Art Therapy Offers Hope to Veterans with PTSD

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 Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • LUKE


    May 11th, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    Although speech is what we primarily use to express ourselves,sometimes it just isn’t enough. Art, in my opinion, is a wonderful platform to express yourself. You do t need to be an artist or anything, just approach this form of communication and be yourself. It’s not how good your art is, it’s what’s in it that matters.

    Also, I can see this as a great avenue for those that have trouble putting across their emotions in the generic way of speech. And this includes me. I’m very bad at expressing emotions and once in a while I do pick up my paint brush :)

  • artstudent


    May 12th, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    For many artists and non artists alike there can be such a freedom when it comes to releasing your feelings and emotions in the realm of something artistic. Whether it be painting or drawing or sculpting or another medium, art is a wonderful way that you can get to your true inner feelings and express those. It can be clear or abstract but it will always have some meaning for you, and in these cases help you delve into those issues which plague you and hopefully allow you to set much of that negativity free.

  • JR


    May 12th, 2011 at 7:23 AM

    I feel like I connect with myself when I sit down alone in the comfort of my favorite chair and write some poetry.I do this when I’m happy,when I’m sad,just about anytime I feel the urge to.It just uplifts my mood if I’m sad and multiplies my joy when I’m happy.There surely is a lot of benefit that can be had from art.

  • Betty


    May 12th, 2011 at 7:37 PM

    I read about this new technique on your site wherein the war-like scenes are recreated so that veterans with issues are able to overcome their problems.Now would t it be great to combine that with this art?You could have them draw or paint about the war-scene themselves and then see how the issue can be overcome!

  • Hayden


    May 13th, 2011 at 4:39 AM

    I wish that programs such as this could be a little more widespread and accesible for more veterans. I know that the money is not always there but when something is working you would hope that the powers that be would see that it is working and would find the money so that it could reach more people.

  • Jay


    May 14th, 2011 at 9:42 PM

    It’s a lot easier to express yourself with art than with words from time to time I find. You can get more information from looking deeply into an artist’s work rather than solely their words.

  • LaScala


    May 14th, 2011 at 11:04 PM

    @Jay — I read that art has subtle cues and quirks that can hint towards certain underlying issues the artist is not willing to talk about. I don’t think it’s true of all of it but some of it can make sense to the trained eye.

  • Jim


    May 15th, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    Veterans more than anyone else need attention for two reasons. First is that they know that War is Hell, and second, they’ve been in Hell. You can’t just ignore them and hope they’ll go away. The last WW1 vet died just recently. These men and women will be around a long time and deserve the best of help.

  • Tabitha


    May 15th, 2011 at 5:24 PM

    From what I know about army personnel, killing a person -even a terrorist- deeply traumatizes a human being. It’s nothing like in a movies where you do it and get on with your life. I hope this art therapy finds answers for the veterans and they live out the rest of their lives with some semblance of inner comfort.

  • Ailsa


    May 15th, 2011 at 5:39 PM

    I knew a guy in Tennessee who ran a jewelry store and did art that could be interpreted. He threw some paint at a canvas, smeared it with his hands, and called it a day. That’s my interpretation of it anyway LOL.

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