Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Science


School of Psychology and Social Science


Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Dr Andrew Guilfoyle

Second Advisor

Professor Alfred Allan


Resilience is a widely researched phenomenon, it means different things to different people and is perceived and measured according to the theoretical lens being applied. The following thesis reviews the theoretical development of resilience that has led to contemporary understandings, to establish a platform for the research topic - understanding and building resilience with Art. Narrative research methods are combined with art processes to illuminate the stories of eight culturally diverse women participating in a community based mental health art program, in Western Australia. Fifteen resilience themes emerged from the collective experience, and are presented in a socio-ecological framework to understand the complex interplay between the individual and their environment. Six key learnings that illustrate the unique contribution art has to make to building individual, social and community resilience in the Australian policy context are explored and discussed.

The discussion revisits a strengths approach to resilience, and through metaphor and symbol it reminds us that resilience in its most basic form is strength during difficult time. Social, cultural and spiritual aspects of strength and resilience are highlighted; and the concept of resilient places is introduced and the crucial role they have to play in social inclusion and social support is discussed. It brings to light evidence that not all people in Australia have equal access to social networks and the need to bridge the gap to community for people who live with complex needs and are separated from family, friends and other natural support systems. By presenting resilience within a socio-ecological framework, the social and community aspects of resilience cannot be ignored.

The strength of this research is the creative use of art and narrative to illuminate the lived experience and communicate findings to a wider audience. The use of a public exhibition and the publication of a colourful resource book and its wide dissemination via the World Wide Web; projected the science in the lime light, inviting a broader and more diverse audience to engage with the stories of resilience, enhancing the potential of the findings to influence community attitudes as well as policy and practice. This research demonstrates that art is much more than ‘a means to an end’, it is valuable research tool that can be used to explore, embody and express complex and challenging social phenomenon, such as resilience.

Included in

Art Therapy Commons