AHS Research Overview 2020
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Make it Beautiful: A Creative Response to Loss

Make It Beautiful, journeys into the phenomenon of loss to explore how the principles and practices of expressive arts therapy (EXA) can play an active part in shaping bereavement and grief. Loss and grief theory are examined through perspectives from modern psychology and expressive arts approaches. The study is guided by my personal interest in how concepts from EXA, namely aesthetic response and work-oriented decentering contribute to knowing through poiesis. Inspired by the loss of my husband to bulbar onset Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Bulbar ALS), this thesis is a reflective harvest from a series of arts-based community events as aesthetic responses that shaped our collective loss and my personal response to loss through work-oriented decentering, resulting in the creation of a play. Heuristic, phenomenological and arts-based research methods are used to illustrate how approaches from expressive arts therapy can be a willing ally in shaping loss and grief. There are two primary contributions this thesis offers to the field of expressive arts therapy: 1) by demonstrating how aesthetic responses nourish and enrich meaning when facing loss and 2) how the praxis of EXA through work-oriented decentering can be integrated into academic writing, culminating in a work of art.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude


Advisor: Carrie McLeod

Student: Eric Mulholland


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Keywords:  Loss, Grief, Bereavement, Aesthetic Response, Work-Oriented Decentering, Theatre, Playwrighting, Poiesi

Re-Friending the Body: Expressive Arts-Based, Embodied Learning for Building Resilience

This qualitative, arts-based case study describes three interwoven phenomena

experienced by researcher and participants at the intersection of expressive arts, embodied

learning, and healing-centered social change. The study explores:

1) Expressive arts-based, embodied learning for people focused on building resilience

in self and the systems in which we operate. The center of the study was a class for

adult learners entitled Building Resilience in Body, Mind and Spirit, comprised of fifteen

learners and one facilitator/researcher working in education, activism, restorative justice,

human rights advocacy, peacebuilding, farming, and counseling.

2) Unintended lessons from the tension between intention and impact due to power

oblivion (having a lot more to learn about the history/illusion in which I was/am

trapped): how whiteness was centered and violence landed on participants’ bodies in a

course designed to “decenter whiteness” and be “anti-oppressive,” “healing-centered,”

and “trauma-informed.”

3) An expressive arts-based, embodied engagement with whiteness, shame, and shadow

as self-care and collective commitment: how a series of expressive arts-based,

embodied, Earth-grounded processes catalyzed healing and reignited curiosity and

creativity for the researcher after a prolonged stretch of white fragility, shame, self-abuse,

relational stress and professional burnout in the wake of the harm and healing that

happened in the primary study.

2020: Dissertation PhD (English)
summa cum laude


Advisor: Sally Atkins 

Student: Kathryn Mansfield


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Keywords: expressive arts, embodied learning, resilience education, trauma-informed peacebuilding, whiteness

A Nonconventional Discourse on Love in Expressive Arts Therapy What I Learned from Developmentally Disabled Adults

This thesis is an expressive arts based exploration of meaning and process in therapeutic relationships with peculiar client populations. The research involved autoethnographic, qualitative, natural and arts-based study of client case studies. An investigation of intrinsic values allowed for participation in the unique capabilities of developmentally disabled adults: mostly nonverbal over a 7 + year period. The expressive arts term witness was instrumental in examinations of expanding play range, aesthetic responsibility, and therapeutic relationship. Explorations of non-Eros love supported an autoethnographic focus upon Agape-plus Love. Agape-plus included a spiritually based, unconditional, God-love, Golden Rule (Love Your Neighbor, etc.) model, along with Indigenous teachings of Ubuntu, Ayni, Aloha Spirit, Seven Generations and Mitayake Oyasin. Definitions of Lovingkindness, Compassion and Empathy evolved as in-practice Agape-plus foci in non-conventional qualities of love which enhanced client-therapist interaction.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude


Advisor: Wes Chester 

Student: Catherine Sparks


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Keywords: Love, play, relationship, disabled, aesthetic responsibility, justice, connectedness, community, improvisation, surprise, intermodal, neuroplasticity

Holding the ending

This thesis focuses on art-therapy interventions’ ending and deepens the idea that artworks have a central place in this complex and delicate process.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude

Advisor: Isabelle Roch

Student: Soômi DEAN


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Keywords: framework, ending process, transformational process, finishing, rite of passage, symbolization, development of forms, accompaniment, co-creation

Conversation with Colour: What Does Colour Serve When Used Intentionally in a Therapeutic Setting?

