Date Approved


Embargo Period


Document Type


Degree Name

EdD Educational Leadership


Educational Services and Leadership


College of Education


Coaxum, James

Committee Member 1

Simmerman, Herb

Committee Member 2

Van Horn, Dorothy


Art therapy, Emotionally Disturbed, Group therapy, Middle school students, Mixed methods action research, Relational-cultural therapy


Art therapy; Mentally ill children


Special Education and Teaching


Over the past four decades in the United States, the number of students that have been classified as Emotionally Disturbed has increased as well as a rise in these students' aggressive behavior, school violence, and expulsion from their home school districts (Mooney, Epstein, Reid, & Nelson, 2003). Historically, school professionals have employed behavior therapy strategies solely as a method to address students' negative behaviors and improve their overall school experiences (Crow & Small, 2011). These behavior therapy strategies include earning points for improved behavior that lead to school rewards. Although students show improvement after behavior therapy strategies are used, some challenges are noted as well. Students have a tendency to become dependent on earning a reward to change negative behavior, and have difficulty getting along with others (Crow & Small, 2011; Mooney et al., 2003). In previous studies and observations, students with emotional and behavioral difficulties display more positive behaviors when others take the time to build relationships with them. This study sought to incorporate other types of therapy approaches to complement behavior therapy strategies and to help students with emotional and behavioral difficulties increase their positive relationships with others.

This mixed methods action research study assessed the impact of a Group Art Therapy program on the relationship-building skills of emotionally disturbed students. Mixed methods approaches were utilized within six cycles of the action research model. These methods included the Piers-Harris 2 Self-Concept Scale, the School Behavior Survey, classroom observations, Group Art Therapy observations, the Life Space Picture, the Kinetic School Drawing, artwork from the group sessions, and student discipline records.

Results from the study indicated that although students continued to struggle handling their behavior in conflict situations with others, the students were beginning to display more positive and socially appropriate behaviors after they participated in the Group Art Therapy program. The students who participated in the study demonstrated a greater sense of community with others as well as more positive strategies for handling conflict situations with their peers. The students continued to participate in the Group Art Therapy program beyond the study, and revisions and modifications will be made to this approach in an ongoing basis to help students more easily demonstrate positive classroom behavior and relationships with others.