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The therapeutic effectiveness of using visual art modalities with the bereaved: a systematic review

Authors Weiskittle RE, Gramling SE

Received 9 January 2017

Accepted for publication 9 May 2017

Published 1 February 2018 Volume 2018:11 Pages 9—24

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S131993

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewers approved by Dr Amy Norman

Peer reviewer comments 3

Editor who approved publication: Professor Igor Elman

Rachel E Weiskittle, Sandra E Gramling

Department of Clinical Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA, USA

Abstract: Bereaved individuals are increasingly considered at risk for negative psychological and physiological outcomes. Visual art modalities are often incorporated into grief therapy interventions, and clinical application of art therapy techniques with the bereaved has been widely documented. Although clinicians and recipients of these interventions advocate for their helpfulness in adapting to bereavement, research investigating the efficacy of visual art modalities has produced equivocal results and has not yet been synthesized to establish empirical support across settings. Accordingly, this review critically evaluates the existent literature on the effectiveness of visual art modalities with the bereaved and offers suggestions for future avenues of research. A total of 27 studies were included in the current review. Meta-analysis was not possible because of clinical heterogeneity and insufficient comparable data on outcome measures across studies. A narrative synthesis reports that therapeutic application of visual art modalities was associated with positive changes such as continuing bonds with the deceased and meaning making. Modest and conflicting preliminary evidence was found to support treatment effectiveness in alleviating negative grief symptoms such as general distress, functional impairment, and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Keywords: grief, expressive arts, bereavement, therapy, efficacy

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