Creating a Voice: An Art Therapy Group for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse

Graduation Date

Fall 2009

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

Gwen Sanders, MFT, ART-BC


There is a substantial need for mental health therapeutic intervention to assist survivors with long term effects from childhood sexual abuse. Because secrecy, stigma, and isolation often follow this type of abuse, many go untreated and remain innerly tormented. Psychological, social, and somatic suffering can be difficult for survivors to overcome without intervention. Women survivors of child sexual abuse have increased chances of mental illness, engaging in high-risk behaviors, and social difficulties. A multi-model treatment is necessary to cover the different layers and effects of child sexual abuse. The proposed art therapy group, combines creative expression through art making and a group therapy format, which have both been proven effective in increasing self-esteem, self-awareness, and social integration. The program will use various art interventions that will identify and explore feelings including shame, guilt, anger, fear, helplessness, hopelessness, inadequacy, and sadness; and to address issues of anxiety, depression, self-worth, self-esteem, boundaries, grief, loss, and isolation. This art therapy program will take place in an outpatient therapeutic counseling center in Brentwood, CA.