Understanding the Value of Art Therapy

Posted by Melissa Walker On May - 13 - 2013
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). Read the rest of this entry »

Eugene O’Neill’s Grant Writer Walks Into A Bar….

Posted by Bill O'Brien On December - 7 - 2012

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. Read the rest of this entry »

In This Body – Dreaming Awake

Posted by John R. Killacky On November - 9 - 2012

John R. Killacky in “Dreaming Awake” (Photo by Laurie Toby Edison)

Sixteen years ago, I had surgery to remove a tumor from inside my spinal cord. Although the tumor was benign, the surgery paralyzed me from the neck down. I spent six weeks in a hospital and months learning to walk again.

I called upon my artist-self during those darkest hours. My fingers were the first part of my body to experience any functional return. While others at the rehab hospital were wheeled off to occupational therapy, I asked to go to the computer lab to tap out sentences with the one finger up to the task.

I felt an overwhelming urge to put on paper the thoughts crowding my brain, make some sense of the experience, and reassert authority over my body. Some of this writing was later featured in the Lambda Award-winning anthology I co-edited entitled “Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories.”

As the weeks progressed, standard physical rehab provided little success. I realized when being transferred from bed to wheelchair my body could hold itself up (although briefly and with assistance). While the kinesthetic connections were lost, I thought I might be able to learn to stand up visually. So I asked to work in front of the mirrors. Therapists were skeptical and reminded me everything is backward in a mirror. “Yes,” I countered, “but as a young man I was a dancer and learned to dance with mirrors”

It took some days with leg braces and a walker, but eventually I stood in front of that mirror. What I could not do kinesthetically, I accomplished visually. Over the next weeks, I began to walk between two parallel bars in front of the mirror. Tentative steps grew ever more confident. The dancer in me taught my mis-circuited body to walk again. Sixteen years later, I continue dancing through life, albeit slowly and with the assistance of a cane. Read the rest of this entry »

From Boots to Brushes

Posted by Joanna Chin On June - 10 - 2012

Joanna Chin

Beginning and sustaining work using the arts to serve veterans’ needs is an exercise in translation. While the need is great, it is also daunting to move into that space or grow existing programs to meet that need.

The insights that emerged from the Boots to Brushes session at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention is that many of these obstacles (and some of the solutions) are, at their core, an issue of translation.

Here are a few of those:

Because of the structure and culture of the military, partnerships are a foreign concept. For the most part, the military just takes what it wants. For the arts, collaboration and community are essential pieces of the process.

One insight that emerges for arts organizations interested in addressing veterans’ needs is being cognizant of how foreign the concept of partnerships is to the military.

To tackle the hurdle of getting a foot in the door with the Veterans Association, one key insight was to use the veterans that you’ve worked with in the past as your spokespeople.

It might be an unintentional consequence of doing good work and transforming someone’s life that s/he spreads the word about your organization; however, veterans themselves can be the best ambassadors into hard-to-crack groups.  Read the rest of this entry »

Lessons in Innovation from “Door 2 Door”

Posted by Shelby Morrison On July - 27 - 2011

Shelby Morrison

All in all, our “Door 2 Door” program was a success.

There are some hilarious failures to talk about, which include a prospect calling the police after suspicions of terrorism and the group dancing on the lawn of a prospect that had security cameras – all of the types of mishaps you can imagine when showing up at a strangers doorstep.

The project gained us a significant donor and our current board chair, which is exciting.

When our organization looks at new projects or considers some type of change or innovation, whether it be development or program related, we always consider the following: Read the rest of this entry »

Door-to-Door Fundraising

Posted by Shelby Morrison On July - 26 - 2011

Participants in the Door to Door campaign

Readers! Hello there – my name is Shelby Morrison and I’m currently the Marketing and Communications Manager for Raw Art Works in Lynn, MA. RAW is a community based youth arts nonprofit led by art therapists with the mission to ignite the desire to create and the confidence to succeed in underserved youth. In short, our kids use a wide variety of materials and media to communicate “what’s really goin’ on” in their lives.

To paint a quick portrait of the landscape, RAW is located in downtown Lynn, a racially, ethnically, and economically diverse city with a bustling population of 87,000. Despite Lynn’s ocean front location just nine miles north of Boston, the city struggles economically compared to its affluent neighboring towns. Lynn’s crime, poverty, teen birth and high school dropout rates are more than twice the state average. There are over thirty gangs in Lynn that are actively recruiting youth as young as elementary school.

As a nonprofit, our sustainability lies in successful fundraising, and for us, successful fundraising lies in the storytelling of our kids art and the emotional connection our donors make to those stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Reacting Creatively in a Crisis

Posted by Theresa Cameron On April - 8 - 2011

For those of you that aren’t aware, one of Americans for the Arts’ original incarnations was as the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, and as the Director of Local Arts Agency Relations, it’s my job to keep tabs on our members who fall into that core constituency of the organization.

Yesterday I decided to check in with our members in Fargo, ND, because I wanted to find out how the arts community was preparing for the pending flooding in that area.

If you remember, Fargo sits on the Red River and in 2009 it reached 40.82 feet and the town sustained massive damage because of it.

So this time around, the citizens have been working to fill three million sandbags so they can be ready for the flooding.

However, instead of the typical burlap or mesh sandbags, there is an artistic spin to the program. Read the rest of this entry »