Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Judith Simmons

Second Advisor

Craig Eisendrath


This thesis is concerned with the applicability of art therapy for medically ill or injured children and adolescents, The majority of the bibliographic and experiential research comes from work with hospitalized young people, however a hypothesis could be made for the applicability of art therapy for non-hospitalized pediatric patients, as well , Due to the limited amount of available research, this second category can only be addressed briefly in this thesis.

Hospitalized pediatric patients refers here to children and adolescents who are hospitalized for physical illness, injury, or other medical problems, This thesis does not concern itself with patients who are hospitalized for psychiatric disorder.

Art therapy with medically ill patients in this country is a very new branch of a profession which has been formally organized for only the past ten years (.American Art Therapy Association). Art therapists are beginning to work with medically ill patients in a variety of medical units, including oncology, kidney, leukemia, and burn units, as well as in pediatric and general medical units, as illustrated here.

Art therapists working with pediatric patients in hospital must have an understanding of psychological and emotional factors which affect children's reactions to hospitalization. There must also be understanding of the interrelationship between a patient's physical and emotional states.

Fortunately, the emotional needs of hospitalized children and adolescents have been well documented. General interest in this field began forty to fifty years ago, as the field of psychiatry grew and developed. It was found that the origins of mental illness frequently originate in an individual's childhood roots . This discovery has led to an increased interest in studying the emotional needs of children.

Prior to this time, it seems that children's emotional vii needs during hospitalization had gone virtually unrecognized. At one time, any hospitalization was considered serious and quite traumatic. For children it must have been, in many cases, terrorizing. Not only were they faced with a weakened physical condition, but they were placed in a totally strange and frightening environment. They often had to cope with painful , anxiety-provoking treatments and constant fear of the unknown.

Understanding the development of several interrelated fields is essential to the acceptance of art therapy in hospital pediatric programs. This thesis looks at the concurrent development and interrelationship of child psychiatry, play therapy with children, interest in the emotional needs of hospitalized children, hospital play programs, and finally, art therapy and its applicability to medically ill patients. It shows, with illustrated descriptions, the effectiveness of art therapy in a hospital pediatric unit.

Symbolic expression occurs through the creative art experience, providing the patient with nonverbal release of unconscious, sometimes highly emotional, material . It provides the art therapist with an accurate, reliable~ visual record of the patient's ongoing, developmental processes and emotional state. Such a record , with interpretive remarks by the art therapist, provides unique information about the hospitalized patient.

It appears that the 1980's may well be a critical period in the evolution of art therapy with medically ill patients. In order for this field to expand and develop, it is crucial that hospital administrators and patient care supervisors fully understand the value of art therapy. Only through the support of these administrators can art therapists become vital, interrelating members of the hospital team.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

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