“Just Like Us” Mural Painting Art Therapy Professional Research Project

The image above shows the mural I painted and left behind for the children at the end of my research project. The finished mural we painted over the course of 8 months is not shown as it is a confidential piece of art that lives in an emergency domestic violence shelter at a protected location in the Bay Area, CA where the research was facilitated. I received a grant from the non-profit agency I was working for at the time, and this enabled me to do a lengthier study: atypical for my graduate program. It also helped that I had a supervisor who believed in my work and was tremendously supportive of my deep passion for the field I am in! As you can see from the above image, “home” was a big theme within my research project!

The goal or hypothesis for my mural painting project (which was accumulative over the course of 8 months, children coming and going from the shelter, and leaving their “mark” or message on the mural) was: to increase feelings of home and belongingness and decrease feelings of isolation. The results of my project supported tremendous success in my goal, hypothesis, and intention of this very special research so close to my heart! Through the research I conducted, I also discovered other amazing therapeutic benefits proven by the results of my project. This was so fun and insightful to learn. 

This is one of the best things I have ever done in my life, and I am so excited to write more and facilitate more research throughout my life. After 8 months, of writing over 200 pages, and tons of reading, and editing; I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I love this work with all my heart.


The thesis won an award! A proud moment and so proud of all the children (who truly were the ones who won this award) – who all are the biggest heroes in this world. I was blown away by their tremendous courage and resilience. I learned the most from them upon sharing their story with me.

2012-13 Presented with “Outstanding Thesis Award” by the Art Therapy Department NDNU, SF Bay, CA for valuable research contribution in the field of Art Therapy. 

“The Art Therapy department has voted to award you for your outstanding thesis! You made a unique contribution with your work at the shelter and your mural work is significant to the field of Art Therapy.” -NDNU Art Therapy Department

It was so nice to reflect, and I am excited to finish writing my proposal and planning for my next research project! 


You can read the abstract to my research thesis on my Publication and Media page and it has also been archived here. My original abstract has a repeated sentence error, how embarrassing! My professors and I are still not sure how we did not catch this in all our edits. This goes to show that we are all human! Something I learned about myself as a writer and researcher: it is not my strength to edit my own work. I often depend on professors and peer readers. I like to edit the work of my peers, however, not my own. I think this is very common, as the artist. It is always great to have multiple eyes on a project for a critique of professionals in which their feedback and opinion you find of value. 

Excited to share more soon!

Thanks for tuning in, 

Rachel Howard, LMFT, ATR-BC, RYT

All images © Rachel Howard

Friendly reminder (disclaimer): The information in this entry is not therapy and cannot be a substitute for work with a licensed therapist. The information in the entry is only intended for educational purposes around the topic of Art Therapy research.