Art as a Therapy for War Trauma

Art has the rare capacity to elicit a wide range of feelings in its varied audience. When two people look at the same work of art, they can see two totally different pictures. What a person perceives when looking at art is decided by their mental state. If a person is a content, he or she may find something cheery and appealing in a work of art. However, whether a person is stressed or going through a difficult time, it would be as if they are staring at two paintings or two sculptures that are diametrically opposed, and often looking at a work of art will provide relaxation and temporary mental liberation. Art is a form of psychotherapy involving the encouragement of free self-expression through painting, drawing, or modeling, used as a therapeutic activity or an aid to diagnosis. People who live in war-torn regions and specifically children see others murdered, raped, exposed to violence, starved or abandoned same as becoming victims. Other people in save areas like in Canada and America, surfer such vices in the hands of their loved ones. Both cases unleash a condition of devastating fallout, trauma. War trauma is, therefore, any form of Trauma caused by war. Art therapy can have a beneficial effect on people’s health and is used to treat mental disorders such as war trauma.

Art As Therapy and Art Psychotherapy
Contemporary and subsequent research from intuitive skilled people, artists, and art therapist clinicians affirm that art-making assists patients and clients same as all people hence mental therapy. Art serves as a treatment for major mental illness and transients. For severe symptoms of trauma, a concerning responding to results for social problems, art as a therapy aids significantly and has immediate impacts (Slaton et al. 108). In the current generation, it is to imagine that the implications of complex trauma, the effects of war, the emergence of new addictive substances and the neurological impairments create a significant brain health challenges compared to the previous generation. However, clinical practitioners in the United States for long have had an opinion that their client’s problems, which rose in the past 5 to 10 years, has had a better redemption through art therapy. Through the dilemmas of ages, there is a vital need that art therapist officially announces the intuitive knowledge that art heals. In our life experience, we feel that it is the art therapy that permits a client to make an individual improvement.
On the other side, psychotherapy involves the use of psychological methods to assist a client change and overcome the problem in a decided way. The therapy aims at improving people’s well-being and mental health, to mitigate or resolve beliefs, behaviors, thoughts, emotions or compulsions and to boost social skills and relationships. In some instances, psychotherapies remain evidence-based for treating identified mental disorders. Expressive therapies introduce action to psychotherapy where the movement within life and treatment has a rare limitation to a given mode of expression (Malchiodi 1). Although the perception that the traditional method of exchange in counseling and therapy, expressive therapies practitioners acknowledge that people possess various expressive styles. For example, an individual may have more visibility, while another is more tactile. In situations where therapists can include these different expressive capabilities to their clients, they can enhance each person’s strengths fully to communicate effectively and authentically. Art as a psychotherapy uses art media, images or the creative process and obeys client responses to design products as reflection of development, personality, abilities, conflicts, and concerns. A more accurate definition represents the art as a therapeutic means of reconciling emotional conflicts, managing behavior, reducing anxiety, increasing self-esteem and developing social skills.
Post-traumatic stress disorder and war-related stress
Whether one is a civilian or in the military, at one point in our lives, we experience traumatic events that challenge us on how we view the world or ourselves. In respect to a range of factors, people’s reactions differ with others lasting for a short period while others are experiencing a long-lasting effect. There is no accurate answer for why some people become more affected than other becomes. In notorious war zones, people experience a chronic condition, the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) though others only suffer some of the symptoms related to this disease.
PTSD is a psychological response that results due to the experience of intense traumatic events, like those which are lives threatening. The condition can affect people of any age group, gender and from any culture regardless of their exposure to unsafe conditions (Kang et al. 60). Although the disease has come to limelight recently, its existence was there since the times of ancient Greece and has had different names. For example, during the Civil war in America, the condition bore the name of ‘Soldier’s heart.’ The same had the name of shell shock and war neurosis in the First and Second World War respectively. Many of the victims during the three-mentioned scenario were thought of having ‘combat fatigue, while in reality, they had PTSD (Kang et al. 62). From the war in Vietnam, the issue became rebranded as ‘Combat stress reaction.’ Although trauma has more association with war, traumatic stress is part of natural human responses to intense experiences. Out of the bigger percentage of people, the symptoms disappear or reduce over few months. Disappearing or reduction process hastens when family members and friends intervene. However, in the minority group the symptom is reluctant, and in some instances, it causes more problems for the rest of victim’s life.
