Using Art Therapy to Express Family of Origin Issues for Developing Empathy with Couples

Graduation Date

Spring 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


This study explored the use of the Family Landscape art directive outlined by Arrington (1984) combined with an Intentional Dialogue utilized in Imago Relational Therapy (2007) for the purpose of working with couples for the expression of feelings and the development of empathy to increase communication and connection. It was hypothesized that the experience of couples completing a family of origin art directive accompanied by a listening response would facilitate the development of empathy. The design for the study used mixed methods research within a single group. The participants included 8 couples ranging from 21 to 48 years of age. Pre-test measures for communication, empathy and mood were used to assess a baseline for each individual. Qualitative and quantitative questionnaires were used for collecting self-reported data of the individual’s experience. The data indicated the following results for couples who participated in the study: a feeling of enjoyment with one’s partner; a felt benefit from having shared with one’s partner; a sense of validation from having been heard by one’s partner; a better understanding of one’s partner; an increase in empathy towards one another; and a general sense of feeling more connected with one’s partner.

The results supported the hypothesis that couples would develop empathy by participating in the study. In addition, the intervention encouraged enjoyment, self-focus, communication and connection between the couple that assist in the development of empathy for one’s partner.

Only available in print