Art therapy is about more than creating art. For veterans, it’s a form of communication that allows them to express their emotions and work through their trauma.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is the use of artwork to “explore feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem.” By allowing veterans to express their emotions, trauma, and experiences without words, individuals are able to share themselves more easily and work towards reconciling those things that weigh heavily on them.
In addition, therapeutic art, which does not focus on psychological processes, works to recover motor skills, other physical health issues, and cognitive functioning in a non-threatening, relaxing environment. Gripping a paintbrush, standing or sitting upright while artmaking, and molding clay are all excellent ways to strengthen a body while enjoying an activity. Naming subject matter, titling artwork, and experiencing a dopamine rush by the act of artmaking and looking at colors, are all examples of ways art exercises the brain. Someone who is motivated to move (especially by a fun, engaging activity), is more likely to continue moving and grow stronger.
Below, veteran, Justin finishes a painting with Awakening Minds Art during a therapeutic art session.
In some areas, The Department of Veteran Affairs provides free therapeutic arts and crafts kits to hospitalized and homebound veterans. “The creative arts program helps injured, and recuperating veterans improve fine motor skills, cognitive functioning, manage stress and substance abuse, cope with symptoms of PTSD and TBI, while also improving their sense of self-esteem and overall physical and mental health. Creative arts therapies are part of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Recreation Therapy Service and are direct-care programs that include the following disciplines: Art Therapy, Dance/Movement Therapy, Drama Therapy, and Music Therapy.” – VA.GOV
Many veterans and families are finding the great benefits of art as they navigate through their own challenges. Art may even offer them a sense of joy!