One-in-five, or some 440,000 of the 2.2 million Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans – a population equivalent to that of Oklahoma City or Denver — may have left the war zone, but in many ways, they are still fighting the battle here on the home front. For combat veterans experiencing the symptoms of PTSD — nightmares, anxiety, depression, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and hyper-arousal, and its ripple effects – social isolation, family, job, and economic difficulties, and suicidal thoughts – treatment options may seem out of reach.
Many struggle to navigate the VA and health care systems and are unable to receive conventional, therapy-and-medication based treatments. Studies show that for many more, barriers exist on the inside.1 Concerns about emotional readiness for treatment, anxiety about the anticipated treatment experience, or a personal resistance to certain therapies may keep those who need it from seeking help.
For Marine Corps Captain Jason Berner, the contrast between his identity as a battle-strong warrior, and his resistance to creative and expressive therapies, might have been a hurdle to healing. At first balked when offered an opportunity to pursue an innovative art-based program through the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, MD.
“Here I am, a strong, physically demanding warrior,” recounts Berner. “Why do I have to do art? I plan battles. I plan wars. I take life…if absolutely necessary. I’m not doing art.”
But Berner set aside his preconceptions and dove in, creating sculptures like a shield and mask that symbolically reflected his experiences and feelings. He soon found that the act of creating, in a safe environment, was giving him a language to communicate what he would never before put into words.
“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,” said Berner. “And through art, I was able to express it.”
The application of creative and expressive therapies as part of treatment plans has recently shown significant and sustained benefit at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence and other leading institutions serving VA’s 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.
1 Treatment-seeking barriers for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts who screen positive for PTSD. Stecker T, Shiner B, Watts BV, Jones M, Conner KR.Source: Psychiatric Research Center, Dartmouth Medical School, Lebanon, NH 03766, USA. [email protected]