Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

PHD - Doctor of Philosophy


Expressive Therapies

First Advisor

Michele Forinash

Second Advisor

Robyn Cruz

Third Advisor

Stacy Hodgkinson


The growing epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States disproportionately affects African-American children. Traditional use of behavior modification and nutrition counseling in weight reduction programs for obese children have not been successful in overcoming the social, cultural, and psychological barriers to effective weight control. Although art therapy can provide important insights into the life challenges faced by obese children, there has been little research on the use of art therapy to increase understanding of the lived experiences of African-American girls living with obesity. By understanding their perspective, it will assist in developing theory as a means to create better interventions. A total of 10 African-American girls, age 12-17, who were enrolled in a weight management program, participated in this phenomenological study. In each of three 45- 60 minute sessions, the girls were given a directive to draw a self-portrait about their experience of home, school, and self-perception. The girls were encouraged to talk about their experience in the selected environment. After the completion of each drawing, the researcher asked each girl what she saw when looking at each drawing. Data analysis revealed that all girls suffered negative consequences from their weight such as bullying and teasing at home and school, social isolation, and psychosocial issues such as depression and low self-esteem. The girls reported the art therapy sessions provided a safe holding environment where they were able to share their lived experiences as seen in the visual imagery that emerged from the artwork. When the girls were asked how they felt about the art therapy all of the girls responded positively and said the art was very beneficial in helping them share their stories about living with obesity. The study results suggest art therapy can provide the multidisciplinary medical team that care for children with a non-pharmacological, adjunctive modality that provides access to the children’s real-life experience of obesity. This access to lived experience can provide critical insights into factors that may inhibit the children’s ability to adhere to a weight loss regimen, and need for on-going mental health assessment and treatment.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.



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