Thesis Title

Assessment of Mental Disorders: The Rainbow Phenomenon

Graduation Date

Fall 1998

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


Elaine L. Cohen, EdD

First Reader

Richard Carolan, EdD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Veronica Magay, MA, MFCC, ATR-BC


Color is within the life experience of almost every individual and is freely chosen or bypassed in art therapy. Art therapists are trained to use art both therapeutically and diagnostically. Knowledge of color preference may serve as a valuable guide in designing effective therapeutic sessions for those suffering with mental illness. Clinical reports describe interesting distinctions in art expression among those with differing psychiatric disorders. This study tested a guideline for color assessment with adults diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. It utilized a single drawing to test for the presence or absence of color. The purpose was to determine if color combinations varied between diagnoses. Male and female participants were selected from an outpatient mental-health clinic in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. The instructions entailed drawing a personally expressive rainbow—either conventional or fanciful. The rainbows were categorically analyzed by color prevalence, elaboration, and diagnosis. In art therapy, the mentally ill constantly communicate through their color choices, creating a need in the field for a color-based assessment suitable for administration to patients with mental illness. The assessment tool implemented in this study may become the basis for future art-therapy inquiries and improved treatment plans for this population.