Common Symptoms of War Trauma
The typical symptoms of War Trauma include three main categories, which include intrusive, arousal and avoidance symptoms. Intrusive symptoms add the images, smells, sounds, feelings or the memories of the traumatic event, which intrude into the lives of individuals. Victims can remain affected by the mind of a horror to lack attention to the present conditions. People with war trauma report frequent and distressing recollections of the scenes, which they wish they did not have. Others go to the extent of having nightmares and other frightening themes. People talk about an experience that has an encounter with the event again, due to flashbacks. The intrusive symptoms result in intense distress and sometimes to grief, fear, anger or guilt.
Avoidance or numbering symptoms include reminders and memories of traumatic events, which are unpleasant and usually lead to considerable distress. People suffering from the disorder avoid people, events or situations, which might remind them of the trauma. Often, they would try not to talk about, think about or associate themselves in any action that reminds them of what happened and in most cases cut themselves off from the painful feelings associated with the memories. Through this process, they tend to withdraw themselves from the family members, society, and friends and begin to perform fewer activities of social aspects. The disassociation with a friend is to help them shut out painful memories though sometimes it might result to becoming numb to the society, the surroundings and lack the ordinary experience and emotions of joy and love to the close friends.
The last category of symptoms is the arousal symptoms. People have the experience of trauma and have confrontations with their mortality. Through the beliefs and assumptions that the world is fair and safe, and that other people are right hence, no tragedy will happen to a person; people become shattered by the experience. Due to the disapproval of their beliefs and assumption, victims start perceiving danger everywhere, and after that, they become ‘tuned in’ to the threat. The affected people become overly alert, watchful and have problems in concentration. For example, victims may lack the ability to read a book for long, growing easily distracted or getting only small amount of task done in several hours. The central feature of the disorder is anger, where sufferers feel irritated by people around them, angry outbursts within themselves or the world in general.
Associated Problems of War Trauma
War trauma is not the only psychological response to injury, but people develop other significant problems that can affect their quality of life, their working capacity and the ability to associate or socialize with other people around them. Although the problem may come from other sources, or by their own, they mainly result due to the PTSD. When people try to solve the issues without engaging professionals, they produce into broader topics such as the use of alcohol or drug abuse. Most of the signs of the problems associated with war trauma have a direct relation to stress as skin complains and pains same as various aches. The common problems with the disorder include depression, anxiety, and drug or alcohol use. When not taken care of, they become very disabling to the victim and may extend to affect the family members and the co-workers (Fassl, Johanna & Wiedmer 4). In a move to cope with the unpleasant environment, concerned people, turn to alcohol and drug use. About 50% of males and 25% of females with chronic war trauma have significant problems with alcohol and drugs (Kang et al. 63). It is through this backdrop that art such as painting aids to solve the disorder through giving a different picture from the one formulated in the minds of the victims.
The concept of art as a therapy for war trauma
A significant percentage of people in America suffered from mental illness in 2015 with statics estimating around 80.3 million experienced depressions, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia or other mental illnesses (Klein 2). The numbers exclude veteran military and service members who are also prone to the psychological disorders and suffer at a higher rate than the public with more vulnerability to PTSD. The traditional treatments for PTSD reside in the field of exposure therapies. Exposure therapies require patients to revisit the traumatic experience mentally until they have no longer held mental imbalances over the victims (McNiff 5). However, the following traditional methods of treatment have become relatively ineffective at treating many of those symptoms that cause PTSD become chronic. The ineffectiveness of the conventional means pose a threat to the affected population since the symptoms of PTSD can be devastating with the disorder strongly associated with life-threatening issues like depression, high rates of suicide and substance abuse as earlier discussed.
