Leslie M. Robertson
THESIS ABSTRACT 2004
Reaching Beyond Life Transitions:
Developing an Art Therapy Program in a Geriatric Setting
The elderly face biopsychosocial issues as they move into and through a long-term continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Art therapy programming can be implemented to specifically address the impact of relocation on people who have moved from independent living in the community into a CCRC and people who are facing additional transitions within the CCRC to more specialized levels of care.
This thesis uses a theoretical model of inquiry consisting of literature research, an interview with a clinical professional working in a CCRC, and practical experience in creating and implementing an art therapy program for each level of care in a CCRC: congruent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing/dementia care.
The literature review section of this thesis explores current issues in gerontology in America and how art therapy programming in a CCRC can assist aging people as they enter and transition through long-term care as their needs for care change. This review includes current population growth census data, an overview of American values and the aging population, the philosophy and structure of CCRCs, adaptive phases of coping with life transitions, and the benefits art therapy can provide to people adjusting as they transition into and through a CCRC.
Concepts for this thesis were developed through 10 months of internship experience in a CCRC. The development of these concepts involved
(1) Becoming familiar with the organizational structure of a CCRC;
(2) Identifying common patterns of residential transition through congruent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing/dementia care;
(3) Developing an art therapy model that addresses the biopsychosocial needs of residents before and after transition through these various levels of care; and
(4) Organizing an art therapy treatment program to address these specific biopsychosocial needs.
Clinical observations, individual and group art therapy, and verbal counseling were methods used to better understand the process of transition through a CCRC. An informal interview with a neuropsychologist assisted in further defining the biopsychosocial needs of residents at various stages of transition through a CCRC and also assisted in further defining therapeutic goals identified for each level in the CCRC.
The art therapy program developed in this thesis enabled residents to share common experiences both verbally and artistically as they continued through the process of aging. As physical and cognitive limitations increase for residents in a CCRC, art therapy can adjust to these changing needs to foster a greater sense of self and empowerment and ultimately improve the quality of life.
Leslie Robertson has spent most of her professional life working as a writer for technical communication for corporate environments. She attended Radford University in Radford, Virginia, majoring in English and Psychology and later returned for a second undergraduate degree in Fine Art from Kennesaw State University, Atlanta, Georgia. Leslie continued working as a technical communicator as she attended art school and studied abroad. She then moved to Chicago, Illinois to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for a Master of Arts in Art Therapy. Leslie divides her time doing many things, including art therapy with older adults, writing for corporate environments, and personal artistic expression using the encaustic painting process. She hopes to continue advancing her interest in psychology, human development, and community involvement and to continue exploring international art therapy methods and environments.
Thesis Advisor: Randy Vick, Associate Professor, Art Therapy
Second Reader: Daniel Kuhn, Director of Education, Mather Institute on Aging, Mather Lifeways