Most times when clients and I meet for the first time, I may conduct a few informal assessments in order to get a better sense of what we are dealing with. In the past I’ve not focused on categorizing clients into one category or another, partly because I’ve questioned the need but also because I’ve not had the proper assessment tools to do so. As time passes, I’ve realized that formal diagnoses are sometimes necessary not only to guide my treatment plans, but also to communicate with other health professionals to coordinate services.
I recently took part in a training session of the Diagnostic Drawing Series (DDS), developed in 1982. Barry Cohen, the primary creator of the DDS was the lead trainer, and described how it is one, if not the only empirically validated and reliable assessment tool that uses drawings to diagnose some of the conditions categorized in the DSM-IV. The DDS is supported by over 30 years of research, which has not only been replicated numerous times in North America, but also in many countries across the world.
The DDS consists of 3 drawings, which the subject completes with 15 minutes for each one. The drawings are all made with standardized materials of 18’ x 24’ white paper and a box of 12 soft colour pastels. The assessments are based on the appearance of certain telling characteristics for certain groups, such as the number of colours used or lengths of lines drawn, as well as their placement on the page.
Learning how to conduct the assessment involves examining the clues presented in the art then making an educated guess on the available knowledge, not unlike how physicians diagnose based on their medical knowledge and certain criteria. Why is this important for art therapists? For all the reasons why art therapy is already beneficial, such as being able to access affect and cognitive abilities for those who might choose not to speak and making them externalized onto the page or onto other art materials. So if art therapy is beneficial to the therapeutic process, why should it not be for the assessment as well?
What I found most fascinating about the DDS, was not just how powerful a tool it really is, but the fact that it seems to be rarely used in the Canadian context of art therapy and assessments in general. This may be in part because art therapists often hesitate in adapting the medical model in their work, an issue I will address in a future entry. However if art therapists decide they do want to utilize a more formal assessment tool to ascertain a client’s diagnosis, it is nice to know that the DDS exists to do so.
Nalini Iype, MC:AT, CCC is an art therapist and counsellor in private practice in Toronto. For more information visit www.ArtTherapySolutions.com or email her at [email protected]
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA