Thesis Title

Creating Symbols to Identify and Stabilize Character Traits: Using Art Therapy and Positive Psychology Perspective with Adolescents in Residential Substance Abuse Treatment

Graduation Date

Spring 2013

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


John Lemmon, PhD

First Reader

Richard Carolan, EdD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Carolee Stabno, PsyD, MFT


Substance abuse and addiction continues to be a serious socio-economic and health issue for people of all ages. For many families, the cycle of addiction creates multigenerational patterns ot dysfunction which can complicate recovery efforts for adolescents particularly. Although research and practice reveals the most effective methods of treatment, the numbers of adolescents needing treatment for addiction continues to rise while the numbers of adolescents receiving treatment appears to decline.

Among the numbers of adolescents receiving treatment, relapse rates remain around 40-50%. The larger problem with substance abuse/addiction is the correlation to increased violence, high school drop-out rates, incarceration and other chronic illness such as HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The scope of the problem becomes wider when children begin abusing drugs and alcohol as early as ages 12 to 18. This period of development is crucial for identity formation and building relationships with peer groups.

The group can be a productive modality for therapy with adolescents and the use of art and symbol creation taps into a primal language that reduces defensiveness for this population. While Positive psychology research is relatively new to therapeutic environment it does provide a framework for character strengths and traits that relate to skills and overall improved health. The question that remains is, can combining art therapy with Positive psychology provide a structure within which adolescents can identify and strengthen character traits and create an opportunity to build stronger coping skills that may help reduce rates of relapse.