Date of Award

Spring 5-5-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

MA - Master of Arts


Expressive Therapies


Raquel Stephenson


In art therapy, adults with severe mental illness may hesitate to engage in artmaking due to low self-esteem and preconceived notions about art. Existing research suggests that found objects may be an accessible and approachable medium that allows clients to overcome barriers to authentic expression. Research also suggests that art therapy with found objects can facilitate progress in common treatment goals for this population including grounding in the present moment, fostering connections with the outside world, promoting self-reflection, enhancing emotional awareness and regulation, building a positive sense of identity, empowerment, and living a meaningful and purposeful life.

This study explored the use of found objects as art materials in a group setting at a day treatment program for adults with severe mental illness. The study included four women and one man, aged 21 to 49, from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds, diagnosed with conditions such as major depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder. Analysis of data from therapist observations, reflective journaling, and reflective artmaking revealed three major themes of how found objects function therapeutically: safety and structure, meaning making, and a strengths-based approach. The structure of the group played a crucial role in guiding the use of found objects, and the objects provided containment and safety. Participants derived meaning from their creations through placement and arrangement, associations, and metaphor. The found objects elicited aspects of a strengths-based approach, including hope, a positive attitude, control and empowerment. Overall, this study supports the effectiveness of using found objects as art materials in art therapy groups for adults with severe mental illness.

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




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