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art & ethics

Art therapy as a Science of healing PTSD

June 25th, 2015 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized


Levi Derby was a soldier in Afghanistan who committed suicide. He hanged himself in his grand father’s garage. According to his mother he felt guilt and haunted for a child’s death. This was because the child stepped on a landmine when she reached out to get a bottle of water offered by Derby. He couldn’t get the thought out of his head, even when he returned home and locked himself in a motel room for days. Derby decided he cannot handle the pain of seeing someone else die again, decided to take his own life.

A statistical data shows that 22 veterans commit suicide everyday. A 2013 survey of the US veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan also show that 30% of veterans at some point have considered suicide. In recent years, this toll has also shown to be higher on veterans with PTSD symptoms. President Obama and Leon Panetta, former defense secretary, referred to the frequent suicidal rate among veterans as an epidemic that need to end. Many of the veterans who are at risk of suicide, is as a result of assault, violent, rape, stress and guilt about act committed during war.

Post- traumatic stress disorder can affect people of all ages. As a result the rates of the people with PTSD symptoms are increasing, as people are exposed to traumatic events frequently. Individuals who experience events such as abuse, war, rape can be traumatised for weeks, months and sometimes years. Going through such trauma more than once and for a long period leads to chronic PTSD. Individuals with PTSD have symptoms such as flashback, nightmare, anxiety, and depression. Thus they isolate themselves, avoid anything that will trigger their memory of going through the same trauma.These actions, affects their work, relationships and entire life.

Art therapy can be considered as a therapeutic approach to reduce trauma, relieve stress, anxiety and depression on people with PTSD symptoms. Research has shown that with art, expressive writing, music, painting, sculpture and drama can have a positive effect on PSTD patients. In particular research has shown that art therapy can also be an effective treatment for veterans. A lot of veterans return from war with PTSD symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. It has help reduce the symptoms of psychological and mental conditions. Art therapy helps them to express themselves, control their emotions, regulate their behaviour, reduce stress, and come to term with painful memories. Furthermore, with art therapy they are able to get over addictions and anxiety.  It also helps them to think positively, encouraging veterans to reflect on the honour of their service, thereby increasing their self –esteem.Steve Piscatelli, a Vietnam veteran who was treated with art therapy commented on this prodecure saying, “ art therapy helps to purge the sound, the smell, the feel in your fingers otherwise you grit your teeth and might end up exploding.” (AATA). He suggested that a lot of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, will need art therapy because it works wonders; through art, individuals heal by pouring their heart out and getting rid of that awful feeling.

The primary role of art therapy is that it can be used as a medium for communication. Most of these methods are non- verbal, which allows the patients to talk about their problems when they feel safe to do so. They use creative and expressive art as a mode to express their emotions, thoughts and feelings that cannot be spoken. This method also can work well with people who have speech problem due to developmental deficiency, accident or age such as old people and children. (Smyth para8). Eric Edmondson a 26 year old, veteran who was left paralysed and with a brain injury by a roadside bomb could not talk because of the shock, pain and trauma. However, in a private rehabilitation center, through painting he is able to express his thoughts.

Mind and body therapy encourages the patient to relax and interact.  Many of these veterans have disturbing thought about their experience in war.  Furthermore, with PTSD patients, the body reacts to the brain, for their body reacts to the terrible thoughts, which causes them so much tension and pain. This creates guilt and risk of them committing suicide. Individuals engaging in Creative Arts therapy has shown to be effective in reducing their thoughts of trauma, helps in regulating their feelings, enhance cognitive and physical soundness. Occuping their mind creatively makes them feel safe.

Most psychologist and therapist are used to the using the exposure-based therapy, which has proven to be unsuccessful because it requires patients to face their traumas and fears, which only increases their depression.  For this reason patients hardly continue their treatment. (Smyth para2). If only psychologist and therapist should be devoted to do more research, analysis and follow up on the effectiveness of art therapy.  It may be beneficial to prevent further suicides by improving emotional, cognitive and mental disorder through art.

Cathy Malchiodi a research psychologist and professional art therapist said “I recognize the power of art to expand self-understanding, to offer insight not available through other means and to extend people ability to communicate. It is a powerful way of knowing yourself and a powerful form of healing.(Tartakovsky para5). Art therapy has a unique way of soothing trauma patients, and has been successful in encouraging patients to reflects on their past and come to terms with their present situation, which eventually leads to healing. Therefore psychologist and therapist should see art as a science of healing.



Work cited

Basu Moni. “ Why suicide rate among veterans may be more than 22 a day.” CNN. (2013). Web. 22 June 2015.

Smyth, Joshua and Jeremy Nobel. “Arts & Healing Creative, Artistic and Expressive Therapies for PTSD.” Arts & Healing foundation. (2011).Web. 12 June 2015.

AATA “Art therapy, post traumatic stress disorder and veterans.” Art Web. 12 June 2015.

Tartakovsky Margarita. “ 5 quick facts about Art Therapy”. Psychcentral. Web. 22 June 2015.


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