Utilizing an Identity-Based Art and Peer Group with At-Risk Youth: Supporting Identity Processes

Graduation Date

Fall 2008

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


Arnell Etherington, PhD, MFT, ATR-BC

First Reader

Laury Rappaport, PhD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Richard Carolan, EdD, ATR-BC


This paper attempts to create a basis for developing and instituting identity based art groups within multiple school settings, to reach a diverse group of adolescents. It reviews a program carried out in an urban alternative school setting with at-risk youth, with an aim to answer the question, “What was the experience of an identity-based, art and peer group on the identity processes of at-risk youth?”

Based on identity theory research and research connecting art therapy to art education, such a program might prove very useful in addressing the unique needs of adolescents who face intense environmental and psychosocial stressors in addition to normative developmental tasks. The students’ behavioral and art processes were observed and recorded, with the findings relating to several curative factors believed to result from the art-making and group experience The program used revealed that students who participated found the art group experience a positive one and enjoyed the opportunity to explore and share their self perceptions with peers. The results of the study indicate that students responded unanimously in appreciation of the group, while the behavioral processes noted indicate identity processes were not only supported by the art and group experience, but active for each individual

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