Unnur Ottarsdottir

Dr. Unnur Ottarsdottir founded Art Therapy Ottarsdottir in 1991 where she has served as director, art therapist, teacher and consultant. Ottarsdottir has, among other things, specialized in art therapy intended for individuals who have experienced trauma and struggle with the consequences of difficult life events. She has also worked with art therapy for a variety of public institutions and social organizations.


Unnur Ottarsdottir received a doctor’s degree from the University of Hertfordshire in 2006, finished a master’s degree in art therapy from the Pratt Institute in 1991, and B.Ed. degree from Iceland College of Education in 1986. In addition, Ottarsdottir has a BA and master’s in visual art from the Iceland University of the Arts.

Art Educational Therapy

Ottarsdottir has developed and researched art educational therapy methods where artistic expression is used for both psychotherapy and education. She is pioneer of the art educational therapy method, globally.

Memory Drawing

In 2000, Unnur Ottarsdottir conducted a study that involved 134 children and examined the impact of drawing on memory. The findings brought to light that the children could remember words that they had drawn better than words they had written. Three weeks later they could in general recall two and a half times more words that were drawn in contrast to words written the traditional way. When the study was carried out it was the first systematic study of its kind that compared the impact of drawings and words on memory. Nine weeks after the completion of the study the children were asked to recall the words, without any memory exercises in the period between, and it came to light that the children who had memorized words through drawing were able to remember the median of five-times more words than the ones who had written the words. To the best of knowledge, the study remains still today the only one that has investigated such longitudinal impact of drawing on long-term memory.

Teaching and Lectures

Unnur Ottarsdottir has worked in compulsory schools, preschools and in secondary schools, as a teacher, special education teacher and art therapist. She is a part-time lecturer at the Iceland University of the Arts and teaches art therapy in the continuing education program at the University of Akureyri. She has organized numerous courses for specialists and professionals from a variety of institutions, e.g. the Reykjavík City Department of Sports of Leisure, Iceland College of Preschool Teachers, the Continuing Education Center, University of Hertfordshire, and the Art Therapy Association Romania. Ottarsdottir has also held a number of talks and lectures on art therapy and art educational therapy at conferences in various universities and institutions both in Iceland as well as abroad.

Extracurricular Activities

Unnur Ottarsdottir sat on the board of the Icelandic Art Therapy Association, serving as chairman and cashier, in the years 2004-2013. She acted as representative of the Icelandic Art Therapy Association in a University of Akureyri committee which focused on art therapy education. She is also member of the American Art Therapy Association as a registered art therapist.


Ottarsdottir is an active researcher and academic within the Reykjavík Academy. She has authored peer-reviewed papers and book chapters on art educational therapy and memory drawings. Ottarsdottir’s research subjects are art educational therapy, art therapy for individuals who have experienced trauma, drawings and memory, as well as the relationship between contemporary art and art therapy.

Funding, Committees and Other Work

Ottarsdottir has received funding for a host of projects, research and development projects. She is member of a steering committee for an international project funded by the European Union and led by the Iceland University of the Arts, which seeks to develop curriculum that will apply art and interdisciplinary cooperation to facilitate well-being and strengthen social skills. Ottarsdottir has also sat on the board of an evaluation committee that selects lecturers for an international research forum. She has been part of a committee that revolves around the allocation of research funding. She has participated in preparatory commissions for conferences and university courses and moderated a forum that focused on the future of research and theory. She is a peer reviewer at ATOL: Art Therapy OnLine jounal. Ottarsdottir has supervised master’s students in art education as well as been a master’s thesis examiner.