A recent study highlights the benefits of art therapy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress for military veterans. The study involved veterans who had symptoms including anxiety, depression, insomnia, nightmares and interpersonal issues. The veterans participated in the therapy twice a week, and were encouraged to convey their emotions of shame, anger and fear. Cheryl Miller, an undergraduate student in Concordia University’s Department of Creative Arts Therapies, led the study.
“Through art, participants were able to express positive feelings, externalize difficult emotions and gain insight into their PTSD symptoms. Art making fostered discussion and allowed veterans to show empathy for one another,” said Miller. “They produced artworks based on themes such as anger versus tolerance, grief and loss versus new beginnings,” Miller said. “The aim was to give participants an opportunity to express their emotions and to explore their hopes and goals for the future.”
Miller added that the element of group support was an asset to the therapeutic process. The veterans interacted with each other and were able to offer empathy and understanding. Additionally, art therapy employs methods of communication that may not otherwise be available to those dealing with PTSD. “Art therapy can engage the creative potential of individuals – especially those suffering from PTSD,” said Miller’s supervisor, Dr. Josée Leclerc, a professor in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies. He adds, “Art therapy is considered a mind-body intervention that can influence physiological and psychological symptoms. The experience of expressing oneself creatively can reawaken positive emotions and address symptoms of emotional numbing in individuals with PTSD.”
Miller believes that creative therapeutic techniques should be integrated in the treatment of war veterans. Many military personnel return home with feelings of isolation and distance. “Individuals with PTSD often have difficulty verbalizing their feelings,” she said. “Art therapy can complement other types of treatment for PTSD because it provides an alternative to verbal expression.”
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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