Health Benefits of the Arts for Veterans

Among the many health benefits of art therapies for our nation’s Veteran’s are an alleviation of PTSD and TBI symptoms, improvements in overall wellness, better moods, improved outlook on life, stress reduction, more healthy interpersonal relationships, and reduced anxiety.

Dance:

Pilot Data on Effects of Community Dance for Veterans with PTSD and Their Family Members

Researchers conducted a study in 2019 to test the effects of a community dance program to treat symptoms of PTSD. They found improvements in wellness scores for all participants and concluded there is promise in treating some of the most persistent symptoms of PTSD in Veterans and their families with dance programs.

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Dance/Movement Therapy & Warrior Wellness

In 2019, Dr. Allison Winters Fisher from Saybrook University analyzed the effectiveness of dance/movement therapy-based mind-body wellness programs that is part of a larger integrative program for military service members with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her results indicate potential increases in mind-body awareness for patients, as well as a possible shift in movement flow.

Abstract

Pilot Data on Effects of Community Dance for Veterans with PTSD and Their Family Members

Researchers in 2019 conducted a study to test the effects of a community dance program on alleviating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Their results found that feelings of connectedness, feelings of hope and optimism, and avoidance of new or uncomfortable experiences all improved over the course of the program.

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Full Article/Study

Let’s Dance: A Holistic Approach to Treating Veterans with PTSD

Researchers from several medical and university institutions conducted a pilot study in 2016 which suggested that a dance-class program promoted well-being, self-confidence and stress reduction for Veterans suffering from PTSD. Study participants unanimously reported improvements in outlook, well-being, mood, sense of well-being and interpersonal relationships as a result of taking dance classes. Many participants also expressed reductions in anger and isolation. 

Full Article/Study

Music/Singing:

Group Music Intervention Using Percussion Instruments to Reduce Anxiety Among Elderly Male Veterans with Alzheimer’s Disease

Researchers in Taiwan completed a study in 2021 aimed at assessing the impact of a group music intervention on anxiety and depression of elderly male Veterans with dementia. Their results found a significant reduction in anxiety levels following the 12-week music session and concluded that participating in a group music intervention reduced anxiety symptoms for elderly male Veterans with dementia.

Full Article/Study

Songs Created by Military Service Members in Music Therapy

In 2018, Dr. Joke Bradt from Drexel University conducted a study on the impact of music therapy and songwriting on military service members. Among the findings was that the songs written facilitated expression of struggles with injuries and invisible wounds of war, and included motivating messages aimed at providing hope for other service members. The conclusion was that songwriting enabled service members to share their thoughts, emotions, fears and hopes with family, friends and other providers, often for the first time, and as such played an important role in their personal growth and recovery process.

Full Article/Study

Music Therapy Applied to Complex Blast Injury in Interdisciplinary Care

Researchers from Harvard University and Drexel University in 2018 conducted a trial with Veterans and music therapy. They found that music therapy optimized the rehabilitation of a service member through assisting the recovery process on a continuum from clinic to community. They also found that music therapy with traditional disciplines can enhance treatment outcomes in functional domains of motor, speech, cognition, social integration and quality of life for military populations; music therapists can help ease discomfort and difficulty associated with rehabilitation activities; music therapy assists treatment processes from clinic to community, making it highly valued by the patient and family; and music therapy provides a platform to prevent social isolation by promoting community integration through music performance.

Full Article/Study

Guided Imagery and Music with Female Military Veterans

Dr. K. Maya Story from Eastern Michigan University in 2017 conducted a study that found that female Veterans who used music and imagery to manage PTSD symptoms scored clinically significant reductions.  

Abstract

Theater:

The Theatre as Therapy for Military Veterans? Exploring the Mechanisms Which Impact Psychosocial Well-Being and Social Connections During Theatre-Based Programmes

In 2021, researchers in the United Kingdom released the results of a study that provided unique insight into the benefits of theatre-based programmes on the psychosocial well-being of military Veterans. Results showed that these programs were beneficial.

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Coming Home to the Arts: Theatre with Military Veterans and Families

Dr. Alison O’Connor from the University of South Wales conducted a study in 2017 to determine the impact of theatre therapy on returning Veterans. Her results show that this programme has significant potential as a way of reconnecting Veterans and families with their community and improving their wellbeing.

Full Article/Study

Theatre as a Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress in Military Veterans

Researchers from New York University in 2016 examined group-based psychotherapy that used theatre and specific techniques from classical actor training in combination with empirically-established trauma treatment techniques to address post-traumatic stress (PTSD) in Veterans. They found that the arts can play an important role in supporting Veteran’s recovery from trauma.

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Theater-Based Community Engagement Project for Veterans Recovering from Substance Use Disorders

In 2016, researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Indianapolis examined the feasibility of a 6-week occupation-based theater project for facilitating community engagement and substance use disorder (SUD) recovery in Veterans. They found conservable improvements in social and occupational participation after intervention. Of the participants, 86% remained abstinent for 6 weeks following the project. They concluded that theater provides a feasible and acceptable resource for potentially facilitating SUD recovery.

Abstract

Visual Arts/Art Therapy:

Quantitatively Improved Treatment Outcomes for Combat-Associated PTSD with Adjunctive Art Therapy

In 2019, Dr. Kathleen Decker and other researchers conducted a study with Veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder and the inclusion of art therapy in their treatment. They found that the Veterans who received the art therapy had statistically significantly greater reduction in PTSD and depression compared to the control group.

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Evaluation of Long- and Short-Term Art Therapy Interventions in an Integrative Care Setting for Military Service Members with Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury

In 2018, Dr. Girija Kaimal from Drexel University issued results from a study on art therapy interventions for military service members with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury. Art therapy was proven to help these Veterans with developing a sense of self after injury, experiencing positive emotions, processing trauma and reducing feelings of guilt, grief and loss. Participants with longer time in service were more likely to have improvements on the following symptoms: nightmares, flashbacks, isolation, horror, avoidance of people/places/situations, negative beliefs of self, ability to experience positive emotions, feeling alienated, irritable or aggressive behaviors, easily startled, and sleep disturbances.

Full Article/Study

Art Therapy for Military Service Members with Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury; Three Case Reports

In 2018, Dr. Jacqueline Jones from the National Intrepid Center of Excellence satellite site at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital conducted a study that proved that the inclusion of art therapy into interdisciplinary treatment plans for Veterans significantly improved patients’ progress in addressing TBI and PTSD. A stage-based outpatient art therapy program enabled patients to express, identify, articulate and process chronic trauma-related symptoms and led to improved communication with providers and loved ones and improved quality of life. 

Full Article/Study

Master My Demons: Art Therapy Montage Paintings by Active-Duty Military Service Members with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress

In 2018, researchers from Drexel University concluded from their study that group art therapy experiences fostered improvement in interpersonal relatedness, hopefulness and gratification for the service members in treatment.

Full Article/Study

Art Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy for Combat-Related PTSD

Dr. Melissa Campbell and other researchers conducted a trial in 2016 with Veterans suffering from PTSD. In the group that received art therapy in conjunction with Cognitive Processing Therapy, they found that the inclusion of art therapy improved trauma processing and Veterans considered it to be an important part of their treatment as it provided healthy distancing, enhanced trauma recall, and increased access to emotions.

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Full Article/Study

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