Date of Award

Spring 5-19-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Expressive Therapies

First Advisor

Shaun McNiff

Second Advisor

Michele Forinash

Third Advisor

Gioia Chilton


Self-injury greatly affects individuals, their families, and the mental health professionals who provide their care. This art-based research investigates the impact of clients’ self-injury on mental health professionals. It addresses four research questions and applies a methodology that integrates body art, photography, poetry, and dialogue. Six participants (including the researcher) participated in three meetings wherein they artistically responded with temporary body art to two questions, sorted through their photographs, reviewed poetry created about their work, and discussed the study experience. The researcher navigated being a witness-researcher by personally and creatively engaging in the study.

The results present raw, distilled narratives, visual and verbal, as the process of discovery identified six prevailing characteristics: (1) Holding the space and relationship with the witness became a model and guide for participants to explore self-injury in the room and with their clients; (2) Sensory empathy allowed participants to increase appreciation of the body as a canvas. Experiencing art materials on the skin and in the mirror and photographic viewing of the art created a pseudo self-injury experience that deepened participants’ connection to the behavior; (3) Cultivating a compassionate response is important in healing the client and the mental health professional; (4) The research provided insights into the role of ambivalence and the impact of overflowing emotions in the development of self-injury; (5) I examined the significance of self-injury as expression and communication. Through body art, participants metaphorically experienced potential power and influence of this communication; (6) I considered the surfacing sense of hope an integral treatment-related experience that can replace self-injury as the resource of choice to feel alive and have hope in the professional’s ability to treat and enhance healing. Body art, coupled with photography and poetry, can be a valuable resource upon which to build common language, understanding, compassion, and healing.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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