study, where the therapist assumed the role of a therapist-participant-observer. The therapeutic alliance with each family was examined through therapist observations of therapy events, art work, and the art process. Three conceptualizations of the alliance were incorporated in this examination, including a family systems multilevel model of the alliance.

The investigative approach of this research project relied upon a qualitative examination of the family system and the family art therapy process in the treatment of four families. Themes in the treatment of each family were examined and illuminated by the art process. Themes common to all families in this project were (a) the dynamics of the family system, (b) the adolescent's developmental level and functioning in the separation-individuation process, and (c) the family life cycle stage. Additional themes that emerged in the treatment of individual families included (a) an escalating fighting pattern, (b) history of sexual abuse, (c) sexual acting out, and (d) psychological disorders which included depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, conduct disorder and possible indicators of schizophrenia.

The common theme of the adolescent's need for a balance between dependency and separation needs, and each family's reactions to this push and pull from the adolescent, led to an overall view of adolescence as a family process. This family processwas clear in the present cases due to the involvement of all family members and their adaptations over time.