top of page

Creative Coping: Don Jones Assessment

Using art to assess coping styles and problem-solving skills in therapy!

Learn how to use the Don Jones Expressive Arts Therapy Assessment (DJA), a creative assessment to evaluate coping and problem solving skills in therapy.

As a therapist, I know how important it is to understand the client's unique coping style, existing coping skills, problem-solving skills, and level of tolerance for frustration. Many times, clients come to us because their pattern of behaviors are unhealthy or they feel stuck. Uncovering this information about a client is valuable!

When it comes to coping and problem-solving, I use one of the most potent art therapy assessments I have found, the "Don Jones Assessment." I have been using this assessment for about two years now with my clients, and it has shown me time and time again how valuable a tool it is!

An Expressive Arts Therapy Assessment

This assessment addresses the four areas mentioned above, but it can also provide deep insight and allow for the processing of feelings of helplessness, anxiety, fear, and difficulty with control. This assessment creates a safe space to utilize creativity, imagination, and art to symbolically and actively solve obstacles in our lives.

This assessment is by Don Jones, one of the pioneers of the field of art therapy. This assessment is a mixture of story and imagery. The story focuses on creating a description of an adventure that presents the client with four obstacles.

The client is invited to create a drawing resolving each obstacle presented. The original protocol for this assessment has been challenging to find. I first learned the evaluation by way of mouth and then later found a few other versions in books and articles online.

Since I was unable to locate the original adventure story, I told my version when using this directive in session based on four recurring themes present in all versions of this assessment that I have discovered thus far. The journey is set in either a forest or mountains. The obstacles are as follows: crossing a river to get to the other side, confronting an animal, getting past a monster guarding a cave, and ending the journey by reflecting on experiences inside the cave.

Using Symbolism to Assess Coping

The Don Jones Assessment provides obstacles that may symbolize real challenges for the client. For example, the rushing river may facilitate discussion regarding facing obstacles alone or with support (i.e., as evidenced by the client imagining themselves alone or with a companion or group). Those details are not provided during the assessment.

Some clients may ask if anyone else is traveling with them. The therapist should refrain from filling in details like this. Allow the client to imagine the details! The solution to this obstacle can also spark conversation about the client accessing resources in their immediate environment.

The second and third obstacle is symbolic of confrontation and how the client copes. It may be represented passively (i.e., avoidance or hiding), passive-aggressively (i.e., causing a diversion to shift the animals' attention onto something else to escape the situation), or aggressively (i.e., using a weapon or force to tame, injure, or kill the animal). The same can be observed, as the stakes are raised. The client is now being faced with the obstacle of entering a cave guarded by a monster.

The final obstacle calls on the client to draw an ending to their journey while in the cave. I have found that clients will often process themes related to relationships with themselves or others, feelings of helplessness, and lack of control. At times the story may end with the client imagining themselves failing or being faced again by the monster.

The symbolism, imagery, and themes that may arise are powerful and valuable with our work with clients.

For more information on the Don Jones Assessment, take a look at the links below.

Also, don't forget to subscribe so I can email you a colorful freebie outlining this directive and materials!

What creative tool do you use to assess coping skills?

Had you heard of the DJA before reading this post?

With Love,

References & Additional Information:


Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be utilized as a form of self-help, personal clinical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The content on this blog is meant for educational purposes and to provide clinical art therapy directives/resources for trained mental health professionals. This information is by no means a substitute for therapy.

Affiliate/Earning Disclaimer: Lauren Graham is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to In addition I an affiliate of the As an Amazon Associate and an affiliate of Play Therapy Supply, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases that are made by clicking on the affiliate links provided in this post. I only recommend products that I believe to be valuable and purchasing through my links is the same as shopping through Amazon. The only difference is you will be supporting my future work. Thank you!

1,919 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page