Group Art Therapy for the Psychosocial Dimension of Epilepsy: A Perspective and a Preliminary Mixed-Methods Study


  • Ellen Smallwood Jewish General Hospital
  • Stephen Legari Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
  • Signy Sheldon McGill University


This article consists of a preliminary study that chronicles an 8-week group art therapy program for people with epilepsy, located in a fine-art museum setting. The study is situated in theories of psychosocial stigma. The primary purpose was to explore whether art therapy could be an effective method to address the psychosocial component of epilepsy treatment in Canada. Secondary questions explored the roles of an open-studio approach and an art therapy program delivered in a fine-art museum context. A mixed-methods (convergent, parallel) design examined the program’s impact for six adults between the ages of 18 and 45 with epilepsy. Psychosocial questionnaires and interviews were administered before and after the group program, and session artworks were examined with Appleton’s (2001) art therapy trauma paradigm. Two groups were compared based on attendance (i.e., attend versus no-attend). Participants who had attended group sessions had substantially reduced scores on questionnaires assessing stress and depression and increased scores on questionnaires assessing self-esteem and quality of life compared to participants who did not attend. The interviews revealed that art therapy increased the attend group’s ability to talk about the impact of epilepsy, to express grief, to make social connections, to navigate treatment stress, and to foster emotional regulation. Group art therapy may improve the psychosocial treatment dimension of epilepsy while acknowledging systemic stigma and social barriers.

Author Biographies

Ellen Smallwood, Jewish General Hospital

Ellen Smallwood is an art therapist working in the Department of Child and Youth Psychiatry at the Jewish General Hospital and Resilience Clinic in Montreal. Her main research interests focus on art therapy’s ability to address the psychosocial impact of stigma and traumatic stress for marginalized youth and communities.

Stephen Legari, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Stephen Legari is program officer for art therapy in the Department of Education and Wellness at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. He is a practising art therapist and licensed couple and family therapist. His research currently focuses on the museum as a therapeutic milieu.

Signy Sheldon, McGill University

Signy Sheldon is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory at McGill University. Her research focuses on autobiographical memory.




How to Cite

Smallwood, E., Legari, S., & Sheldon, S. (2020). Group Art Therapy for the Psychosocial Dimension of Epilepsy: A Perspective and a Preliminary Mixed-Methods Study. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 54(3), 286–323. Retrieved from



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