Art Therapy Helps Heal Our Wounded Warriors

Bob Mathis creates "Shelter"

“I can relax now,” says Bob, an Army soldier who served two tours in Iraq. “Nothing I was doing before was working, so I decided to try something different. My wife has seen a change, too.”

Bob and several other soldiers are taking classes at the Bemis School of Art in Colorado Springs. The school, in coordination with AspenPointe Creative Program, sponsors Military Creative Expressions, an art therapy program designed for soldiers from the Warrior Transition Battalion at Ft. Carson, CO.

Kim Nguyen, the instructor, uses art and creative therapy processes to teach creative coping skills. Ms. Nguyen, a survivor of the war in Viet Nam, understands first hand the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. The memory of seeing her father killed and of living through multiple bombings had scarred her heart. “I knew I was using art in college to help process my trauma, and realized years later I was doing my own therapy,” she said.

Her students begin working with pencils, then watercolor pencils, then expand to watercolors and acrylics. During the fifteen weeks of classes they visually interpret subjects like walls, rivers, favorite memories, conflict and resolution to that conflict. They are joined by a licensed professional counselor for any additional support needs.

The students come from diverse backgrounds and military operating specialties. Juliet Madsen was a paramedic in Operation Iraqi Freedom. She was critically injured after she took off her body armor to shield a wounded soldier. Because of the injuries she received in a second blast, some things in her life had to change. She was passionate about artistic quilting before her tour, and she has now added drawing and painting to her skills.

Art has also been a part of her children’s growth and healing. Erin, just starting seventh grade, joined her for class several times during the semester.

Juliet Madsen and daughter Erin

Juliet shared about her son joining her in her home studio recently. While having a tough day of his own, he sat down across the table from her, then picked up a brush and began adding color to his own canvas. Those beginning strokes enabled him to start talking for the first time about his experiences related to her injury and long recovery.

Juliet's aircraft carrier in "Drydock"

Some of the students have an artistic background, but for others this is a first time experience. Julius ‘O.J.’ Shoulderblade, a two-time Iraq veteran, is enjoying adding color to his world of art. His first painting was black with a field of white specks across the upper left quadrant of the canvas. His recent work is like a fireworks display with colors blossoming across the entire field.

O. J.'s colorful expressions

O.J. smiling like fireworks on the 4th of July

The same dramatic effect is evident on his face.

Isaac Torres plans to take his artwork even farther. He is working toward opening a coffee shop that will feature the work of his classmates and other local artists.

Isaac Torres, "Expose Your Art Cafe"

For a soldier in the Warrior Transition Battalion, life can be a seemingly unending string of doctor’s appointments. For many it means months separated from family, friends, and their original unit. The Military Creative Expressions program is an opportunity to put life and color back into their personal scenery.

While art therapy is fairly new in the arena of healing tools being offered to our Service Members, it is bringing positive results in these soldiers’ lives. Their art is evidence they are on the rebound from the soul wounds received while walking through the hell of war.

Artist Joe Zabinski, says, “I can’t always talk about my experiences, but I can paint them. And, basically, it is fun.”

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This entry was posted in Coming Home, Encouragement, Healing, Information, PTSD, Soldier's Stories and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Art Therapy Helps Heal Our Wounded Warriors

  1. Kris, I am just now reading this, it is amazing! You should present this to the Mountaineer for publishing! Great story of hope and healing!

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