Environmental Art Therapy for Gemeinschaftsgefühl: an Experiential Catalyst for Change in a Secured Residential Treatment Center

Can environmental art therapy be the catalyst for positive social change in a residential treatment institution for sex offenders? This question was pivotal in the design of this experiential project. The mere act of painting a room evolved into an extensive Adlerian art therapy exercise which was conducted in a maximum security treatment facility for sex offenders. This Minnesota treatment facility exists for court ordered sexual offenders after they have served their prison term. According to Alfred Adler the sexual offender exhibits a lack of social interest from a poorly developed lifestyle (Adler, 1956). The focus of this experiential project was to develop the social interest of the clients and to document and analyze lifestyle changes in three different but related categories. Documentations of 42 client evaluations were conducted, focus groups with staff and clients were held, learning objectives were outlined and working schedules were designed. The findings of this experiential were multidimensional. Those clients that became invested in this project, which was a steady group of ten clients, were observed to have increased social interest according to characteristics that have been outlined by Alfred Adler. The Adlerian social interest characteristics improved in the areas of attitudes towards: their peers, their self, their difficulties, staff, the opposite sex and their own lives. Sharing and caring became a theme in the working groups which was verbalized during the post-activity focus group. The group painting process, based on the central environmental art therapy directive, was observed and analyzed as having three metaphorical stages: spackling the wounds, the all white purification stage and the color stage. This painting process also began a spiraling effect on changing uninvolved clients, staff and administration. As Adler often equated therapy with learning, the ecological system of learning designed by Uri Bronfenbrenner was also used to describe the areas of change and movement across therapy and learning environments. According to Bronfenbrenner the learning levels of environments are divided into macrosystems, exosystems, mesosytems and microsystems of the organization. In this experiential the Great Room was considered the microsystem and the fractal of change in the positive realm. The directive in this experiential project was considered the catalyst for change. Not only was this experiential a physically large undertaking, it also moved socially across horizontal and vertical realms of treatment culture and policy, while creating disorder and order in movement ,which is illustrated in the chaos theory rationale section of this paper. After the change in the microsystem experiential or what was also called the environmental art directive was conducted, the social events of the two units began to change with the positive planning of a governing body. The governing body made up of clients with two staff counselors was a direct result of the changes that came about in the microsystem after this experiential was conducted. This group made future plans for group events which included the two units that were initially in conflict with one another, more importantly, they wanted to increase client and staff communication. Individual clients that were involved in the project continued to pursue more successful social growth attributes through education endeavors, on-campus work experience and movements to higher levels of responsibility.

Connie L. Gretsch
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Gretsch MP 2010.pdf1.41 MB