A model of art therapy for Aboriginal children within the preschool


Hergass, Shiri. (2019) A model of art therapy for Aboriginal children within the preschool [Thesis]. https://doi.org/10.26199/5ddf4ffc1bd8e
AuthorsHergass, Shiri
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

This research sets out to formally develop the Seasonal Model of Art Therapy, to observe and test it in action, and to address the research question, which examines ways to support educators working with children who have experienced trauma, using art therapy groups in preschools. Case study methodology was utilised, to systematise the approach and to assist in fully articulating its aims, purposes and procedure, ultimately for dissemination to art therapy teams and educators. In addition, the thesis provides a systematic and somewhat exhaustive survey of contributory theories and related research in the literature, which serves towards providing a rationale for the work. The Seasonal Model, devised and developed over some twenty years by the author, an experienced art therapist and clinical social worker, and in the last ten in collaboration with art therapist Andrea Bloom in Australia, is an articulated art therapy process designed to work with people affected by trauma. For the purposes of this research it was conducted in a preschool with a significant number of children, and educators also, affected by trauma or vicarious trauma. This preschool was affected by so-called “big behaviours” such as swearing, kicking, biting, or breaking furniture; ways of communicating experiences and distress. The research has developed my original conception of the Seasonal Model in two key innovations. Firstly, it applied decolonising theory in order to adapt the model to the unique challenges that many Australian Aboriginal children who have experienced trauma, can face. Secondly, it repositioned the models focus from the affected children, to a focus on their relationship with their educators, as the most important protective resource for childhood development is a strong relationship with an engaged, empathic adult. However, past research suggests that educators themselves are prone to vicarious traumatisation in being exposed to trauma-derived behaviours in the children and are often unable to fulfil this role for children, as they impact on their feelings, behaviour and relationships with the children in attempts to control or avoid engagement with the children. The research was designed to have educators present during the art therapy sessions, and to incorporate collaborative and consultative practice with the educators throughout the four “seasons” of the Seasonal Model, which extends from planning through implementation to evaluation and reflection phases. Educators also were actively engaged in the process of designing, participating, reflecting, and evaluating. When the Seasonal Model was implemented, it was found that children used the art space to express themselves and create more meaningful relationships with their educators. They used their art, and often the space, to share their stories, and this had positive effects on their behaviours and general resilience. Educators reported increased empathy with the children, being better able to contextualise children’s behaviours and therefore to have more tolerance of them and having more resources to respond to such behaviours. The educators reported a positive shift in being able to better understand and contextualise their own vicarious traumatisation.

PublisherACU Research Bank
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26199/5ddf4ffc1bd8e
Research GroupInstitute for Positive Psychology and Education
Final version
Publication dates01 Feb 2019
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