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Gathering the evidence for art therapy in primary schools...

24 July 2017

A new review of studies on the effects of primary-school-based art therapy reports positive outcomes for children internationally and outlines the urgent need for further research to evidence clinical effectiveness.

by Alex McDonald & Nicholas StJ Drey

Published in the International Journal of Art Therapy

This article has been made FREE ACCESS until 28th February 2018.


AIM: This study aims to review controlled studies on the effectiveness of primary-school-based art therapy to assess quality, synthesise findings and make informed suggestions for future research. 

METHOD: A systematic review was undertaken using database/hand searches, PICOS inclusion/exclusion criteria and the Downs and Black Checklist for Measuring Study Quality. A descriptive synthesis was used to present findings. 

FINDINGS: Out of 201 found, only four papers met the inclusion criteria. Art therapy was reported as having a significant positive impact on some outcomes (classroom behaviour; Oppositional Defiant Disorder; Separation Anxiety Disorder) and non-significant greater gains towards Locus of Control. One paper reported no significant impact on outcomes but maintained scores for self-concept compared to a significant decrease for no intervention. Quality of studies was assessed to be between the 3rd and 5th quintile of possible scores on the Downs and Black Checklist. 

CONCLUSION: The studies provided important evidence of some positive effects and no negative effects. Benefits were reported for children struggling with classroom behaviour, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Locus of Control and self-concept. The lack of harm reported is also an important finding. However, to evidence clinical effectiveness, there is an urgent need for further robust research.


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