Art Therapy in Art Museums: Promoting Social Connectedness and Psychological Well-being of Older Adults

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

Amy Backos, PhD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Arnell Etherington-Reader, PhD, ART-BC, MFT


This research project was aimed to unearth therapeutic benefits utilizing the art museum as a tool in art therapy with older adults. To ensure higher quality of life amongst older adults it is important to remain socially and cognitively engaged. Art therapy is beneficial in providing a stimulating and social environment and can alleviate difficulties related to aging. Yet, further research is needed in developing more tools in art therapy to be used with older adults, such as the art museum. Research was conducted in four group sessions, including two field trips to the de Young Museum. The sessions consisted of reminiscence, viewing art and discussion, and response art related to their experience. Participants were recruited through a flier posted in the assisted living facility and the onsite art therapist. This study was a mixed method design. Pre and post-tests were given to measure change in well-being, social support, and social connections. Yet, these results were not significant. The qualitative data including participant’s art, journals, and researcher’s observations were analyzed through Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to search for themes. Qualitative data revealed that the opportunity to explore emotions, thoughts, and memories safely within a group increased participant’s well-being and allowed for social connections.