Art Therapy for Military Caregivers: Connect with Your Inner-being

Art Therapy_painting

The role of art in healing has existed since the beginning of time. The oldest cave painting is over 40,000 years old, located in Cantabria, Spain. [i] In the years following, there is documented evidence of more expressive art from all over the world. Since the 1940s, art in therapeutic form has been a successful treatment, by helping individuals better understand and express inner thoughts and emotions. [ii]

Support for art therapy has gotten a boost with backing from the White House. First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden endorsed the practice of art therapy for veterans, caregivers and their family members, through the creation of Operation Oak Tree. They believed that art therapy would help empower, and strengthen the veteran and military family population. But for caregivers especially, art therapy is one way to practice self-care. [iii]

Who are Military Caregivers?

You are a military family caregiver if you are in the circle of support surrounding a wounded, injured or disabled service member or veteran. Roles include being a husband or wife, parent or child, friend, relative, neighbor or acquaintance.

As a caregiver, so often you hear that it’s important to take care of yourself. But for caregivers like you, who spend so much time and effort caring for someone else, it’s important to explore self-care options that work for you and your family. Art therapy is one of many options.

How is Art Therapy Used?

The key is to create or verbalize images, coming from inside of yourself rather than those that surround you.

Art therapy uses art media and the process of creation to express invisible wounds. This therapy form is being used by the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), to help service members, veterans and their families deal with both post-traumatic stress (PTS) and the daily stresses and strains of life.[iv] Research shows that expressive art therapy can be useful for treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and is most effective when combined with different forms of therapy.iii However, art therapy is not merely for mental health; it is also used in other areas [v]:

  • Medicine
  •  Education
  • Forensics
  • Wellness
  • Private practice

Art Therapy Techniques

Techniques within the practice of art therapy differ. In the “creation of art” technique, you are creating images, whereas, during “active imagining,” you are creating the images in your mind or visualizing them. Other techniques like “gestalt” methods, requires art therapists to use the imagery to inspire a discussion. The gestalt method is meant to create awareness. Last, the “third-hand approach” involves you and your therapist creating an image together, without the therapist interrupting your true thoughts or feelings.

Because the hardships of deployment and other challenges of military life radiate out to the entire military family, using art therapy can help you and your children cope or heal. To appeal to both children and adults, there are different ways to express oneself through art. [v]

Ways to Express Yourself with Art

  • Painting
  • Finger Painting
  • Doodling
  • Scribbling
  • Drawing
  • Using molding clay
  • Carving
  • Making pottery
  • Making cards
  • Using textiles
  • Making collages

Though the various ways of being artistic require different skills, they all work towards a common goal. Art therapy is designed to increase self-awareness, enhance cognitive abilities, and help you cope with symptoms of stress and trauma. [vi]

Is It Really Effective?

The ability of art therapy to help people is measured by the kind of intervention, and length of the treatment. [vii] The progress of individuals being treated through art therapy significantly increases with more than 8 weeks of therapy but decreases when the treatment is longer than two years. In the end, those who use art therapy to heal from stress, symptoms of pain, mental illnesses, addiction and other ailments, usually see some improvement. [viii]

The benefits of art therapy are mostly personal, involving an understanding of one’s self, and painting a picture of your inner being. This portrait is essential for you to be able to thrive in the outside world.

[i] Art Therapy Journal, ” The History of Art Therapy.” 

[ii] Fjorback L, Wallach H, “Meditation Based Therapies: A Systematic Review and Some Critical Observations. Religions 2010, 3, 1-18; doi:10.3390/rel3010001. 
[iii] Art Therapy Blog, “Operation Oak Tree Helps Military Families by Integrating Therapy Through Arts.” 
[iv] Art Therapy Blog, “Art Therapy: A Useful Treatment for Veterans with PTSD.”
[v] American Art Therapy Association, “What is Art Therapy?”
[vi] Good Therapy, “Art Therapy.”
[vii] Art Therapy Blog, “What is Art Therapy.”
[viii] Uttley L, Scope A, Stevenson M, “Clinical Effectiveness of Art Therapy.” NIHR Journals Library, Health Technology Assessment No. 19.18.