Art therapy is helpful in alleviating the psychological trauma experienced by soldiers returning from war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The research was conducted by Cheryl Miller, who used the study as part of her master’s thesis in Concordia University’s Department of Creative Arts Therapies.
Although art therapy as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been studied before, no research has investigated its effects on those who participated in military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The therapy — carried out at a government-operated veterans’ hospital — was offered twice a week in group sessions to soldiers with PTSD symptoms, in an effort to externalize recurring feelings of fear, shame and anger.
“Through art, participants were able to express positive feelings, externalize difficult emotions and gain insight into their PTSD symptoms,” Miller said. “Artmaking fostered discussion and allowed veterans to show empathy for one another.”
Study participants were between 28 and 56 years old and suffered from problems such as insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, hypervigilance, depression, suicidal thoughts, isolation, chronic pain and interpersonal problems.
“All participants had served in the Canadian Forces and experienced various types of trauma,” Miller said.
The veterans used a variety of art materials: paints, markers, charcoal, clay, Plasticine and images for collage.
“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.”
After each session, behavior observation forms were completed by therapists and nurses. “All staff members noted how art therapy seemed to have a positive impact on participants,” Miller said.
Group interaction was a major benefit of the study. “Through the process of creating and discussing art with peers, participants were able to open up and express important thoughts and emotions in an atmosphere of mutual support,” Miller said, noting groups appeared to be especially helpful in tackling issues of avoidance: loss of interest in pleasurable activities, feelings of detachment and a foreshortened sense of the future.
“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.
“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.”
With so many soldiers currently returning from war with PTSD, Miller believes that creative treatment solutions must be explored.
“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. ”
Source: Concordia University