Art for Cultural Expression and Connection: A Therapeutic Art Group with International Students

by Laura Andrew

The intention of this research study was to explore the value of a therapeutic art group for international high school students. Contingent to this study are the assumptions that art is a universal language which transcends cultural and linguistic barriers, and that creative expression is inherently healing and life-enhancing. Using an art as therapy approach, and art group was facilitated with international high school students from two world regions. The study investigated the lived experience of individuals in the group using a hermeneutic phenomenological framework to analyze the data. Through thematic analysis, themes emerged which reflected the core challenges this population faces during their academic sojourn abroad. Findings reveal many benefits of an art as therapy modality in supporting international students who face the intrapersonal and interpersonal challenges of living and studying in a host country. Through creative expression and social connection, the art group allowed international students a safe and supportive environment to explore and express aspects of personal and cultural identity, learn interpersonal skills, improve linguistic and cultural fluency, and enjoy the connection and creativity of the art group experience. Where verbalizing in English as a second language (ESL) was sometimes challenging, the art provided a universal language and allowed for non-verbal and symbolic expression of experiences and emotions. This research adds to our understanding of suitable counselling methods for international student adjustment.