This thesis seeks to show that colour can expand the range of play and shape the process of change for the client to find a way to a new sense of self. The researcher has put colour at the center of nourishment, created a frame for colour to take the shape of what we may need more of in our life and witnessed what colour can serve when used intentionally. The research seeks to answer the question: What does colour serve when used intentionally in a therapeutic setting? This study takes the shape of a qualitative research method working in tandem with the participants to become co-researchers so that the reader can discover first-hand what colour can serve when put at the centre of nourishment. The researcher found that colour is a unique tool for both the practitioner and the client. The research showed that colour can be a resource for both in serving as a bridge and bringing what we already know into being: colour can represent The Third. The hope is that this research will take colour out of the box and into the tool belt. People love colour. Let the conversation with colour begin.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude

 

Advisor: Barbara Hielscher-Witte

Student: Destiny Gagiano 


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Keywords:

Colour, Serve, Intentionally, Therapeutic Setting, Bodily Felt Sense, Inner Knowing, Visualisation, Non Verbal Communication

Drawing on Life Stories A Phenomenological Inquiry into the Sensing of Beauty

When I was 15 years old, I had an epiphany. It was a profound awareness that created a need and capacity to notice beauty from varied perceptions. In this thesis I set off to explore beauty from an intuitive and artistic perspective. This inquiry explores and discusses lived experiences, where beauty filters through, at times in unexpected ways. This research also illustrates beauty connections that have become visible between the arts and human beings since at least the Stone Age. It deepens into an understanding of the eternal presence of beauty in our world. I focus on how beauty can induce discovery and shifts of perceptions that nurture our humanness. Soulful, artful living results from engaging with the practice of being with beauty in one’s daily life.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude

Advisor: Markus Scott Alexander

Student: Nancy Corrigan 


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Keywords: Art Therapy, Beauty, Humanness, Beingness, Presence, Crystallization, De-Centering, Ecology of Beauty, Epiphany, Harvesting, Poiesis, State of Grace

The Art of Food in Expressive Arts Therapy Exploring the Possibilities

This paper explores food as an artistic medium in the field of expressive arts therapy. The introduction encompasses the author’s own outlook and gastronomical life journey. The literature review focuses on defining food as art, connecting the underpinnings of expressive arts therapy foundations to cooking, presenting and the rituals of eating food. Food is the medium connected to the modalities of taste and smell. The next section is a case study conducted over the course of several months with a client diagnosed with cancer and her husband. Art, ritual, and food were all utilized in these sessions. In the last section the author discusses what she learned in her case study and how it could be applied to others. She concludes that food, taste, and smell are most welcome in the expressive arts therapist’s repertoire of tools.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude

Advisor: Wes Chester

Student: Kirstin Green


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Keywords: food, cooking, beauty, ritual, taste, smell, aesthetic responsibility 

Emerging- Expressive Arts Lifestyle

In this polyaesthetic and intermodal playground, the reader is encouraged to join me along a sensorial adventure into the unknown. I use an arts-based, magazine format to express myself in a way that aims at being felt in addition to being read. I research how expressive arts can be practiced through media, supplementing communication with opportunities for healing, play, and community building. This work not only exposes the process of shaping but also that of letting go. It is a place where I try things, purely for the sake of fun and curiosity. And it’s a place where I try to put words on to what matters most to me. All of its textures combined give us a glimpse into how the gifts of expressive arts could be used as a lifestyle, playfully unveiling the magic of everyday life. Much like a magazine, the variety of this work does not follow a linear path. It follows the soulful heart into whichever direction it sings from. It might be challenging to navigate for some, but it’s an invitation to experiment with our ideas of meaning-making outside of the usual boundaries we sometimes find ourselves in. This work is a celebration of all things expressive arts and stands in service to the divine, dynamic flow of this incredible life! I listened to my thesis as it asked me to surrender, make up my own rules, trust the way, and do all with love. This thesis asks the reader to be open, trust the process, let yourself get lost without rushing to make sense, relax, and just enjoy it!

