Date of Award

Spring 2012

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Expressive Therapies

First Advisor

Michele Forinash

Second Advisor

Robyn Flaum Cruz

Third Advisor

Amy Vaughn Van-Hecke


Although advancements in neuroscience research have informed the rationale of various art therapy interventions and explanatory frameworks, almost no empirical evidence exists as to how art therapy impacts the brain. Utilizing research that supports the QEEG (quantitative electroencephalogram) as a means for measuring the impact of therapeutic interventions, the brain activity of 10 participants was recorded before and after creating a spontaneous drawing. Each participant, who had 20 minutes to create an image of their choice using oil pastels, was asked to describe their image and their process. Paired t tests (p < .05) and z scores were calculated to compare relative power between pre- and post-intervention QEEG readings.

Although differences were highly individualized and observed in multiple brain regions and frequencies, each participant in the study showed statistically significant differences between their pre- and post-intervention EEG readings in relative power. Relative power difference maps by artist and non-artist groups showed participants with artistic training displayed high levels of theta increases in the anterior regions paired with posterior alpha increases. Non-artists displayed posterior alpha increases along with increases in activity in the left prefrontal lobes in beta 1. These exploratory findings, which tentatively suggest that the QEEG is a promising means for empirically measuring the impact of art therapy interventions, support the assertion that art therapy–related brain processes involve multiple regions and systems on a dynamic continuum (e.g., mood, artistic training, artistic intention, artistic media, stage of art making, etc.). In addition, the spontaneous creation of a visual image may be a means for promoting meditative states of consciousness that could potentially impact affective states.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
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