Increasing Self-Awareness and Positive Feelings Towards Self: The Use of Art with Individuals with Developmental Disabilities

Graduation Date

Summer 2003

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


Lizbeth Martin, PhD

First Reader

Richard Carolan, EdD, ATR-BC

Second Reader

Gwen Sanders, MFT, ART-BC


This research project was designed to investigate the use of art as a tool for increasing self- awareness in individuals with developmental disabilities. More specifically, it focused its investigation on the potential benefits of utilizing tempera paint to visually reproduce one’s hands, feet and eyes as a means for becoming aware of unique parts of self. It further sought to investigate the hypothesis that, by increasing one’s awareness about unique parts of self, one could experience positive feelings towards self.

The sample of the project consisted of six individuals with developmental disabilities and two individuals without disabilities. There were five sessions over the course of eight days in which these participants were given the structured opportunity to visually examine, artistically reproduce with tempera paint and cognitively reflect about their hands, feet and eyes which were framed by the researchers as concrete extensions of their uniqueness. They also were given the opportunity to share and celebrate their paintings and their reflections with the researcher and the group as a whole. The indicative data utilized came out of observation of participants’ behavior, participants’ verbal responses and the art produced by these participants.

The results of this study were positive. They indicated that all participants, at least to some degree, increased their self-awareness, recognized unique parts of themselves and experienced positive feelings towards themselves as a result. The limitations and implications of this project and its results are discussed.