Artistic Assessment

Ruthie Lievsay’s Undergraduate Research Focused on Mental Disorders

Ruthie Lievsay

While working on her Summer Undergraduate Research Project, Ruthie Lievsay ’18 challenged herself academically and creatively. A psychology major with a minor in art, she plans to study art therapy in graduate school. Her study involved assessing 10 mental disorders using the principles of Positive Psychology and illustrating each one. Positive Psychology is the study of the characteristics and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organizations to thrive. 

“The idea was to discuss and portray visually in my paintings the strengths that can be seen in different disorders rather than focus on the pathology of them the way that most professionals in the field of psychology do,” explained Lievsay, a native of Mount Airy, N.C. Her goal was to complete 10 full-size portraits and write an article about her project for the GWU Psychology magazine. She completed five paintings and an outline of the article. Her plan is to finish her paper and display all 10 portraits in an art show, which will be held before she graduates next December. 

She conducted her research during the summer term with a grant from the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. One of 10 GWU students who participated this year, Lievsay worked 40 hours a week for five weeks on her project and is required to present her work in a professional forum. Each student had a faculty mentor or collaborator who worked with them. 

Professor of Psychology Dr. James Morgan was a resource for her psychology research. “He let me verbally process what I was doing and helped me come up with more ideas to shape my project as it came along,” Lievsay elaborated. “He also lent me the case study book that I used in my research as well as several other books that helped my research along. He also helped me come up with my outline for the article I will be writing.”  Her mentor, Professor of Art Susan Bell, gave her mini-lessons on the illustration technique. “Once I decided the strengths for each disorder, I sketched an outline of what I wanted the paintings to look like,” Lievsay shared.

She drew parallels between her study and her career goal to be an art therapist. “Going to graduate school for art therapy is right in line with the theme of my project,” Lievsay assessed. “Incorporating art makes it even more therapeutic, especially for those with disorders that cause them to have a hard time verbalizing or communicating.”

Learn more about the Summer Research Scholars Program