An Analysis of Empathy Through Visual Dialogue

by : Staci Martin


The detention center I interned at is an alternative to jail and a temporary holding center for juveniles. This detention furnishes secure accommodations for youth that are awaiting adjudication of their cases by the Juvenile Division of the Circuit Court. The population is disproportionately male, economically disadvantaged, and members of racial and ethnic minorities. The ages range from ten to twenty-one years. This center typically houses 400 – 500 juveniles at one time. With twenty admissions each day, nine thousand juveniles go through the detention center in one year.

Interactions with incarcerated youth are brief because of the overcrowded system and the restrictive nature of working within a correctional facility. It became apparent that the individuals had less empathic ways of working. Early on in my art therapy internship, I began to question if these less empathic encounters were a deliberate and conscious choice by the individuals who work with detained youth. If this were true, would I someday be making the same calculated, conscious choice?

My curiosity, wonder and yearning for something different lead me to a deliberate and conscious choice to find empathic approaches using art therapy in a correctional facility. My thesis concentrates on the process in which empathy is attainable in a challenging environment. I chose creative writing as the format of my post-session response art because it deepened my experience of empathy toward both my client and myself and helped me evaluate how empathic my responses actually were throughout those brief therapeutic encounters. Continued …

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