Thesis Title

The Aging Population and the Experience of Life Satisfaction: A Phenomenological Paper in Clinical Art Therapy

Graduation Date

Spring 1997

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


This research paper discusses an art therapy session conducted to demonstrate how men and women age 65-and-over experience life satisfaction. The theoretical basis for the research is supported by Erik Erikson’s developmental stages of life. The major crisis in old age is the conflict between integrity and despair, and the primary goal is to become an integrated and self-accepting person. This phenomenological paper uses the experiential method developed by Sunnie Kidd and James Kidd. Five seniors living in a retirement community for elders were first led through a creative visualization to imagine the comfort of My Shelter of Glory and to revisit the past, then directed to draw The Circle of Life within the secure structure of a personal mandala and, finally, asked to complete The Life Satisfaction Questionnaire individually. These three interventions were designed by the researcher specifically for this project. The artwork and the written experiential expressions of these five senior men and women were then collected and classified into themes. The findings reveal themes that are related to their ability to recall happy times, the ability to love and to be loved, the capacity to cope with loss, confusion and sadness, and the ability to work with a sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction. That the five seniors in this research enjoyed a rather high level of life satisfaction is demonstrated not only by the self-ratings in their questionnaire but also by their visual art, written expressions and oral comments. The Literature Review suggests that men and women over age 65 are torn between integrity and despair and are more likely to experience greater levels of life satisfaction when they are healthy, educated, have economic and marital stability and lead socially and physically active lives. This experiential research in clinical art therapy supports earlier research on life satisfaction and adds to the body of knowledge concerning the psychological experience of life satisfaction and the wisdom of the 65-and-over population.