Date of Award

Spring May 2012

Access Restriction

Campus Access only Research Projects

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Marital and Family Therapy

School or College

College of Communication and Fine Arts

First Advisor

Debra Linesch


This study explores the process by which emotionally disturbed children attach to a new therapist during the first stage of art therapy. Observations center on the ability of artistic metaphor and visual communication to illuminate attachment strategy.

Research, in case study format, focuses on two students at the Kayne Eras Center Non Public School. Participants were a 15 year old African American boy and an 8 year old African American girl. Data, consisting of detailed process notes and art products, was analyzed through the application of three research questions; 1. How does artistic metaphor inform the understanding of a child’s inner world, particularly in regard to attachment?

2. Is there a variance between information gleaned from a single, initial art piece, opposed to a body of work, created over time, in regards to attachment? 3. Are attachment strategies conveyed visually, (through art) in the same way they are conveyed verbally or behaviorally?

This study found that content of artistic metaphor correlates to existing literature on attachment strategy, thereby substantiating potential for undirected art products to act as assessments of attachment. Additional information was observed concerning subcategories of attachment strategy, trigger patterns of approach and retreat response, internal working models and general coping skills.

The congruence of visual, verbal and behavioral communication was found to be dependent on stress levels and the directive structure of therapy. Visual communications frequently served to illuminate internal emotional states. Overall communicative patterns, regarding attachment, were observed in relation to self-protective strategies.