Art on Trial

Confessions of a serial art therapist

Venus Rising: Art Therapy Research in Prison Part 3

The effectiveness of art therapy in men AND women's prisons: the ongoing studies

Over the many years that I have written and presented the work and research on art therapy in prison, I would inevitably—and often—get asked:

 “Does the same results apply to women’s prisons?”

Although a couple of chapters in the 1997 book Drawing Time: Art Therapy in Prisons and other Correctional Settings addresses women, I had not yet worked directly with female inmates. It wasn’t until beginning the empirical studies presented in these posts that I considered evaluating art therapy’s effectiveness with a female inmate population. Once again, this work resulted in a long-term placement of art therapy student interns in a women’s prison.

Ongoing Studies

Wanting to expand the previous studies (the pilot and follow-up) to demonstrate art therapy’s effectiveness in prison, several major changes were made:

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  • The studies were conducted in two different prisons: one women’s institution and a new men’s prison
  • The length of time expanded from 8 weeks to 15 weeks, with data gathered over a full academic year.
  • Along with mood, a new variable was examined—Locus of Control, with a new pre/posttest assessment added: Nowicki-Strickland LOC (ANS)
  • Many more participants

The hypotheses were:

If male inmates receive art therapy services, then they will exhibit marked improvement in mood, socialization, problem-solving abilities and locus of control within the correctional environment. 

If female inmates receive art therapy services, then they will exhibit marked improvement in mood, socialization, problem-solving abilities and locus of control within the correctional environment

The study sought to demonstrate that art therapy would continue to be effective in decreasing depression, problem-solving and socialization and would shift the inmates’ Locus of Control from external to internal—that is, they would take greater control and responsibility over their actions rather than be influenced by inappropriate, external forces. 

The technical part

This ongoing study was made up of two research periods. Each art therapy group session met once a week; fifteen sessions over 15 weeks comprised each research period. The group size generally remained around eight participants per group. The procedures for the studies remained consistent. The Florida State University graduate art therapy student interns placed in the men and women’s facilities provided the art therapy sessions; all interns were paired to co-lead the sessions.

  • 27 members of the men’s experimental group completed the pre and post ANS (the Locus of Control assessment) and 35 members of the men’s experimental group completed the pre and post BDI-II assessment. 
  • 25 members of the men’s control group completed a pre and post ANS and BDI-II assessment.
  • 71 members of the women’s experimental group completed the pre and post ANS and 76 members of the women’s experimental group completed the pre and post BDI-II assessment. 
  • 20 members of the women’s control group completed a pre and post ANS and BDI-II assessment.

The changes in ANS scores and BDI-II scores from pretest to posttest (i.e., posttest score – pretest score) were calculated and the differences were analyzed using independent-sample t tests to find differences between the experimental and control groups. Once again, this was done through the SPSS program.

There were also data obtained from the Formal Elements Art Therapy Scale on all participants, but once again, it did not present significant results. The reasons why, however, became much clearer—please refer to the article [link provided below] for complete explanation.

The facility’s psychologists randomly assigned the participants to the groups—those assigned to the control were provided art therapy sessions at a later date.

The types of directives used in the follow-up were similar to those used in the pilot and the follow-up studies.

PPAT pretest drawing-female inmate

PPAT pretest drawing-female inmate

 

PPAT posttest drawing-female inmate

PPAT posttest drawing-female inmate

The fun part

The overall results, in particular those from the psychologically based assessments, the BDI-II and the ANS, indicated significant support of the hypotheses. While caution should be taken in reviewing these results, for several reasons (all faithfully and accurately outlined in the publications) conclusions could be drawn, based on the results that:

The male and female prison inmates who received art therapy services demonstrated a more significant change in mood and Locus of Control than the group that did not receive such services.

In addition, the anecdotal data collected from observation and interviews with correctional staff supported that participating inmates demonstrated improved socialization and problem solving skills.

Coming up

However, something very interesting emerged. Numbers were run to compare the men to the women, and what became apparent was that there seemed to be a more significant change in the women than the men. But why? Are male and female inmates that different? Was art therapy more effective with the women?

These intriguing questions—and more—will be examined in the next post.

[As in the previous two posts, the article that documented these results are available for immediate download. To review this study, including methods, art therapy directives and statistical results, you may find this article in The Arts in Psychotherapy here. This article is also available on the website www.arttherapyinprison.com.]

References

Gussak, D. (2009). The effects of art therapy on male and female inmates:  Advancing the research base. The Arts In Psychotherapy, 36 (1), 5–12.

Gussak, D. & Virshup E. (eds.). (1997) Drawing Time: Art Therapy In Prisons And Other Correctional Settings, Chicago, IL: Magnolia Street Publishers. 

David Gussak, PhD, ATR-BC, is professor and chairperson for the Florida State University Department of Art Education, and Clinical Coordinator of its Graduate Art Therapy Program.

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