Blog Posts for arts and healing

Understanding the Value of Art Therapy

Posted by Melissa Walker, May 13, 2013 1 comment

Melissa Walker Melissa Walker

A fit, uniformed Marine sat before me, focusing intently on the task at hand. He had been working on creating a mask now for almost two hours. He had never in his life engaged in anything like this before.

This Marine had recently arrived anxious, confused and angry. After 23 years of service to his country, he felt broken and hopeless. Multiple blast injuries had upset his cognitive abilities and caused daily headaches. Traumatic memories were constantly clouding his thoughts. He worried for the safety of his family. He was overwhelmed.

Suddenly, the Marine looked up at me. “I’m finished,” he declared. He stared at the mask, which was covered in symbolism only he could understand. I wouldn’t even begin to try and interpret his intentions, but I wouldn’t have to. He hesitated, then began pointing out each area of the mask and explaining its significance.

Afterwards, the Marine stared at me, shocked. “I can’t believe I just told you all of that. I’ve never been able to explain what was bothering me before. And now here it is… all in one place.”

A Marine who felt broken had for the first time found a way to put all of the pieces together. He would later describe the art therapy process as the key to his healing. “It released the block,” he explained, “and then my treatment just soared. For the first time in 23 years I could actually talk openly to anyone, because it unlocked it.”

Art Therapy at the NICoE
Art therapy is a psychotherapeutic process during which a trained therapist utilizes art-making as a symbolic vehicle for communication with the patient (click here to read a lengthier definition of art therapy as well as view practice requirements via the American Art Therapy Association). At the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), service members coping with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and psychological health concerns are assessed and treated over a four-week integrated care program. According to the National Center for PTSD, Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is often referred to as the “signature injury” of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and service members who have experienced mTBI are at increased risk of depression and underlying psychological health (PH) conditions to include post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Summerall, 2007).

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Welcome to the Blog Salon on the Arts and the Military

Posted by Joanna Chin, May 13, 2013 2 comments

Joanna Chin Joanna Chin

Memorial Day is coming. Back in elementary school, I remember this (and Veterans Day) as the only time(s) we talked about war in a contemporary sense or what it meant to serve your country. Now the politics of war, service, military culture, and their effects on military personnel are ever present in all corners of the U.S. These issues pervade our conversations, float across newsfeeds, fill our TV screens, and sometimes touch even closer to home.

Among organizations that serve veterans, their families and communities, the arts are becoming an increasingly essential means and end to understanding, reckoning, and moving forward. Nowhere has this movement been so clearly evidenced than the  April 10th announcement by Americans for the Arts and the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) of a nationwide “Blueprint for Action” designed to make arts programming widely available to service members, veterans, and their families throughout their lifespan, including the continuum of military service. The announcement took place at the second “National Summit: Arts, Health and Wellness across the Military Continuum” at Walter Reed Bethesda, and represents an unprecedented coming together of military, veteran, health, arts and federal agencies to work together to find arts solutions to some of the military’s most pressing problems.

While the national momentum is building to act, the challenges our military servicemen and women and their families face are felt most deeply at home and in their communities. As writer and “former military kid,” Maranatha Bivens, stated in her Animating Democracy trend paper, Art in Service: Supporting the Military Community and Changing the Public Narrative:  “…the military is now far from a niche community. Today’s all-volunteer force has 1.4 million active duty service members and nearly 400,000 members of National Guard and Reserve components.” As combat operations come to a close, an unprecedented number of returning service members are joining an estimated 23 million citizens already classified as veterans.  The wave of returning service members includes many suffering from physical and emotional traumas, as well as families, communities, and a society in need of ways to understand, adjust, and heal.

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The Arts: A Promising Solution to Meeting the Challenges of Today's Military

Posted by Marete Wester, Apr 10, 2013 2 comments

Marete Wester Marete Wester

On November 15, 2012, a group of concerned and dedicated military, government, private sector, and nonprofit leaders gathered at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC for the Arts & Health in the Military National Roundtable.

The Roundtable represented the second step in the ongoing development of the multi-year National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military, a collaborative effort to advance the arts in health, healing, and healthcare for military service members, veterans, their families, and caregivers.

