Improvements in Adolescent Mental Health and Positive Affect Using Creative Arts Therapy After a School Shooting: a Pilot Study

Emily Hylton
Angela Malley
Gail Ironson


Mass shootings have increased in the United States in recent decades and are associated with adverse psychological outcomes. This pilot study used a pre-post design to evaluate the effectiveness of a two-week creative arts therapy camp at improving the mental health of adolescents exposed to the horrific February 14th shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Participants (n = 34) were rising high school students and participated in visual art, drama, or music therapy. At baseline, a third of participants indicated clinically significant moderate-to-severe depression, a third indicated clinically significant moderate-to-severe anxiety, and nearly two thirds indicated high levels of posttraumatic stress. There were statistically significant reductions in posttraumatic stress (d = .54), depression (d = .34), and anxiety symptoms (d = .52), significant decreases in negative affect (d = .42), and significant increases in positive affect (d = .81) between pre- and post-treatment time points. When drama, music, and visual arts treatments were examined separately, drama therapy significantly improved mental health and positive affect. The vast majority of participants reported that they had fun, gained a deeper understanding of themselves, and felt safe during the treatment. Group-delivered arts therapy may be an effective treatment to improve mental health and affect in adolescents exposed to a school shooting. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)