FASD and Art Therapy: An Exploratory Review

FASD Child Drawing Heart for Art Therapy

The purpose of this paper is to review art therapy (AT) and its effectiveness as a treatment approach for individuals diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). In 2008, Gerteisen explored the use of AT as a viable intervention model for individuals affected by FASD. This paper identifies applicable therapeutic AT approaches identified by Gerteisen’s research. The literature review offers a comprehensive overview of FASD and comorbid diagnoses. Finally, this paper presents future research considerations for the use of AT as a successful treatment modality for FASD in all settings.

Information on FASD

Individuals with FASD commonly experience interpersonal and social challenges, executive function limitations, learning problems, memory impairments, psychiatric conditions, and a host of other effects (Paley & O’Connor, 2011). Additionally, they commonly experience parental abandonment and neglect as children and will struggle academically, socially, and vocationally throughout their lives. They are at increased odds of becoming involved in the criminal justice system and child welfare systems (Paley & O’Connor, 2011; Streissguth, Barr, Kogan, & Booksstein, 1996). Further, homelessness, suicide, substance misuse, and maladaptive social behaviors are common (Steinhausen & Spohr, 1998). As a result, accurate detection of FASD can be challenging due in part to the vast array of symptoms experienced by this population through timing and dose variations. In many cases, the secondary disabilities are often diagnosed as the primary disability when, in fact, the primary disability is the brain injury. As such, it is imperative for clinical mental health providers to understand the complexities of FASD and seek out professional training opportunities to acquire an increased knowledge base pertaining to the accurate detection and treatment of persons affected by FASD. One such treatment approach clinicians may wish to consider is art therapy.

A Brief Literature Review of AT and FASD, Childhood Trauma and Attachment 

Due to a limited amount of research on the effectiveness of AT on the well-being of people with FASD, a literature review addressing a broader range of studies including trauma and attachment disorders will demonstrate the benefits of AT as a potential clinical intervention for FASD. Childhood trauma and attachment problems are common among individuals with FASD. PTSD and RAD are comorbid conditions that may accompany FASD. A review of the current literature will address the effectiveness of AT and its clinical consideration as a valuable tool in diagnosis, treatment, and understanding of FASD.

AT and FASD

Gerteisen (2008), in his papers on AT, specifically addresses FASD and childhood trauma and the use of AT as a successful treatment modality. In the studies conducted by Gerteisen, AT was found to increase participants’ self-esteem, improve their positive social relationships, enhance feelings identification, develop an opportunity for nonverbal expression of feelings, and encourage an increase in body awareness as well as an improved sense of self-control. Various therapeutic considerations were found to help participants manage symptoms associated with FASD. These considerations included:

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Disclaimer:  The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network.

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