Thesis Title

Coming Out of Childhood: Adolescents and Art Therapy

Graduation Date

Spring 1986

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


Between the ending moments of childhood and the yet-to-be of adulthood is the ambiguous time of life referred to as adolescence. It is a transition time not linked to any precise number of years. Adolescence is a time of great possibility and opportunity, yet it can also be a time of great trial.

More than at any other time of life, adolescents strive to find themselves, to establish convictions about their identity.

Their task is to bring together all the various and sometimes conflicting facets of self into a united whole that provides continuity with the past, and focus and direction for the future. This integration is made more difficult for present- day American adolescents. The fast-paced modern society seems to encourage an earlier departure from childhood, therefore creating a prolonged adolescence that at times seems to be a premature adulthood without the privileges. Conditions, such as rapid and fundamental physical, social and emotional changes, as well as societal expectations and stressors, push the adolescents forward, but also hold them back. Adolescents choose to assert themselves and their individuality, yet they have a need to conform and a desire to regress. They want to be independent, as well as be protected. While anticipating the new, they are bound to the past.

Art therapy allows for personal expression and symbolic communication of the self through the use of symbols, imagery and metaphors. Besides providing an opportunity for self- identification and self-expression, art can channel impulses into productive activity. Art therapy, then, is a viable means for the expression of personal identity and confusion, bene- fitting the adolescent during this critical transition time.

The purpose of this work suggests a strategy that deals with childhood and the past through childhood symbols and lifelines, and that deals ' with crucial issues of adolescence through emerging symbols and identity issues. These projects were used with 20 adolescents from ages 12 to 15 years. Due to the informal nature of this study, it is not possible to generalize or make overall conclusions. Subjective observed results, however, indicate that the adolescents, even individuals resistant to verbal expression, were able to explore and discover areas of the self, past and present. This contributed to ongoing develop­ment and acquisition of a personal identity, while at the same time allowed the expression and release of tensions related to this transition period.