2020: Master Thesis (English)
magna cum laude

Advisor: Markus Scott Alexander

Student: Karen Queller


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Keywords: Expressive arts lifestyle, magazine, media, unknown, trust the process, looking for a question, arts based research, experimentation, adventure, play

Cultivating a Rhythm of Care: an Expressive Arts Approach to Sustaining Wellbeing While Working in a Context of Trauma

This thesis aims to answer the question: how can the expressive arts support practitioners working in trauma to cultivate rhythms of care and sustain wellbeing? A review of the literature in the fields of expressive arts, trauma theory, and Polyvagal Theory develops the concept of a rhythm of care. Arts-based research in the form of creative nonfiction, autoethnography, and arts-based visual research moves from theory to praxis and yields seven components of a rhythm of care supported by expressive arts: repetition, simplicity, solidity, holism, sensory engagement, freedom, and honesty. This inquiry contributes to the field of expressive arts by suggesting a practitioner oriented application of expressive arts principles and practice. This inquiry also contributes to the fields of trauma theory, self-care, and Polyvagal Theory.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude

Advisor: Carrie McLeod 

Student: Emma Uebele


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Keywords: Expressive Arts, Trauma, Wellbeing, Rhythm of Care, Repetition, Poiesis, Polyvagal theory, Secondary Trauma, Resilience, Salutogenesis

Embodying an Intuitive Sense of Self The artful relationship between the self, the body, and the senses

Inspired by my own journey of self development, this thesis explores how personal inquiry through expressive arts therapy affects the relationship to intuition, and how that helps anchor an embodied sense of self. Through heightened awareness, introspection and reflection, I bring expressive arts to others to deepen the learning process of finding attunement between their bodies and their senses. I present literature about movement, embodiment, intuition and the transformation through autobiographical inquiry. With the support from co-researchers in my workshops on embodied intuition, I sink into the expressive arts concepts of liminality, resource orientation, crystallization and poiesis. I examine the evolution to self-actualization from the chaotic nature of life’s inevitable disruptions. The thesis is threaded subjectively with personal experience, storytelling, journal entries and poetry, illustrating the intuitive pilgrimage to an embodied sense of self.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude

Advisor: Bonnie Nish 

Student: Carly Whitaker-Wilson


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Keywords: personal inquiry, embodiment, intuition, introspection, resource orientation, autobiographical inquiry, senses, expressive arts, self-actualization

FROM VOID TO VOICE. Explorations into East Asian [aesthetic, somatic and drumming] practices in Expressive Arts settings for migrants.

In my thesis, I investigate the potential of Expressive Arts sessions enriched with elements of five East Asian practices: ikebana, karate, qigong, taiko, and Yoga Nidra, for migrants. This project is rooted in my lived experience of migration and the support these practices offered me during assimilation. The first part of my research utilized hermeneutic methods - primarily literature review and personal communication with specialists - to lay foundations. Subsequently, I moved to self-inquiry through heuristic research to build a toolbox. Later, I applied a case study method in both offline and online Expressive Arts sessions. The research outcome confirmed the potential of the adopted methods with my case studies reaching more connection, balance and resilience. Ultimately, I envision my findings contributing also to the development of other Expressive Arts settings.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude

Advisor: Barbara Hielscher-Witte

Student: Joanna Wróblewska


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Keywords: Expressive Arts Therapy, interdisciplinary, East Asian practices, qigong, karate, taiko, ikebana, Yoga Nidra, migrants, lived experience of migration

The Curiosities of Object Permanence

From infancy onward, our development is compelled by the challenges of comprehending the existence of objects, time, and causality, and how these elements interplay with the workings of our imagination. Evolving in understanding these dynamics necessitates decentering one’s awareness from the self to the separate objects in one's surroundings. This process elicits a confrontation with the liminality of object permanence, a notion complemented by the research of theoretical physics. Our imaginal relationships with objecthood inform our interactions with natural and artificial environments, cultural storytelling and conflicts, and technological invention. Because Expressive Arts-based research intertwines phenomenological decentering, material sensitization, and immaterial imagination, it empowers poignant engagement with the liminality of object relations. This thesis explores the convergence of interdisciplinary perspectives by applying Expressive Arts methodologies in educational and consulting contexts.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude

Advisor: Carrie MacLeod 

Student: Carmiella Zorzi 


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Keywords: object relations, object permanence, liminality, decentering, scientific inquiry, story, sensitization, environment, trash, conflict, technology

Nature-Based Expressive Arts and the Voice

The purpose of this study was to explore whether a nature-based Expressive Arts approach to voice-work could be an effective tool to empower one’s voice by yielding new insights into vocal awareness, expression, and communication. For this study, seven participants, four men and three women (ages 23-65), were tasked with practicing arts-based research centered around the phenomena of voice in each of six pre- designated natural, topographic locations in a U.S. national park setting. Using qualitative phenomenological research methods of inquiry, the analysis of writings, visual-art, and vocal- sound recordings produced findings supporting the efficacy of using a nature-based Expressive Arts approach to gain insights, understandings, and knowledge concerning vocal awareness, expression, and communication. The natural environment was shown to present opportunities that enhanced an Expressive Arts approach to voice-work. The diverse spatial qualities within predefined frames of six topographic locations offered opportunities that enhanced experiences of awareness of sensory sensations, perceptions, emotions, and feelings concerning the voice. These sensory experiences appeared to yield an effective play-range that inspired experimentation, curiosity, and exploration while providing psychological safety and freedom. As a result, new understandings, insights, and tools emerged, the resources to empower one’s voice.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude

