Trees of Life

by Dorothy Mackintosh

This thesis highlights how art making combined with psychoeducation within a group setting can function both to illuminate and promote healing from interpersonal violence through positive interaction, reconnection, education, and finding voice. Through the process of working with a closed group of women, it became apparent that there were many elements contributing to the therapeutic value of the group. Consequently, I developed the Model of Transformation (Mackintosh, 2017) and the Feminist Positivity Model of Art Therapy (FPMAT, Mackintosh, 2017). These models highlight the group’s process and show how the healing, transformation, and empowerment with this group of women survivors of interpersonal violence, occurred. The Model of Transformation includes relationship building, education and empowerment, healthy ego development and positive group experience. The Feminist Positivity Model of Art Therapy incorporates elements of feminist and positive art therapies (positive psychology integrated with art therapy), group art therapy with survivors of developmental and interpersonal violence, and psychoeducation and art therapy.

The group was conducted using a feminist and phenomenological framework with two facilitators and a group of women working alongside each other over a total period of 25 weeks. The thesis shows how a starting point of low-skill art directives, which provide an opening for success, gained momentum to create an atmosphere of complete confidence to participate in spontaneous art making. The result was true growth in terms of self-esteem, self-construct, and compassion for self.

When the women came together as a group to work towards healing, something special happened. With great diversity in life experience, the women embraced each other with compassion and love, and supported that healing with empathy and laughter. The integration of their inherent strength and abilities with psychoeducation and positive art therapy approaches produced positive and life affirming results.

The thesis question of what is the value and function of art therapy conducted within a group setting for survivors of interpersonal violence, will be answered through vignettes of specific weeks, showcasing the art conducted within the group context. The thesis includes many images to highlight the depth and breadth of the creativity of the women in the group.