It might sound like an odd couple, but art and the military have proven to be a good combination. Art has been used as a healing therapy for years, but its application to the military, and especially in helping veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is new. Art therapy has proven to be a positive outlet for struggling soldiers dealing with difficult situations when they return home. From spending a few minutes practicing art daily to entering national competitions, art is making a difference.
According to statistics, about 70 percent of all US war veterans suffer some form of PTSD upon returning home. Among US soldiers, most cases of PTSD were reported following the Vietnam and the Iraq wars (31 percent and 20 percent, respectively). PTSD covers a wide spectrum in terms of severity. Some people find that only certain places or dates (such as an anniversary) trigger PTSD, while for others the condition is debilitating.
The term PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) refers to a specific instance where an individual was in a frightening situation. The incident may have resulted in physical or psychological harm, or it may have been a situation that posed a real threat of harm (such as someone being shot at but not actually harmed by a bullet). PTSD may even affect people who were not directly harmed in a situation. Simply seeing someone else (an acquaintance or a stranger) threatened or harmed can trigger PTSD. Feeling anxious, unable to sleep, or constantly on edge are some common symptoms associated with PTSD. Symptoms may develop immediately after the incident or in the following weeks and months. They can last for a short period of time or become chronic.
Regardless of severity, the condition is a difficult one to live with. This is especially true for veterans returning home from war, who may also feel alone and isolated in their experiences. In the absence of positive outlets for those feelings, sufferers may resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms instead, such as drug addiction and alcohol abuse.
What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a type of psychotherapy that promotes the freedom of expression and creativity through artistic mediums such as drawing and painting. Sculpting, collage, and other modern forms of art are also used as forms of expression in art therapy. The goal of this therapy is to help an individual develop a greater sense of well-being. The therapy is administered by a professional who is trained in both therapy and art.
Art as therapy gives people with PTSD a healthy outlet for negative emotions. In addition to fostering (or improving) their art skills, participants learn to identify the emotional psychological messages, metaphors, and symbols in their artwork. In turn, they develop a greater understanding of their behavior and feelings. Using this knowledge and self-awareness, they also gain the power to deal with issues related to their PTSD.
Along with military personnel, art therapy helps other people cope with psychological issues. Children, adolescents, and civilian adults also benefit from using art as therapy.
In practicing therapy, people can learn to overcome a wide range of problems beyond just PTSD. For instance, they can learn new ways to relieve stress, build self-esteem, and overcome addictions. This creative therapy has been found to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety that stem from PTSD. Art therapists work with people both individually and in groups. They may also work with couples or families.
Art therapists are employed in a number of settings. They are found in hospitals, mental hospitals, wellness and rehab centers, correctional facilities, and senior citizen centers. They may also be employed to work in a private setting one-on-one with an individual, such as at a person’s home or living facility. Clients do not have to have a background or experience in art to be successful in this type of healing therapy, which makes it accessible to a wide range of people.
While some people partake in art therapy only as a form of temporary treatment, others find that it becomes a life-long, rewarding hobby. For people who find that they have a passion and talent for creating arts, there are a number of competitions and festivals that participants can enter their artwork in. There is healing power in art for those in the military, as well as other walks of life.
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