Art Therapy for Veterans Essay

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“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost” (Arthur Ashe, 2015). Veterans are the brave men and women who serve our country every day. This is not an easy task, it requires a great deal of bravery, patience, motivation, willpower, and much more. The events that occur within war are drastically life-changing. It is unfortunate that in some cases to obtain peace one must go to war. The men and women who serve our country have seen an abundance of traumatic events. This may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. The stage of adulthood in which I am concentrating is young adulthood through middle adulthood. Although, PTSD can affect late adulthood. My reasoning for choosing these stages of adulthood is that I feel as though the materials I have chosen would work best with young middle adulthood rather than individuals in late adulthood (I would have used clay for the late adulthood group).

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a traumatic event or a series of events (in this case war). These events can include but are not limited to witnessing violence, experiencing/suffering from an attack, feelings of immense fear, feelings of extreme hopelessness/vulnerability, or feeling threatened. PTSD can be triggered by smells, noises, and experiences that may prompt implicit memories. Implicit memories are memories in which an individual experiences emotionally rather than in a factual manner. These memories take the form of flashback episodes which affects daily life. PTSD can also come in the form of night terrors, frightening negative thoughts, and many other forms that do not allow an individual to function.

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Individuals who are suffering from PTSD can sometimes experience numbness to emotions, sleep deprivation, aggressive behavior, and social issues that affect their ability to obtain and maintain relationships. This can make an individual go into an isolated state of mind where they push others away from them because they do not understand how to articulate their feelings. In some other cases, individuals might avoid expressing their emotions which leads to a “buildup” of feelings that further creates stress and can lead to health problems. It is very common for individuals who are suffering from PTSD to experience depression, other anxiety disorders, headaches, immune system weakness, dizziness, and chest pain. PTSD is different for everybody. Some individuals can maintain coping mechanisms which helps. Post-traumatic stress disorder can last for varying times. There is no factual research that has proven a “time stamp” of PTSD recovery. Some individuals can suffer from PTSD for months or years. On average it is said that individuals suffer from this disorder for about 10 years. (Collie , K., Backos, A., Malchiodi, C., & Spiegel, D. . 2006)

PTSD does not just affect behavior and physical aspects of life that people can see. It also affects individuals' brains. The brain is constantly changing and adapting. Traumatic experiences will cause the brain to adapt to how it is functioning. The amygdala is a part of the brain that registers triggers. The amygdala is the alarm system of the brain. With individuals suffering from PTSD, the amygdala may increase because of the constant triggers one might face in everyday life. For example, there can be the sound of a car beeping which could set someone off (trigger) who is/was in combat in a negative way (flashbacks). With the amygdala being overactive, the hippocampus has the possibility of decreasing in size. This is because there is a higher level of stress activity within the brain. This stress affects memory thus affecting the hippocampus. Within the brain, PTSD also affects the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that regulates decision-making. These decisions include something that may have been perceived as a threat but when thought about and processed, it is not a current harm. Individuals who suffer from this anxiety disorder have a prefrontal cortex that does not function properly. The good news is that since the brain is constantly changing and adapting, it can be “fixed”. Brain scans have shown that when individuals have the tools to heal (therapy, support systems, etc.) their brains begin functioning at a normal rate. (Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. 2019)

Art Therapy is a great way to help veterans suffering from PTSD. Research shows that art therapy aids in veterans tolerating war content during sessions. This content could not be handled in other social situations and therapies. It has been researched that art therapy works well with veterans suffering from PTSD because it is a less intimidating form of therapy. Art therapy provided a distraction to veterans but also exposed them to traumatic material without the negative side effects of verbal communication and interventions. In 2005, the American Art Therapy Association surveyed thirteen art therapists to gain more information in regards to Art therapy and veterans suffering from PTSD. Their findings were that sessions helped veterans with the reconsolidation of memories (resolving fragmented memories), externalization (separating the problem from the person), Progressive exposure (less intimidating ways of exploring trauma), reactivation of positive emotion (awakening emotion - stopping the numbness), enhancement of emotional self-sufficiency (confidence in expressing emotions), and improving self-esteem. (Collie , K., Backos, A., Malchiodi, C., & Spiegel, D. . 2006)

The directive that I created is called, “My Memories, Are They Me?”. This directive's goal is to bring to light how flashbacks /episodes make an individual feel. Bringing these feelings to light may help clients problem-solve as well as face conflict in a more physical way that they can see rather than keeping the internal and constantly thinking about them. The theory that I am using is Jungian. We are letting our unconscious be our guide to healing. The materials I chose to use are a cardboard box, paint, pouring medium construction paper, tissue paper, scissors, and glue. I chose these materials because they have a lot of control within them. I feel as though individuals in young adulthood and middle adulthood crave control of their lives. PTSD takes that control away. Within the session I want individuals to feel as though they have a hold on their emotions, pondering the question do their memories shape who they are? Do they want them to mold who they are? What are our memories? Can we work past these traumatic experiences?

For the session, I tried to channel an individual who had experienced traumatic events while in combat. For example, seeing death, and experiencing fear for their own life. I imagined I was an individual in young adulthood (26 years old) who was honorably discharged, suffering from PTSD, and struggling to form relationships. When creating my piece I was given approximately forty-five minutes for my session. The directive is to create a box that depicts yourself to the outside world, and the inside depicts our memories of trauma. I decided to create my box with a solid cool color as the outside. This is because individuals sometimes have avoidant tendencies. This cool color is not welcoming but also not abrasive and aggressive. Inside of my box, I depicted a more violent abstract image. This represents the memories that are traumatizing “me”. I wanted to keep it abstract because I felt as though asking an individual to depict what has affected them would be too damaging or there would be a cycle of repeating what one might know (someone was killed, repeating the trauma of the knowledge might turn into a vicious cycle). Although, if someone chooses to do so I would not stop them because that may help them with understanding what may be affecting them.

To conclude the session, there will be a reflection on the boxes. Clients will feel the box. Noticing that it is a physical thing in space. This box cannot be ignored because it is a fact, it exists. This is just like how our experiences are real, they are rare facts, and they happened. The emotions being experienced are valid. Looking at this box, clients will reflect on how this box is not theirs just like our experiences are not ours.

I believe that the young to middle adulthood veterans suffering from PTSD population carry a heavy stigma. When thinking of a stereotypical warrior, society paints them as indestructible human beings who are there to protect their country. There are not as many conversations about mental health. Some veterans return from war and are not integrated into society properly, thus making anxiety disorders such as PTSD worse. Art therapy is an organic and freeing way for these individuals to express themselves and learn to cope. PTSD is not something that can go away solely on its own, individuals must be motivated to work towards overcoming it. Therapy as well as support systems are a key way in helping individuals such as veterans succeed in obtaining their mental health. “It is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” (D.W. Winnicott)

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Art Therapy for Veterans Essay. (2024, February 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
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