Date of Award

Spring May 2011

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


This qualitative case study explored the role of art therapy in identity exploration for adolescents that have experienced complex trauma. The participant in this study was an adolescent survivor of childhood abuse who subsequently developed symptoms of complex trauma. She was a resident of Star View Adolescent Center located in Torrance, California. The researcher conducted a thematic analysis of the art images produced in a series of therapeutic sessions as well as an analysis of researcher response art. This analysis offered clues to the participant’s process of identity formation. The researcher found that the symptom spectrum of complex trauma, which includes difficulty with self-regulation, distortions in the sense of self, and disruptions to systems of meaning manifested in the art as fragmentation, disconnectedness, and isolation. Through both process and product, the use of art making in the therapeutic setting provided an opportunity to explore integration of the fragmented, disconnected, and isolated parts of self.