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Evoking Canadian physician Maj. John McCrae's famous poem from World War I, "In Flanders Fields," British Army Pvt. John Hayes' display of poppies is inspired by his service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, his diagnosis of PTSD and his experience with the U.K.'s Combat Stress program. Hayes said he's found an escape in art, and it has played a major role in his life and rehabilitation. McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields" following the Second Battle of Ypres in May 1915 and references the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers and later became a symbol of service members who died in combat. (Courtesy photo)
BETHESDA, Md. – Art therapy experts from the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) joined senior Department of Defense officials and military and civilian representatives from 11 nations to discuss the emerging importance of healing arts therapy for wounded, ill and injured service members.
In 2011, NICoE and the NEA began collaborating on a program to incorporate healing arts therapy into the integrative health care model developed to treat service members with traumatic brain injury and associated psychological health issues. Program results have indicated participation in healing arts therapy can lower stress, improve cognitive skills, and address a patient’s ability to process trauma and confront issues relating to frustrations, transitions and grief. Healing arts also serve as a powerful record of therapeutic progress and often provide useful insights at pivotal points throughout the recovery and rehabilitation process.
Melissa Walker, Healing Arts program coordinator at NICoE, discussed how the therapy provides a vehicle for service members to better communicate their thoughts and emotions.
“Art therapy gains access to the traumatic images and brings them into the consciousness where they can be addressed,” Walker said.
Dr. Sara Kass, former deputy commander of NICoE also noted how healing arts therapy helps to provide context for family members who want to understand what happens to a service member when they deploy and witness traumatic events.
“Art therapy provides an incredible opportunity for service members to communicate with their caregivers and family,” Kass said.
In addition to discussing the role of healing arts in the recovery and rehabilitation process, symposium participants were able to view many pieces of service member artwork. In particular, the international audience viewed and engaged with masks created by service members as part of the program.
The masks, which have become a prominent component of Healing Arts, often reveal a split-self, among other artistic themes including patriotism, uniforms, war, injury, fragmentation and grief. More than 800 service member masks have been created through the program.
James Rodriguez, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Warrior Care Policy sees the merit of healing arts therapy first hand, as artistic reconditioning activities become integrated into the Military Adaptive Sports Program.
“Through the Military Adaptive Sports Program we are exploring the use of art and other non-traditional forms of therapy as part of a multi-faceted approach to healing and transition,” Rodriguez said. “Our objective is to facilitate a customized approach to the rehabilitation process to ensure each individual has the best chance for a successful recovery.”