Creating Connections: The Value of Art Therapy for Individuals with Mental Illness

by Michelle Murphy

This research project explored the value and function of group art therapy by illuminating its benefits for individuals with chronic mental illnesses who reside in tertiary psychiatric care.  The experiences of three participants of a practicum art therapy group in the inpatient tertiary psychiatric setting are explored in this thesis.  The group aimed to support the values of the psychosocial model of rehabilitation which the facility follows.  Eight group art therapy sessions are described in the form of a case study series.  Themes emerged from the participant’s art, comments, and the researcher’s description of the sessions and were identified following a hermeneutic phenomenological methodology.  A thematic analysis was then used to discover what benefits of the art therapy group for the research participants.    

The benefits revealed through the hermeneutic interpretation of the themes were found to provide support for the particular challenges and needs of individuals who have chronic mental illnesses.  The art therapy group provided positive social connections and relationships, enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence, and instilled a sense of empowerment in the participants.  There were opportunities for life review, including the processing of grief and losses, trauma, family and relationships, fears and anxieties, and hopes and wishes for the future.  Insights and self-discovery occurred and the art therapy group provided participants with opportunities to exercise choice, autonomy, self-mastery and feel a connection to reality.  In addition, the group also reduced stress and anxiety, increased a sense of relaxation and pleasure, and created experiences of beauty.  This research project reinforces art therapy as an essential aspect of the inpatient psychiatric treatment model in order to support individuals living with chronic mental illness.