Thesis Title

A Pilot Program: Family Art Therapy as Psychological Intervention with Terminally Ill Patients and Their Caregivers

Graduation Date

Spring 1991

Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy

Degree Granting Institution

Notre Dame de Namur University

Program Name

Art Therapy


This grant proposes a pilot program at Alta Bates-Herrick Hospice for family art therapy as a psychosocial intervention with terminal patients and their families. This pilot program will use art therapy to serve terminal patients, their families and caregivers in the home and to provide a multifamily art therapy group after the death for support in bereavement. Art therapy provides a vehicle for communicating non-verbal feelings and pain in the crisis of losing a loved one. This clinical art therapy model for dealing with feelings will be used to aid in the transition from one life stage to another and as a benefit to the family as a preventive mental health function. The program will assist: the terminal patients in maintaining control and dignity in their lives; the family members and caregivers in coping with loss; and the family, in a multifamily support group, to address changes due to loss and grief.

The Alta Bates-Herrick Hospice serves terminal patients and their caregivers in northern and central Alameda County and western Contra Costa County. Patients are 18 years of age or older and considered terminal when prognosis is 6 months or less to live. Of the patients, 84% have cancer, 5% have AIDS and the remainder have various diagnoses. Begun in 1980, 2500 families have been served; presently 30 patients are referred monthly with an average home stay of 45 days. Fifty-six percent of the patients are 65-84 years of age.

A social worker goes into the home monthly to assess the needs of the families and patients who suffer stress and long-term damage such as passivity, lack of self-esteem and poor coping mechanism when an inadequate mourning occurs. The additional support, assessment and intervention of a family art therapist will give the Hospice patients and caregivers a second language to express grief and loss in this time of crisis and need. The program will be 14 hours a week for 10 months. Approximately 20 families with terminal patients will be served (70 people). The projected expenses are $21,545.