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AHS Research Overview 2016

A Book of Wonders

It is my need and capacity to wonder as a being in the world, as a professional artist and now as a therapist and coach that motivated the choice of wonder as a subject of inquiry. I set off to explore from an intuitive and artistic understanding of wonder's relationships with art, inquiry and the phenomenology of our perceptions. This research investigates firstly the interconnections between the arts, wonder and the evolution of human consciousness throughout history. It deepens into an understanding of the dynamic role of wonder in art making. Having identified the intertwined qualities of a disposition to wonder and why they might serve the practice of Expressive Arts Therapy and Coaching, I seek for ways to nurture them in the art space. My research centres on the role of wonder in the attitude of inquiry and in the experience of de-centering. I focus on how wonder can induce discovery and shifts of perceptions that foster therapeutic transformation during sessions. I investigate tools such as improvisation, not knowing, embodiment, sensitizing, artistic materials, accident in art making, phenomenological looking and seeing. The approach is grounded on a review of literature and on the foundations of Expressive Arts Practice. The methodology follows "the artist way" and the process of an art based inquiry.

2016: Master Thesis (English)

Advisor: Margo Fuchs Knill


Student: Roseline de Thélin




Keywords: wonder, art, inquiry, phenomenology of perceptions

A New Ecology of Transitioning
Cycling Through Disintegration, Emptiness and Re-emergence of Identity

Profound life transition facilitates a dissolution of self. The resulting emptiness, though uncomfortable and disorienting, may be extremely fertile in that it initiates a falling away of identities that no longer serve us. Guided by post-modernism and eco-feminism, this thesis examines rites of passage and the way they have been imbued with capitalist nuances of endless, expansive growth. Cyclical metaphors, by contrast, allow for a life-death-life cycle. The quality of emptiness is embraced, making space for the emergent, namely new possibilities for identity. Arts-based, phenomenological research in a group context engages three aspects of transition: locating (where am I?), tending (holding space for losses and newness) and sensing (what is emerging?). Aesthetic response takes on a ritual nature. Communal art-making allows each unique experience of transition to be seen and integrated. Expressive Arts Therapy has the capacity to welcome and hold the unknown, honouring the work it does within us.

2016: Master Thesis (English)

Advisor: Ofir Gabay


Student: Heather Frayne




Keywords: transition, rites of passage, postmodernism, capitalism, ecofeminism, cyclical metaphor, identity, emptiness, the emergent

Beauty As Intervention
How A Personal Art Practice Supports The Expressive Arts Therapist's Work With Others

The inspiration for this thesis arose from contemplating how we can nurture our desire to create and connect with something deeply meaningful. This paper expands on the benefits of aesthetic responsibility from a personal and professional standpoint. I address addiction as a serious existential longing which can be responded to with art. Developing and maintaining an art practice is essential to embodying the beauty that arrives through the creative process. I endeavored to bring this resource to women in recovery from addiction where I employed beauty as intervention. My research includes working with the women, my own practice, and an interview with a practitioner who emphasizes the power of beauty in his work with clients. I gained insights into the benefits of a daily personal art practice and also how working creatively with others expands my range as an artist.

2016: Master Thesis (English)

Advisor: Heather Dawson


Student: Renée Gouin




Keywords: beauty as intervention, aesthetics, longing, addiction, personal practice

Caring for Ourselves

Expressive Arts and the Well-being of the Helper

This thesis explores the use of engaging in intermodal Expressive Arts in response to client work. Seven helping professionals in various work settings in the town of Golden, British Columbia undertook this research. Each participant engaged in four or five self-directed expressive arts explorations, following a model created by the primary researcher which was in line with selections of Expressive Arts therapy theory. Arts-based research was used as a methodology to generate and examine data gathered from the 34 sessions, to further explore the thesis question: What are the effects on helping professionals of engaging in intermodal Expressive Arts as a response to working with clients? The research highlights the capacity of Expressive Arts as a form of self-care for helping professionals working with clients who have experienced trauma. Overall, the process offered helping professionals a way to metabolize their experiences, gain personal and professional insight, and facilitate a deeper connection with clients.

2016: Master Thesis (English)

Advisor: Mary Reich


Student: Cheryl Verheyden




Keywords: self-care, well-being

Contextualizing Narratives of Conflict and Peace

Honouring Marginalized Experience Through the Examination of Self and Expressive Arts Practices.

Empathy is at the crux of all Peacebuilding and Community-based practice. Conflict is a natural human response to missed empathic connections. A journey towards ethical and empathic healing practices can show us ways to repair the damages of centuries of colonization, empire and systemic injustice.

This work of building peace is not about convincing conflicting viewpoints to agree with one another. This work lies in being able to truly see one another for the specific concerns each party brings to the table. By ignoring who we are as practitioners, clinicians, academics and community members, we provide a disservice to our clients and their quality of care. By respecting the individual resources that community members bring we are able to get past our larger disconnections in order to reach a common place of truth and understanding.