Launched in January 2012, the National Initiative is co-lead by Americans for the Arts and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in partnership with a national steering committee comprised of military, federal agency, nonprofit, and private sector partners.

The Roundtable was charged with advancing the mission of National Initiative by recommending a framework for a “blueprint for action”—one that will ensure the availability of arts interventions for our service men and women and their families, and integrate the arts as part of the “Standard of Care” in military clinical (VA and military hospitals) as well as programs in community settings across the country. 

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Eugene O'Neill's Grant Writer Walks Into A Bar....

Posted by Bill O'Brien, Dec 07, 2012 0 comments

Bill O'Brien

...and spots the dramatist hunched over in a corner booth, scribbling in his notebook. He walks over to the playwright, drops the first draft of Long Day's Journey Into Night on the table and says, "That's great, Eugene—but how am I supposed to prove economic growth or improved health and well-being with this?"

Obviously, this never happened. But if it did, it would be a great example of the conundrum we sometimes find ourselves in when we try to “scale up” societal benefits via the power of the arts. Identifying positive outcomes we'd like to pursue on policy levels at 20,000 feet can sometimes feel far removed from the missions being pursued by artists on the ground.

Trying to harness the power of the arts to provide broad public benefit in a strategized way is a good idea. The idea that our greatest American playwright should bend his art-making towards these aims is not. So if we're trying to organize a way to share specific impacts of the arts so more people can benefit, how should we proceed?

In an art-science post called "The Imagine Engine!" on the National Endowment for the Arts' (NEA) Art Works blog this spring, I stated that it may be possible for artists and scientists to “borrow freely from each other's methods and practices and share insights with each other that they might be unable to find on their own." This fall, through a program we've established via a partnership with the Department of Defense, we're beginning to see evidence suggesting this hypothesis may be true.

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Does Size Matter? (or Welcome to Our Blog Salon on Scaling Up)

Posted by Joanna Chin, Dec 03, 2012 0 comments

Examples of scaling.

The notion of scaling up has gained currency as arts organizations, artists, and funders seek greater impact from their efforts and investments. The idea of sharing something that is effective so that the benefits can be experienced by more people is attractive, especially when something is producing good results.

One Story of Successful Scaling

A significant example of scaling up for the public good came to us just last week through a news update from one of Animating Democracy’s early grantees. Since its PBS broadcast in June 2008, Katrina Brown’s film, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North has spawned a nonprofit, the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery, which has engaged thousands of people from all backgrounds in honest, productive dialogues about race, privilege, and the history of slavery, based on the story of Katrina's ancestors’ role in the slave trade in New England.

The news update cites a breathtaking array of ways the organization is reaching people—from a workshop for members of the Connecticut General Assembly and its staff to sharing the film and related work with thousands of attendees at the 77th Episcopal General Convention. Using the film’s narrative, the Center has reached across education, government, faith, and cultural sectors to make a difference on pervasive and persistent issues of race and class in America.

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Enrichment, Recollection, Fulfillment---What Else is Necessary in Life?

Posted by Melissa Lineburg, Mar 05, 2012 0 comments

Seniors benefit from ballroom dance. (Photo from The Payson Roundup)

I recently received my alma mater’s College of Visual and Performing Arts newsletter and was blown away by the enriching work of a former classmate.

It is becoming common knowledge, thank goodness, that the arts are vital to the proper mental and physical development of our youth as well as the maintenance of a high quality of life for our aging population.

My classmate Emily McKinney, a junior at Radford University, took advantage of the university’s class and degree offerings to combine two of her loves: dance and teaching children with disabilities.

Specifically, she teaches private and/or small group dance classes to autistic children in the community around Radford. Her work has given children who have difficulties communicating and expressing themselves an instrument to “be their true selves.”

Despite the challenges she faces working with them, Emily knows patience and careful guidance help her dance students discover immense amounts of joy that would seem otherwise impossible.

In addition to these findings and personal accounts, I found it interesting that the same is applied for the elderly, namely patients being treated for dementia and Alzheimer’s.

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