Using Art Therapy as an Intervention with Emotionally Disturbed Preschool Children

Graduation Date

Summer 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


Judith Maxwell Greig, PhD

First Reader

Richard Carolan, EdD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Gwen Sanders, MFT, ART-BC


This grant proposal is a request to fund the art therapy program component designed for serving severely emotionally disturbed preschool children enrolled in the Seneca Center Building Blocks Preschool Day Treatment Program in Oakland,

California. The children at Building Blocks range in age from 2.9 to 5 years old, with the majority being African American or of Hispanic origin. The majority of these children have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse, neglect, loss of their caregiver and/or family, multiple foster care placements, poverty and drug and/or alcohol exposure in utero. In addition, many of these children have witnessed violence or domestic abuse. Children who have suffered from these abuses without early therapeutic intervention tend to have severely compromised emotional, behavioral, social, cognitive and physiological development. Research has shown that emotionally disturbed and traumatized children have higher rates of school failure, suicide, poor employment opportunities, poverty, substance abuse and increased risk of involvement with the juvenile justice system. This not only affects the child and their family, but results in incurred social and financial costs to society as well.

Early therapeutic intervention has been shown to be effective and increases success rates with this population. Due to the severe nature of maltreatment and subsequent survival issues these emotionally disturbed traumatized children have experienced, verbal therapy alone is not sufficient. Art therapy has been shown to be effective in treating emotionally disturbed children, traumatized children and very young, pre-verbal children. It is less threatening than verbal therapy and provides a means of communication when language is not sophisticated enough to explore traumas and other issues. Art allows children a safe and contained avenue for expression and experimentation. In addition, most children enjoy creating art. The art making process provides kinesthetic pleasure and increases fine and gross motor skills. Art allows abused children to regress in a contained manner to younger stages of development and the opportunity to work through “lost” stages of development. Should this proposal be granted, the total cost of funding the art therapy program at Building Blocks Preschool for 43 weeks is $41,038

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