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Hilary Rushton, Carolyn M. Barry, Ph.D., Adanna Johnson-Evans, Ph.D., Beth A. Kotchick, Ph.D.

Evaluation of an Art Program’s Promotion of Resilience on Economically-Vulnerable Adolescents

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Resilience, a dynamic interplay between individuals and their environment, is a critical factor in determining children’s and adolescents’ responses to adversity and development (Werner, 1993). When children experience a high level of stress and/or trauma, their ability to respond to this stress is determined largely by the context of their lives—family, social environment, community, physical environment, family history—interacting with their personal characteristics (Chu & Lieberman, 2010; Perry & Pollard, 1998; Wright & Masten, 2005). The pervasiveness and harm of cumulative, chronic stress on development and psychological functioning demands effective interventions to bolster resilience factors in children with multiple risk factors (Sameroff & Fiese, 2000). Studies have suggested that art therapy can bolster self-esteem, empowerment, emotional coping, and social connection, as well as reduce anxiety, physiological arousal, and severity of trauma symptoms, but there is a paucity of research on whether  art promotes resilience (for a review, see DeLue, 1999; Jang & Choi, 2012; for a review, see Reynolds et al., 2000; Slayton et al., 2010).

The current study sought to contribute methodologically to more rigorous studies in the art therapy literature by examining the potential for therapeutic art to bolster personal resilience factors through the evaluation of a school-based art intervention program. Specifically, the current study examined changes in self-esteem, mastery, social relatedness, and emotion reactivity in early adolescents who experience risk as a function of their socioeconomic status (SES). Data has been collected but not yet analyzed. This study was conducted over two semesters at a Baltimore City public charter school through a weekly middle school art elective class designed to employ therapeutic art as a resilience building intervention. Thirty-five male and female students from grades six through eight participated in this study. Pretest and posttest measures were completed by students in the art elective and students in a control group, which was comprised of students from other elective classes.

It was hypothesized that the resilience scores of the students in the therapeutic art intervention would increase over time and that they would increase significantly more than the resilience scores of the students in the other elective classes. The Resilience Scale for Children and Adolescents (RSCA) and Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale were used to measure the individual resilience factors targeted by the art intervention—sense of mastery, emotion reactivity, social relatedness, and self-esteem. Thus, the change in change in resilience scores, as assessed by the scales from pre to posttest, was measured for each student to determine the relation between participation in the therapeutic art elective and overall resilience. The Stressful Life Event Scale and The Perceptions of Racism in Children and Youth (PRaCY) were used to quantify the students’ experience of risk. Risk was included as a descriptive variable due to the variability in types and severity of risk experienced by the students participating in the elective programs.

Keywords: resilience, art therapy, therapeutic art, risk, chronic stress, art intervention


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