Does an academic course in art therapy influence a college student's measures of universal self-esteem and empathy?

Date of Completion

January 2005


Education, Art|Education, Guidance and Counseling|Education, Educational Psychology




High levels of self-esteem and empathy are essential characteristics in an art therapist. To date, the literature contains no quantitative research studies evaluating whether self-esteem or empathy can be taught to art therapy students. The present study asks the question, "Does an Academic Course in Art Therapy Influence a College Student's Measures of Universal Self-Esteem and Empathy?" and provides a quantitative analysis using standardized measures of self-esteem and empathy. ^ A one semester undergraduate non-major Art Therapy class (N=12) was compared to a psychology class in Moral Development (N=24) in a pre- and post-test design. A demographic survey was performed prior to the pre-test assessments. Empathy levels were measured with Davis' Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) and Mehrabian's Balanced Emotional Empathy Scale (BEES). Levels of self-esteem were measured using Rosenberg's Self-Esteem Scale (SES) and Fitts and Warren's Tennessee Self-Concept Scale: Second Edition (TSCS:2). Using results from all four assessments and from both groups, pre- and post-experience scores were compared within each group and between the groups. Statistical analyses were performed using independent samples t-tests and the analysis of covariance (ANCOVA). The study also looked individually at the role of maturity (age) and work experience as independent variables. ^ While no statistically significant differences were found between the two groups, a number of trends in the data nevertheless suggested that empathy and self-esteem are influenced by an art therapy class experience. The small sample size, the very similar characteristics of the psychology class used for comparison to the art therapy class, and the short longitudinal duration of the study (one semester), were felt to be the primary limitations which precluded statistical significance in this particular project. Future research should address these limitations and should include an analysis of a wider array of personality characteristics and a qualitative assessment. ^