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Natalia Gomez

Arte sin Fronteras — Using Art Therapy as an Aid during the Acculturation Process of Latino/a Immigrants.
Art without Frontiers — Usando la Arte Terapia como una Ayuda durante el Proceso de Aculturación de los Inmigrantes Latinos.

        Unable to express in words the feelings of loss, isolation, and sadness caused by her own process of acculturation, the author turned to art.  The personal experience of using art during this transition motivated the author to examine how art therapy can help during the acculturation process.

     Although migration and multi-culturalism are an integral part of the history of the United States, research about the acculturation of the Latino/a immigrant is scarce. In the field of art therapy, this situation is even more acute.Given that the Latino/a population currently represents the largest ethnic minority group in the United States, understanding the particularities of their acculturation process, and identifying possible methods to help reduce the acculturative stress is a priority.

      The hypothesis behind this thesis is that both the art object and the art making process can support a healthy acculturation process by becoming a transitional object that contains both the previous identity related to the country of origin and the identity created in the host country.  Through the creation of art, cultures can blend and integrate. Art is also a media where the barriers of language are overcome and where defenses shift. Art can be a way to document the transition, recognize improvements, and identify potential obstacles. 

     This thesis studied the case of the author and of four additional Latina immigrants, their use of art therapy, and how it facilitated their process of acculturation and relieved the stress involved in this experience.  Different techniques and materials were used and evaluated. The purpose of this evaluation was to find appropriate and beneficial ways to address the issues around acculturation.  Art was examined from three main perspectives: art as an integrator, art as a document, and art as a witness of the transition.

     The experience of acculturation was  unique in each of the cases analyzed.  In general, language fluency appeared to have an impact in the ability or inability to acculturate.  One of the challenges encountered was identifying the subtle differences between stress associated to the acculturation and stress associated to depression and/or anxiety.

     The opportunity to understand the experience of acculturation by using art as means to express what words are unable to hold, combined with the opportunity to share stories and feelings surrounding this process, helped the participant of this thesis to feel more connected and integrated after participating in the art therapy groups. The author concludes that art therapy can be of great help during the acculturation process.     


           Natalia Gomez was born in Bogota, Colombia. She received a degree in Psychology from the Universidad de Los Andes in 1998 and practiced in Bogota.  In 2003, Natalia moved from Columbia to follow her dream of becoming an art therapist. At SAIC, she worked as an art therapy intern at Open Studio Project, Inc, and at Community Counseling Centers of Chicago.


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

Thesis Reader: Violetta Woznicka, Art Therapist, Life Span




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