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Cecilie Cody

Art Therapist Combines Roles of Authority and Therapist to Empower Patients within a Correctional Facility

          This thesis investigates how the art therapist can negotiate the roles of therapist and authority figure during art making to empower the patients at Cermak Mental Health Services, an inpatient mental health program at Cook County Jail.  Because security issues take priority over therapeutic interventions in this setting, it is necessary to maintain personal boundaries to ensure physical safety of both staff and patients.  The art therapist must achieve a careful balance of reinforcing structure and security standards while simultaneously encouraging individual productivity and artistic expression.  Incorporating art making into the therapeutic relationship empowers the patient to be expressive in an environment that demands passivity and obedience without risking the safety of the facility. 

        The art therapy literature focusing on patients in correctional institutions emphasizes that art making encourages patients to express internal stress in productive and safe ways.  Art making can improve insight, reality testing, and decision-making skills, which results in growth of autonomy and self-reliance.  The data collected for this project came from three sources.  The art therapist uses the heuristic model of research to investigate her own awareness of acting as an authority figure while developing therapeutic relationships with the patients during art therapy sessions. Three semi-structured interviews with correction and civilian staff members at Cermak are included to provide an expanded understanding of how professional and patient relationships function in a highly controlled environment.  Two case studies are presented to illustrate how two individual patients responded to art therapy services.  The collected data describes the challenges and benefits of using art therapy with the patients at Cermak Mental Health Services. 

        All personal identifiers have been replaced with information that is not associated with the actual research participants, patients and staff members.  This research is intended to expand the mental health community’s understanding of relational dynamics, explore ways to empower patients, and contextualize art therapy practice in correctional institutions.


           Cecilie Cody received a BA in English Literature and a BA in Psychology from University of New Mexico in 2000. During her graduate study at SAIC, Cecilie worked with adolescents transitioning from foster homes to adult independence, and incarcerated adult men and women with mentally illness at Cook County Jail. 


Thesis Advisor: Randy Vick, Associate Professor, Chair, Art Therapy

Thesis Reader: Pierre Nunez, Psychologist, Cermak Mental Health Services

Second Reader: Denise Colletti, Expressive Therapist, Cermak Mental Health Services



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