While some wounds, like scars, are visible to everyone, other wounds go unnoticed, trapped inside the human mind. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is commonly found in veterans. Unfortunately, many veterans don’t get the treatment that they need to recover from this invisible struggle. Oftentimes, veterans are afraid to speak up about their PTSD because they worry about the mental health stigma that accompanies it.
Melissa Walker, an art therapist at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE), explains that PTSD shuts down the speech-language area of the brain and renders sufferers speechless with fear. This is the reason why so many of our nation’s bravest return home and suffer in solitude. Recovering from PTSD involves working through these traumatic experiences that the sufferers don’t usually want to talk about. Thankfully, Walker explains that art therapy could be the perfect treatment for PTSD.
Art as a Psychotherapeutic Therapy
Walker says in her TED Talk, “Art Can Heal PTSD’s Invisible Wounds,” that “the process of art therapy bypasses the speech-language issue with the brain. Art-making accesses the same sensory areas of the brain that encode trauma. Service members can use the art-making to work through their experiences in a non-threatening way”. Additionally, the Art Therapy article, “Art Therapy Helping Veterans,” states, “Sometimes a person just can’t face the fact that it is okay to leave the baggage of war behind. By expressing how one really feels in the pit of the soul through the use of art, perhaps the mind can begin to let go of the trauma by transferring the images and ideas to another object of their creation through the medium of art”.
Furthermore, art helps veterans suffering from PTSD reintegrate their left side of their brain with their right side. By creating artwork, PTSD sufferers can slowly learn to voice their experiences and move passed their fears. At the same time, art also allows veterans take their mind off the things that are bothering them at the same time that they are confronting them.
PTSD and Mask-Making
While Walker explains that all types of art can benefit veterans with PTSD, she’s seen the most success in mask-making. Perhaps the reason that mask-making is such an effective therapy is that it allows veterans to give a literal face to their fears. Walker says, “when service members create these masks, it allows them to come to grips, literally, with their trauma. And it’s amazing how often that enables them to break through the trauma and start to heal”.
Additionally, the article, “Healing Invisible Wounds: Art Therapy and PTSD,” by Renee Fabian, also reaffirms the success of mask making. Fabian writes, “Clients examine feelings and thoughts about trauma by making a mask or drawing a feeling and discussing it. Art builds grounding and coping skills by photographing pleasant objects. It can help tell the story of trauma by creating a graphic timeline”.
One of the veterans that Walker worked with at NICoE says that after making masks, he was able to speak up about experiences that he hadn’t been able to talk about for 23 years. He explains, “You sort of just zone out into the mask. You zone out into the drawing, and for me, it just released the block, so I was able to do it.”
In a world where there are so many different treatment plans for physical wounds, it’s nice to know that people are working to help those with invisible ones. Art Therapy could be the perfect treatment for PTSD.