Hanna Kwiatkowska (1910-1980)

Hanna Kwiatkowska, a Polish psychologist and sculptor, contributed significantly to the family therapy movement in the 1960s and to the development of art therapy as an established discipline. She pioneered the practice of family art therapy.

Personal Life

Hanna Yaxa Kwiatkowska was born around 1910 into an aristocratic family in Poland. She studied art during her childhood and spoke seven languages. Kwiatkowska attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where she earned her bachelor's degree. She then went on to study art in Switzerland and Austria.

Hanna's love for art moved her to become a sculptor when she reached adulthood. She married Alexander Kwiatkowska, a Polish diplomat, and lived with her husband in Manchuria for six years before returning to Warsaw. At the start of World War II, the couple moved to Paris. As France fell, Hanna fled to Portugal and then to Brazil, awaiting the return of her husband, who had joined the Polish Free Forces in order to fight for England against the Nazis. After reuniting in Brazil after the war, the couple moved to the United States, where Hanna worked as a therapist and Alexander joined the State Department in Washington, DC.

Though it is known Hanna Kwiatkowska died from cancer in 1980, her exact date of birth is unknown as she had the habit of never telling anyone her age. 

Professional Life

While in the United States, Hanna Kwiatkowska met and eventually became the first student of Margaret Naumberg.  She also studied under Erich Fromm and Clara Thompson at the William Alanson White Institute in New York in order to develop her psychology, psychotherapy, and psychoanalytic skills. She later studied at the Washington School of Psychiatry.

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Kwiatkowska was first employed as an art therapist at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in 1955, where she was allowed to design her own treatment programs. It was here that she began working with people with schizophrenia. In 1958, she was employed as an art therapist by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) where she worked under the supervision of Dr. Lyman C. Wynne in the Section on Family Studies. The family studies project at NIMH gave Kwiatkowska the opportunity to use art to promote self-expression and communication within the family setting, and she focused her attention on helping the families of those with schizophrenia. She left NIMH in 1972.

From 1969 to 1973, Kwiatkowska served on the first Executive Board of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) as chairman of the research committee. She received the Honorary Life Membership Award from the AATA in 1973. In 1970, she also worked as a professor in the art therapy program at Washington University. She published the book Family Therapy and Evaluation Through Art in 1978.

Contribution to Psychology

Hanna Kwiatkowska made significant contributions toward the establishment of both family therapy and art therapy as effective treatment modalities. She pioneered the therapeutic approach of family art therapy in 1958. She often claimed she developed family art therapy accidentally—from viewing the results of sessions when the family members of those with schizophrenia visited and decided to join in. 

While other psychologists had used art therapy in group settings before, Kwiatkowska was the first therapist to apply art to the unique culture of the family setting. She recognized that each family group developed its own thinking patterns, means of interaction, expression, alliances, and defense systems as a natural result of years of living together. Thus, the family setting differed from other organized art therapy groups, where the sole connecting factor was often just a shared symptom or challenge. 

Her approach facilitated spontaneous self-expression, imagination, and creativity while directing attention away from the individual in treatment. This allowed family members to approach issues as a unit rather than attributing any difficulties in family interaction to one person. 

Notable Publications

  • A Schizophrenic Patient's Response in Art Therapy to Changes in the Life of the Psychotherapist 
  • "Family Art Therapy" in Family Process 
  • "Family Art Therapy And Family Art Evaluation: Indication And Contraindication" in Conscious And Unconscious Expressive Art 
  • "Family Art Evaluation: Use In Families With Schizophrenic Twins" in Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 
  • Family Therapy and Evaluation Through Art 
  • "Family Art Therapy: Experiments With A New Technique" in American Journal Of Art Therapy 


  1. Hanna Yaxa Kwiatkowska dies. (1980, April 8). The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1980/04/08/hanna-yaxa-kwiatkowska-dies/29c6de36-45a3-4942-b423-033c7f3c6cad/
  2. Junge, M. B. (2014). The modern history of art therapy in the United States. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher Ltd.
  3. Junge, M. B. & Wadeson, H. (2006). Architects of art therapy: Memoirs and life stories (1st ed.). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher Ltd.
  4. Vick, R. M. (n.d.). A brief history of art therapy. Retrieved from http://areas.fba.ul.pt/jpeneda/Briefhistoryat.pdf
  5. WorldCat. (n.d.). Hanna Yaxa Kwiatkowska. Retrieved from http://www.worldcat.org/search?q=au%3AKwiatkowska%2C+Hanna+Yaxa.&qt=hot_author

Last Update: 05-01-2016

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