Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), School of Visual Arts


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts

First Advisor

Dr Michael Campanelli


The aim of this thesis is to orient the reader towards an art therapy which is conscious of external dynamics of power in western society. In order to do it is necessary to look at art therapy in the light of feminism and recent post-modern theories, which include critical theory and deconstruction. Critical theory is a social theory integrating the works of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, which when merged with a feminist praxis (the active relationship between theory and practice) provides a method of critical analysis to investigate traditional therapeutic theories which gave rise to art therapy. The established therapeutic theories (for example Psychoanalysis, Jungian analytic psychology, family and systems theories) generally do not examine this culture's issues of power (organized in varying degrees around the four primary areas of class, race, gender and age) in relation to the construction of the individual. A critical analysis enables investigation into not only the construction of gender in society, but also the institutions that maintain and perpetuate oppression. One of the myths of traditional therapy is that it is value free or value neutral. "Value free" therapy functions as a mechanism of social control, implicitly supporting the status quo by "therapising" the client to adjust to or come to terms with the problematic situation. Unless these areas are taken into account, therapy becomes another site of reproduction for inequalities and injustices in society. Strategies of challenge regarding a gender aware art therapy for therapists both male and female will be suggested. There is potential for a socially conscious art therapy, in breaking away from traditional theories, to be in a position to offer a bond between individual insight and external social dynamics. Power inequalities in society lead those who have little power or control in their lives to suffer from various forms of distress, depression and mental disorders. Because the number of women being diagnosed with mental ill health and depression is more than double the amount of men, and 95% of anorexics are female, this paper will also look at gender construction and women in western society. Working from the principle that the personal is political, the possibility of a gender aware art therapy is examined, in particular for women with anorexia, negative body image and low self-esteem. The nature of art therapy, with its unique image making content, has the potential to generate its own framework and break away from its originating theories which will enable its own wisdom to emerge.