Group art therapy for people with Parkinson's, a qualitative study

  • Sally Schofield

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores the effects of art-making in group art therapy sessions for people affected by Parkinson's Disease. It examines their experience of self through active engagement with art materials. It also draws on the experience of family caregivers and of professionals providing other therapeutic support for these patients. The research methodology is based on feminist, post-structuralist epistemological thought, situating the research as a political, reality-altering endeavour shaped by, and interpreted through, the researcher's particular ideological lens. The thesis emphasises the importance of developing a critical overview of the research context and considering how dominant discourses have shaped both the individual patient's experience of Parkinson's and the service approach to ways of improving their quality of life. A medical model is viewed as determining a narrow understanding and experience of the condition. Broadening the focus of the work to attend to how Parkinson's is culturally and socially embedded provides new understandings of its effects on patients and their wider needs. The research design has a strong participatory component drawing on the support of a consultancy group of six people affected by Parkinson's and three family caregivers, all seen as experts through their personal experience of the condition. The researcher defines her position as researcher-near using her background as artist, art therapist and her experience of working with people affected by Parkinson's at the research site. The research design is inspired by group art therapy practice, and takes research as praxis for theory building. Social science qualitative interviewing was used with four focus groups, and in ten semi-structured individual interviews which involved participant selected examples of their group therapy artwork. Nine audio-recordings of group art therapy sessions were collected. The researcher used art-making throughout the research process to create visual researcher diaries, and 'response' art as a way of exploring the material gathered for analysis. Besides providing an opportunity to consider the role of visual expression to complement verbal, this English language thesis uses data collected in Spanish and Catalan. Translation across languages (spoken, written and visual) and cultures became a method through which to consider interpretation, explore nuances and question assumptions. The dilemmas faced in translation enhanced researcher reflexivity and facilitated exploration of the space between art and language. This thesis offers an understanding of the potential contribution of group art therapy within six themes: 'Self-construction and discovery'; 'Material action'; 'Aesthetic group movement'; 'New perspectives'; 'Artwork as legacy'; and 'Physical transformation of issues'. These themes support the view that group art therapy acted as a catalyst for well-being and better functioning for participants, and that it can be modelled as a continuous process of embodied enquiry for those affected by Parkinson's. The triangular therapeutic relationship is explored and the terms creator –artwork – audience are proposed to recognise the flexibility in the art-maker's position between creator and audience of their artwork. That artwork is conceptualised as an active meaning generator in the group art therapeutic encounter and the artistic intersubjective matrix is explored in relation to therapeutic factors specific to group art therapy. Implications for working with other related chronic, life changing conditions are elaborated.
Date of Award1 Aug 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorLaura Winter (Supervisor), Erica Burman (Supervisor) & Anat Greenstein (Supervisor)


  • discourse analysis
  • researcher reflexivity
  • arts-based methods
  • embodied learning
  • Parkinson's
  • group art therapy
  • participatory

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