Thesis Title

The Use of Art Therapy With Chonically Ill Adolescents

Graduation Date

Spring 1987

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


Adolescence is a period that is often characterized by intense emotional upheaval. When a chronic physical illness is involved, many of the normal adolescent issues such as independence and self-esteem become even more complex than usual. Adolescents who are hospitalized for medical conditions often have no psychological support system to help them deal with the emotional aspects of their illnesses. If their disease is chronic or life threatening, it is crucial that the medical aspects of their illness receive top priority. Unfortunately, the patients' emotional needs are often neglected in the process.

This paper is an exploration of the ways in which art therapy was used with chronically ill adolescents in an acute care hospital setting. The researcher discusses the ways in which different individuals used art as a means of working through some of the emotional issues connected to their illnesses. Both the symbolism found in the artwork and the process of the art therapy sessions are studied. The art that was done in this hospital tended to be a stark expression of powerful issues of which the patient was often barely conscious-issues such as loss of control, poor self image, and fear of death. Often the artwork was a starting point from which the patient could begin a verbal exploration of some of these areas. The researcher draws conclusions about the need of hospitalized adolescents to explore the emotional impact of their illnesses and the ways in which art therapy can provide a supportive framework in which to begin this exploration.