Advisor: Carrie MacLeod 

Student: Linda Whitney 


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Keywords: Voice

Using Expressive Arts Therapy to Treat A Severely Traumatized Child: A Comprehensive Case Study

This dissertation utilizes art-based research to complete a case study on a non-verbal 11- year-old female who came into residential treatment, after spending the previous eight to nine years of her life experiencing the trauma of being tied by her mother to a dog. The dissertation explores her incredible trauma through the eyes of the expressive arts therapist, using the artistic process as the primary way of exploring, understanding & examining her treatment. Expressive arts were not only used with the child to provide therapeutic interventions but to examine the therapist’s response to the child. Creative expression was used to gain an understanding of her life & her journey while in residential care. The art is a living document of her life. The research also examined the impact of this work on the therapist, both personally & professionally, analyzing the numerous challenges, obstacles & triumphs throughout her treatment. This dissertation is an attempt to connect with readers so that they can feel the pain & emotions of this journey & be open to new ways of seeing & experiencing the world. I wanted to try to see the world through the child’s eyes, the fears, the discomfort, the frustration, the communication difficulties, as well as the exciting & joyful moments of learning something new or experiencing the world in a new way. The gruesome, complex trauma of this child was explored in hopes of creating a better understanding of the field of expressive arts therapies.

2020: Ph. D. Dissertation (English)
cum laude

Advisor: Thomas McLaughin 

Student: Deanna McClannahan


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Keywords: Trauma, Trauma-informed care, children, residential care, expressive arts, expressive therapies, self-harm, developmentally delayed, non-verbal

Engaging visual thinkers on the autism spectrum: An intervention using digital arts in expressive arts therapy to improve cognitive and social skills

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects around 1-2% of the global population. It has a significant but differentiated impact on each individual’s social functioning, use of language, and interests, as well as their ability to live meaningful lives. The motivation for this thesis was to present evidence from applying digital expressive arts therapy interventions with autistic visual thinkers, focusing on improvements in cognitive and social skills, as well as their ability to assist visual thinkers with autism in their search for professional positions in the creative industries. Drawing on art-based research, digital modalities were used to provide expressive arts therapy interventions to high-functioning and low-functioning autistic children, and observational data were gathered from group-based social skills training sessions with people with autism. The results indicate that, although the levels of progress in the sample of autistic children were variable, so too were the interventions they received, as well as their levels of severity in terms of deficits in social functioning, communication, and cognitive abilities. Hence, it is reasonable to conclude that, at least for high-functioning autistic children who are visual thinkers, digital arts interventions and expressive arts therapy hold substantial promise in improving communication, emotion recognition, and even professional integration into the creative industries.

2020: Ph. D Dissertation (English)
summa cum laude

Advisor: Ellen Levine 

Student: Naiara Belart Garcia 
 

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Keywords: Autism spectrum disorder, expressive arts therapy, digital arts interventions, technology-based interventions, arts-based research, visual thinkers

Expressive Arts Inquiries into the Cross-Cultural Ethical Responsibilities of a Therapist

This paper was inspired by my many travels and time spent in nature throughout my life. Although my family home sat in a suburb of a rather large urban area in Belgium, I enjoyed the yearly rituals of winter and summer breaks spent in the mountains and by the North Sea. These temporary immersions in deeper natural environments awoke in me a longing for being in nature, exploring and playing. My travels around the world and hearing of others’ travels opened my curiosity and appetite to experience other cultures, a desire to witness the ways people live life in a different setting. My exposure to other cultures also caused me to notice my personal limitations in being really present within a different environment. This interest and awareness have led me to explore how a practice of post-session aesthetic response, using nature as a modality, can shape the cultural ethics and responsibility of Expressive Art Therapy.

2020: Master Thesis (English)
cum laude

Advisor: Mary Putera 

Student: Cece (Cecile) Dirick 
 

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Keywords: aesthetic response and responsibility, cultural humility, therapeutic competencies, nature as a container and modality, ethics