Art Therapy and Assessments

Art therapists are aware of the need for ongoing assessment of their clients’ needs, where they are to begin the therapeutic relationship, and how they are progressing. We also evaluate the effectiveness of our interventions through qualitative inquiry and consultation with other therapists- art therapists and those from other disciplines.
Having worked with sexually traumatized children with the same organization over a period of six years, I began to see patterns appear with particular directives that aroused my curiosity regarding how those patterns might be related to increased movement towards therapeutic outcomes. I was also interested to know if the results of using particular directives at specific points in the process of the program would provide any information about how the individual would experience the process and if they would be able to gain therapeutic value from that experience. I wanted to know if there were any factors that could provide predictors for individual clients.

y administering a particular directive at regular intervals throughout a year long program, I was able to track individuals’ progress, note any changes and dig deeper into meanings that the clients made of their work. This qualitative and meaning- making approach to discovery is inherent in how art therapists work. I was lucky enough to have quantitative data, provided by the organization with which I was collaborating, to look at as well, for each client.  In this way, I was able to develop a tool that can provide consistent feedback regarding progress of a client. In collaboration with a researcher working for the organization, I was able to operationalize the process of administering the assessment, and create a way to collect meaningful data that is more easily accessible to a multi- disciplinary team than the qualitative meanings art therapists apply to our clients’ work. New areas of potential investigation are naturally highlighted through qualitative study. Curiosity about indicators of areas of strength and weakness, data points that appear to be different than those collected in more traditional ways, and changes in how individuals approach the task, can all be jumping off points for further study.
The directive that I used is not novel for art therapists, but the application of standardized measures and data collection is a different way to look at the product of our clients’ work. Within the confines of an art therapy space, the outcome of the work my clients do, is folded into the information I gather, along with other factors, such as what the client chose to use to create their piece, what meanings could they assign to various aspects of the work… However, in working with a multi- disciplinary team of therapists, it is important to be able to speak the same language, and also to establish the place art therapy holds in that environment.

I began by noticing that there were distinct differences between different children’s work when I asked them to weave on cardboard. With more experiences with more cohorts of children, the meta- patterns of how personality types were expressed through this directive began to appear. The extrapolation was that children who couldn’t contain their emotional selves, worked in one way, children who were perfectionistic worked in another, and so on.  

This is my own re- creation of the piece that really tripped the switch and made my wondering take form (unlike this piece). The child was in a cohort that I worked with 5- 6 years ago. I remember looking at the frenetic ball of chaos that was dripping off the page, and wondered how this child had the energy to keep herself together, never mind contained, on a daily basis. I also knew that this child, and recognized that she felt she needed more, and more, and more- the brighter and gaudier, the better.
Although I used the weaving directive on a regular basis over the years, it took a while for the questions to come to formal fruition in the form of a study.

Questions half- formed, begging to be asked.
The question then arose: If these are predictable differences, what other things can we understand about the child using this as a formal ‘assessment? Can this type of directive be charted and add to the information we have about the child? Can it tell