Date of Award

Spring April 2013

Access Restriction

Research Projects

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Marital and Family Therapy

School or College

College of Communication and Fine Arts

First Advisor

Paige Asawa


This qualitative research study is informed by a grounded theory approach and explores the use of art therapy as a treatment for cumulative trauma. This paper reviews the current literature focusing on both cumulative trauma and related studies which address the nature and impact of “big T” and “little t” events and accumulated lifetime adversity. There are remarkably few studies which highlight the concept of cumulative trauma in both general psychology and art therapy literature, and there appear to be no existing studies addressing the treatment of the state of cumulative trauma to date. For this study, a series of interviews with three experienced art therapists is presented and accompanied by the researcher’s visual representations of the felt sense of each of the interviews. The artwork is used in conjunction with each of the interview transcriptions to guide the process of data analysis. Axial coding analysis of the artwork and interview data results in the groundbreaking development of an art therapy treatment approach for cumulative trauma in four phases. The theory addresses each trauma according to the client’s level of subjective distress. Through this theoretical model, the client’s state of “allostatic load,” which can be understood as a state of distress which surpasses the individual’s ability for adaptive coping, is addressed systematically according to the trauma that is felt to be most subjectively impactful to each individual client.