Art: An unlikely form of army therapy

Posted filed underEngland, Science.

The BBC’s Culture Show visited an art therapy session at Combat Stress to see how it is helping veterans

“With the lack of military hospitals, many veterans are turning to charities for help. One is using the unlikely weapon of art to help fight the psychological wounds of war, while another organisation is actively encouraging artwork in the army.

Outside of the NHS, the charity Combat Stress is the biggest provider of support to armed forces veterans with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.

Art therapy is one of the treatments it uses. Drawing, sculpting and painting are helping patients manage their symptoms with great success.

“Traumatic memories take a different path from our normal memories and tend to be frozen in the body in the central nervous system,” explains Janice Lobban, who has been a trauma therapist at Combat Stress for the past 10 years.

“When a trauma happens, the person will react to get through the experience, but it leaves the trauma unprocessed. A person might then get a sensory memory like a sound, or sight, or smell, that is reminiscent of the trauma and they re-experience it happening again.”

‘Blank mind’
Art therapy, therefore, aims to help people express themselves unconsciously and process the meaning afterwards.

Group sessions typically begin with the therapist giving a one or two word brief to inspire creativity before veterans are given a selection of materials for painting, modelling or writing.

After 45 minutes of quick work, the group then get together to talk about and describe what they’ve just created.

“I try to keep a blank mind and just let images and feelings rise out from my unconscious to my hand and things start appearing,” says Richard Kidgell from Braintree, Essex, who served in the Royal Air Force from 1978 to 1985.

“What surprises me is that while I’m drawing I don’t know what it is – they’re just images, but by the end of the session I’ve made a complete story. It’s quite enlightening as sometimes I’m not entirely sure what I’ve drawn until I speak to others about it.”

After their sessions, the veterans are encouraged to develop their initial artwork into fuller, finished pieces to further interpret and explore their feelings.

Read on at the BBC.

Related Internet links:

Combat Stress
Army Arts Society
Nick Hendry Art