Art & Healing PTSD
Mask from National Intrepid Center of Excellence Art Therapy Program
Tools for Trauma
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) represent significant burdens for those afflicted, their caregivers, and military and civilian healthcare delivery systems. New approaches are urgently needed to help active service members suffering from PTSD & TBI thrive on duty and successfully transition to civilian life.
The application of creative and expressive therapies as part of treatment plans has recently shown significant and sustained benefit at leading institutions such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, and various VA institutions across the country.
The Foundation for Art & Healing is committed to extending the impact of this early field work by bringing greater awareness to how art and creative engagement powerfully influences the overall healing of PTSD and TBI and connecting people with helpful resources.
Art & Healing in Action
Addressing the challenges of PTSD takes a multi-faceted treatment approach. For many, various modes of creative expression are proving to be helpful. These service members share their experience of using creativity to heal:
- Through Music…
“All of these songs that I had written are about what it feels like to come home. Each song is like a little demon, a little monster that had been haunting me. These songs are deeply personal; they’re like a singing diary. Songwriting was a way to take something negative and place it somewhere else other than inside myself.”
-Jason Moon, Iraq war veteran, singer/songwriter
- Through Photography…
“I do a lot of outreach and mentoring in photography… through photography and horses I use those tools to help others with PTSD. By sharing my story or my experiences I might be able to help others deal with theirs. It’s not necessarily about who we were, but who we are now, and how we can learn from that experience, get the help we need, and move on with our lives.”
-Stacy Pearsall, Retired Air Force Staff Sergeant, combat photographer
- Through Sculptural Art…
“I found it odd that each time I did something with art therapy I felt better because there was something in me that was dying to get out. And through art I was able to express it.”
-Marine Captain Jason Berner, from the FAH film Can Art be Medicine?
Creative Healing Science
Over thirty years of scientific investigation have demonstrated that creative expression can alter not just moods, attitudes and emotions, but influences neuro-endocrine pathways that control physiologic outcomes as varied as blood pressure, sleep and the immune response. We are learning how creative expression can:
- reduce blood pressure while boosting the immune system and reducing stress
- promote relaxation and a sense of well-being
- reduce anxiety, depression and pain
- promote general quality of life
By putting individuals in touch with their feelings and providing a means to express this to others, creative self-expression helps to engage one in all aspects of treatment, empowering a person with a sense of purpose, accomplishment, and possibility. While the quantification and full description of how creative expression heals PTSD and other trauma-related conditions is still in its early stages, the healing opportunity is real and significant. Compared to other treatments and interventions, creative engagement is relatively inexpensive and can be made widely accessible through online resources and interactive solutions, as well as in-person community-based settings.
Impact of PTSD & TBI
As the United States wraps up its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the significant public health issues related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury will return home with many of the returning troops. While veterans of past wars also suffered from the symptoms of what we now know as PTSD – nightmares, anxiety, depression, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and hyper-arousal – the statistics from Iraq and Afghanistan are startling:
- 2.2 million served in Iraq or Afghanistan
- 1 in 5 returning veterans suffer from PTSD, and lacking treatment, the number could be as high as 1 in 3 (2008 RAND study)
- Or 440,000 to 770,000 service people with PTSD
- 3,400 suicides by active duty service personnel (1 suicide every 36 hours)
- 1/3 of military spouses report depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders
- High rates of divorce, homelessness, substance abuse, family issues, and un/underemployment.
As we face the growing public health challenge of PTSD/TBI, exploring new paths to progress is essential. Creative expression based programs are one such path.