This thesis will be particularly important for practitioners who come from a privileged upbringing, background or daily experience. Only by continually examining our privilege as practitioners and healers, will we ever begin to see the deficits of our connections. In working to highlight these growing edges we can begin to repair the relationships most needing empathic attention and care.

The ultimate goal of this work is to present a host of knowledge, diverse and intersecting, in a way that provides dignity and humanity to marginalized and forgotten communities. By recognizing the ways in which systemic structures impede the success of marginalized communities, those who perpetuate and benefit from systemic structures can be held accountable for their roles in the violence. This work is critical reading for those wanting to build peace or engage in therapeutic practices. This work aims to inspire hope and possibility for those working with or within everyday systemic violence, a way that is vulnerable, honest and artful.

2016: Master Thesis (English)

Advisor: Mary Putera


Student: Megan Catherine Duckworth Pace




Keywords: peace, conflict, narrative, therapy, transformation, art, cross cultural, privilege, special needs, prison, human trafficking, empathy, justice, do no harm practices, colonization

Finding Words Through Art

The Effectiveness of Art Therapy with Mentally, Physically, and Emotionally Challenged Elders in Complex Care Home

For elders with challenged cognitive, emotional, and physical abilities, a non demanding, nonverbal, spontaneous, creative, and safe space created by the art therapist can bring about meaningful experiences and a positive new attitude toward life. Art therapy is the primary focus of this qualitative research study. In this paper, I explore the effectiveness of group art therapy over 4 years of twice-weekly 3-hour sessions in a complex care home. To do this, I have introduced case studies of 10 residential elders. The participants, who were from various class backgrounds, were Caucasian and Asian persons with the exception of a First Nation female. Ranging in age from 53–99, all participants experienced a variety of physical and cognitive challenges.

In an effort to provide a meaningful experience to all the participants, the art as therapy approach was presented, and person-centered ideas were applied. Art therapy can benefit many aspects of an elder’s life. Elders are given the opportunity to express and share their inner experiences visually. They acquire healthy creative outlets for intense feelings and learn how to reduce stress. Elders have the opportunity to experiment with a variety of media. They develop self-awareness and express areas of concern. Individuals frequently develop talents and acknowledge their strengths. They become valued as part of a nonjudgmental, accepting community. Art therapy raises self-esteem through the successful completion of exercises and projects, mastery of materials, and interactions with peers. According to Bachalter (2011), among the additional benefits of art therapy, studies show that being engaged in creative endeavours may help elders heal quicker, better cope with illness, and aid in longevity.


After working with these groups of elders, it became clear, as Weiss (1984) described, that art therapy allows for self-understanding, acceptance, and love for self and others; enables elders to uncover the truth of their lives; and lets elders realize their full potential by creatively expressing their life experiences. Through my acceptance, sensitivity, and respect toward the elders’ expressions of thoughts, ideas, imaginations, memories, and feelings through art, they experience self-esteem, fullness in their life, acceptance, love, and a feeling of being cherished for who they already are. I propose that art therapy has the power to heal the older population, meet their needs, and help them find enjoyment in life.

2016: Master Thesis (English)

Advisor: Barbara Hielscher-Witte


Student: Heesu Jeon



Keywords: elders, complex care home, loneliness, boredom, helplessness, dementia, depression, aging, art therapy, and expressive arts therapy

From the change of perspective to a succeeding dialogue

A condition for the inclusion

In this thesis I show how a conscious change of perspective increases the capacity for dialogue and thus encourages the self-empowerment of people with support needs.

I state that in the Intermedial Expressive Art Therapy change of perspective and dialogue are central tools and provide important opportunities to include people with disabilities in our society in an effective way. This therapeutic approach is a very useful instrument in the social field that can decisively strengthen the self-efficacy of the client.

I examine the impact of a change of perspective experiment using monologue form in the first person. Three teams that take care of people with support needs were included in the study.

Furthermore, I explore the philosophical aspects of the change of perspective and end up with Quantum Physics.

Because adults, especially those with support needs, develop differently, it was important for me to find out where and how these differences manifest in regard of the change of perspective. I also analyze the impact these differences have on our mutual understanding.

Taking examples from my professional life I illustrate how the conscious change of perspective encourages dialogue and I document the benefits and possibilities of dialogue.

2016: Master Thesis (German)
magna cum laude

Advisor: Peter Wanzenried


Student: Beatrix Fritschi Bührer




Keywords: change of perspective, decentering, empathy, dialogue, inclusion

Moving into Embodied Presence

Exploring Embodiment through Dance-Based Research with Therapists-in-Training

This thesis explores the potential for dance-based expressive arts to enhance understanding of embodiment as Expressive Arts therapists. I considered the importance of embodied presence as a therapist, and followed a curiosity to further explore the ways this skill can be developed during therapist training. The research focused on an expressive arts group that met seven times to explore contemporary dance and improvisation, in a process that built towards creating and performing a work. The group, which consisted of arts-based therapists, viewed a video of the performance and reflected on the experience. The research highlighted somatic awareness and the significance of moving as a way of knowing. Other ideas that arose include finding ease, acknowledging connections, and being embodied within community. I gained insights into contributions that strengthen embodied presence, and related the experience to the therapist's practice of high sensitivity.

