Art Therapy Doctorate's Research Aimed At Nutrition, Medicine

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As a student in Dominican University of California’s doctoral program in Art Therapy, the soon-to-be Dr. Dawn Fiacco, PhD, focused her research on understanding nutrition and the concept of food as medicine.

Now Dawn, who also has a background as a nutrition consultant and is currently in the process of both completing her PhD dissertation and obtaining her holistic chef certification, has launched an online business ( that will combine her expertise in both art therapy and nutrition.
Dawn was one of nine candidates in Dominican’s inaugural cohort of PhD candidates in the School of Liberal Arts and Education who received their doctoral degrees at the University’s May 14 commencement ceremony. She found both inspiration and support in this tight-knit cohort.

“Two of my core beliefs are that art is healing, and food is healing. My wonderful cohort of doctoral students helped me create a framework for beautifully combining these two concepts for my research and subsequent business plan,” she says.

Dawn’s focus is on helping those who believe they have a problematic relationship with food. Through her online platform, Dawn will conduct online art therapy/nutrition groups in order to work with clients to take a deeper look at their relationship with food through art therapy.

“My goal is to incorporate art therapy to increase awareness concerning feeling states which may be causing a person to consume sugar or food in an unhealthy way. I am interested in learning if art therapy will have an effect on specific patterns around problematic eating habits.”

Dawn’s research developed after someone in her family became ill, and she wanted to understand more about nutrition and the concept of food as medicine.

“My research focus is specific to investigating the effects of art therapy interventions on self-evaluations of food addiction,” she says. “I am also exploring how sugar affects the brain, the history of sugar addiction as well as socioeconomic factors that affect food availability and choices.”

Dawn started studying art therapy in 2003 as a master’s student at Long Island University in New York. As an undergrad, Dawn was an art studio major and was considering becoming an art teacher. However, she changed directions after learning more about the many facets of art therapy.

“Once I had found out more about the field of art therapy, specifically the psychological aspects of art as a healing modality, I knew that I wanted to learn more,” Dawn recalls. “This made sense to me because I had been using art as a healing tool for most of my life and did not know it.”

Knowing that she wanted to take art therapy to the next level, Dawn reached out to Dr. Richard Carolan, professor of Art Therapy, who introduced her to a doctoral student enrolled in the PhD program.

“I realized that this was something that I definitely wanted to pursue. What really intrigued me was the individual practicum part of the program. This course involves designing one’s own career path after graduation and it seemed very exciting to me.”

Dominican is one of only two universities in the country offering a doctoral degree in art therapy. The discipline, Dawn notes, helps those who are in need of healing, but are unable to verbally describe what they are going through.

“Art obviates the need for words,” Dawn says. “Art tends to get right to the heart of the matter. I believe in talk therapy very much, but when a person does not have words for what they are going through, this is where art is quite helpful. Art is very healing.”

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