For Soldiers Returning From War, Catharsis in Creative Expression

BY Molly Finnegan  May 18, 2010 at 2:45 PM EDT

As a new generation of soldiers return from combat and are confronted by the internal conflicts brought on by the stress of war, the military, mental health professionals and artists are collaborating on ways to give “wounded warriors” creative tools for processing and expressing trauma. In Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group runs an 11-week art therapy program for Fort Carson soldiers suffering from physical and psychological trauma.

This is the first time art therapist Kim Le Nguyen — who herself suffered significant trauma as survivor of wartime Vietnam — has led a group where her students are experiencing combat PTSD. In the heat of war, soldiers undergo intense trauma over a very short period of time, she explains, and they do not have time to address their emotions until they return to civilian life. She says the nature of the work of the military also does not lend itself to timely emotional processing.

“The culture as soldiers, especially as men, is not to express their emotions.” Nguyen says. In her Military Creative Expressions course, “art becomes a third party,” an intermediary that can give voice to bottled-up feelings.

Click HereSoldiers have reported a positive difference after a few weeks in the course. For some, painting provides a quiet outlet for reflection, while others report feeling greater confidence. A few of them plan to pursue more art training once they leave the military.

A new exhibit called ‘Conflict|Resolution’, which runs through June 20 at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, features artwork produced by soldiers in the Creative Expressions workshop.

Nguyen’s course is just one way the arts can assist in healing for men and women returning from war. Other army medical programs are turning to art in other forms to treat trauma for soldiers with PTSD, including the Warrior Transition Wellness program at the Tripler Army Medical Center, where soldiers can participate in music therapy to help cope with stress.