2016: Master Thesis (English)

Advisor: Mary Reich


Student: Jennifer Hamman




Keywords: embodiment, embodied presence, dance, therapist training, performance, somatic awareness

Nature Focused Expressive Arts Therapy with Children

This thesis explores how ecoaesthetic expressive arts experiences in an urban natural outdoor setting strengthen children's connections with nature and each other and create a sense of place and belonging. The arts based research includes photography and video documentation of weekly expressive arts group therapy sessions with five children and art work created by them. The overall structure of the outdoor sessions and four specific sessions held in Grape Day Park, Escondido, California are described in detail. The author discovered that the ecoaesthetic experiences of the children over the course of seven months fostered new friendships, strengthened existing relationships, and created familiarity and comfort within the park setting. The children worked cooperatively and took risks trying new experiences, including land art. Throughout the seven months they remained engaged in the outdoor sensory experiences that led to intermodal transfers into art making and play. Both the children and the author became increasingly familiar with areas of the park that they grew to love. Recommendations for future research are discussed.

2016: Master Thesis (English)

Advisor: Wes Chester


Student: Rebecca Hickman



Keywords: nature, ecoaesthetics, land art with children

Reconnect to ‘Self’ through Expressive Art Therapeutic group for disadvantage mothers in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has the extreme disparity between the rich and the poor.  Women are always in the disadvantages position in the tradition Chinese society especially the 'mothers', as there are lots of expectation from the society and their families.  They feel burnt out, stressful and guilty because of difficult situations but lack of support.

Indeed, the mothers need 'diet and medicine' to maintain their healthy manner of living by reconnect the 'SELF' through arts. The thesis topic is ‘Reconnect to ‘SELF’ through Expressive Art Therapeutic group for disadvantage mothers in Hong Kong’. It is based on art-based research to see how Expressive Art therapeutic group can help mothers to de-center the ‘Mother’ role by inter-modal Arts. Thus, become aware of the importance of SELF CARE, enhance their self-understanding, and explore the inner resources.

In this thesis, the  ‘Disadvantage’ mothers included single mothers, low-income family mothers, psychosomatic out-patients, new arrivals, Ethnicity Minority (EM) mothers and low-income working mothers.

2016: Master Thesis (English)

Advisor: KK Lai


Student: Kit Yin Kathleen Chan




Keywords: self, self care, disadvantage mothers hong kong ex

Taking Leave of Our Senses

Ruminations on Grief and Comprehending the Incomprehensible

his investigation is a rumination on the subject of grief as it has worked through professional discourses in psychology and beyond, to include a wide range of arts-based narratives. Inspired by Walter Benjamin's method of literary montage, I construct a visual and literary collage towards a lyrical, passionate understanding of the ubiquitous experience of grief. For expressive art therapists, the arts are our way of knowing, as they bridge and link rational, linear approaches with the imaginal. From the physicality of individual loss and the multiplicity of lyrical portrayals of embodied grief, I turn to Anzieu's theory of the skin-ego, how we feel the loss on the surface of our skins, and how images and objects can partially re-contain, re-pair, and bind us when we feel ourselves utterly bereft, even flayed in the fall of grief. Beyond the disenfranchised nature of grief itself and how loss has its way with us on an individual level, I move outward to explore grief and the intricacies of memory and trauma, the collective hauntings we experience as the past continues to haunt the present in the forced disappearance of the culturally marginalized, the excluded, and the repressed, shadowing all that remains; the arts are crucible for these ruminations and meditations on grief as they engage us with the shadows of historical memory as well as the absence of the beloved and our own lost object(s).

2016: Ph.D. Dissertation (English)

Advisor: Ellen Levine


Student: Tatjana Jansen



Keywords: grief, loss, skin-ego, embodied grief, cultural hauntings

This architecture is soft, moves like water, moves like music

An ongoing exploration of therapeutic aesthetics and nourishment

This thesis explores the relationship between how we experience the world as aesthetic beings and the impact of that experience upon the therapeutic relationship. The commonly expressed notion "helping others" in the therapeutic profession is explored and challenged, within the context of work with populations experiencing high risk and/or traumatic situations. The research presented included a four week arts based workshop that culminated in an improvisational performance. Participants were practitioners or students of expressive arts therapy. This experience led to a discussion about the importance of aesthetic knowing, ongoing training and personal transformation, as well as holding aesthetics in the workplace, under a range of circumstances. This research proposes to generate and encourage nourishment within the work, through a preventative, collaborative and communal approach: understanding aesthetic nourishment as a generative possibility in maintaining aliveness in the expressive arts therapy profession.

2016: Master Thesis (English)
magna cum laude


Advisor: Heather Dawson


Student: Lucia de Urioste Bejarano




Keywords: therapeutic aesthetics, nourishment, community, high risk/trauma populations, therapeutic relationship, aliveness

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