Thesis Title

The Impact of Response Art on Therapist Empathic Understanding: Drawing a Picture from a Client's Perspective

Graduation Date

Spring 2014

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

Jennifer Harrison, PsyD, DAAETS, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Linda Chapman, MA, ATR-BC


As empathy has been identified as important element of the therapeutic relationship, it is important to identify tools that may help therapists to empathize with their clients. The primary question of this research was: Does drawing a picture from a client’s perspective increase a therapist’s empathic understanding of the client’s experience? Participants were Master’s-level practitioners of therapy and art therapy at varying stages of training. This study used a pre­test/post-test control group experimental design where participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Participants in the treatment group drew a picture from a client’s perspective. Participants in the control group colored in a mandala. The data was analyzed primarily using analysis of covariance methods, examining whether the treatment group had higher scores on a post-test measure of empathy while controlling for pre-test scores and other covariates. Although neither of the estimated treatment effects (on an immediate post-test or on a delayed post-test) was found to be statistically significant, the treatment effects were both in the expected positive direction. Moreover, members of the treatment group reported that they had benefited from the intervention. While not conclusive, these findings suggest that drawing a picture from a client's perspective may have the potential to increase a therapist's empathy and this might be determined with more certainty by more extensive research. The hope is that this intervention may provide a tool to be used in therapy supervision, improve therapeutic relationships, and possibly contribute to the prevention of vicarious traumatization for therapists at risk.