Using a Narrative Art Therapy Approach to Reduce Depression in Older Adults

Graduation Date

Spring 2006

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


Lizbeth Martin, PhD

First Reader

Richard Carolan, EdD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Toni Morley, MFT, ATR


Depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in the elderly population. It affects close to 6 million Americans 65 and older. Older adults with significant symptoms of depression have roughly 50% higher healthcare cost than those non-depressed seniors

The risk factors of depression vary with the individual. Losses such as the death of loved ones and friends may create the risk of social isolation. The presence of chronic pain, fear of death, stressful events, lack of a supportive network, damage to body image, and other physical conditions all contribute to these risk factors.

Because creative activity enhances the production of serotonin, a chemical known to decrease feelings of depression, using art therapy to combat depression is a cost effective and non-invasive means to achieve this goal. The process of creating art in a group helps to counteract feelings of isolation, creates a supportive network and helps to enhance a sense of self worth. Social interaction, which is often missing in the elderly, can be regained in a group atmosphere.

Art therapy further benefits this population by creating a safe place to express feelings, creating hope, creating new goals, and resurrecting a positive story about their lives through art expression.

Only available in print