Currently, victims of the disorder opt to use non-traditional therapies like equine therapy, dance, meditation or movement therapy. With the new methods, one of the promising and non-traditional treatments is the art therapy (Klein 3). The technique, which has had a user who suffered other types of trauma, makes the psychological community to make convincing conclusions that art therapy is the most efficient way of combating those with PTSD problems. Art therapy is also a better option for reintegrating people with PTSD through their narratives and therein reestablishing the missed social characteristics such as goal setting and empathy. The mentioned characteristics are significant for people to regain when they have intentions to integrate fully into their respective communities. From the recent encounters, there are shocking statistics for veterans’ struggles with suicide and PTSD, same as the deadly effects of the Veterans Affairs department. The accounts painfully illustrate that the nation is in dire need of more supportive means to the returning service members.
Museums, which constitute of significant artworks, have attempted to be more inclusive for all visitors. Through the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, museums have ensured that they the physically disabled people can access them hence; they have slowly begun to include programming for the people who suffer from mental or the invisible disabilities. Coincidentally, among the people the museum’s program for include those aimed at families and individuals suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders. Another group constitutes of those who have Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Although museums are working to engage with service members and veterans in the area of arts, insufficient research on the cumulative success and challenges the institution face pose a problem. However, the individual organization has played a significant role in publishing recommendations and creating booklets to help museums accommodate visitors with mental illness. There are other museums such as the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis which have gone far as to create manually for those looking to build art therapy programs.
Scholars attest that traditional treatment is valid only on reducing specific symptoms of PTSD but do not appear to be as effective in reducing symptoms such as emotional numbing and avoidance as discussed under the subsection of PTSD symptoms (Klein 5). The symptoms when not well managed may lead to the disorder becoming chronic. The only option left for effectiveness is the non-traditional means where art therapy is an option defined as a mental health profession in which clients utilize the creative process, art media, and the resulting artwork to explore their affections, reconcile emotional conflicts and manage behaviors hence increasing one’s self-esteem. Through research for various scholars such as singer and St. John, there are individual success cases of art therapy exercise with both adolescent and adult survivors of traumatic experience.
From research in 2006 by Collie, art therapists have reported remarkable results from tasks they have with combat veterans. Theorists on the other side have identified psychological and neurological mechanisms that elaborate the unique abilities of art therapy in promotion PTSD recovery (Collie et al. 158). The above arrangements relate to the recent facts that traumatic memories are dissociative and visual. Since traumatic experience defies the ability of people to describe them, art therapy allows one with the disorder to express their minds in their natural form. The modality enables the trauma to talk in its language that is the visual form. Additionally, it allows the client to have the high chaos of the injury within the borders of a concrete art product and undergo through a process of integration via relating the trauma’s story without verbalizing. Art therapy modality does not only enable the exposure and allow discovery of forgotten memories but also allows the development of the client on a sense of control over the past and the present.
In conclusion, through the complications and clinical dilemmas of the 21st century, confusion incurs in people working in an art therapy field since they lack a reminder that the activities they undertake does not only bring meaning but also make some substantial headway in the areas where clients are suffering. To cater for this confusion, professionals have sought to encourage the practitioners that the PSTD condition and patients in various clinical setting require art therapy, at least preliminary, to be an evidence-based treatment. Since the therapy recognizes the value of nonverbal and metaphorical processes inherited in art therapy, it is useful for the client of different age groups, including youths who suffer from the kinds of complex trauma and the cognitive distortions. Additionally, despite the belief that therapists face same challenges, there seems to be a positive movement in the field of art therapy with several studies concluding in its favor. It is therefore without doubt that art is the best alternative for war trauma disorder among the non-traditional means of treatment.

Works cited
Fassl, Johanna, and Caroline Wiedmer. “Rogue Memories: Reflections on Trauma, Art, and Technology.”
Kang, Han K., et al. “Post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome-like illness among Gulf War veterans: a population-based survey of 30,000 veterans.” American journal of epidemiology 157.2 (2003): 141-148.
Klein, Diana Leigh. The Art of War: Examining Museums’ Art Therapy Programs for Military Veterans. Diss. 2015.
Malchiodi, Cathy. “Expressive Therapies: History, Theory, and Practice.” Expressive Therapies (2005).
McNiff, S. “Expressive therapies: history, theory, and practice.” Expressive Therapies (2005).
Rappaport, Laury. “Focusing and art therapy: Tools for working through post-traumatic stress disorder.” The Folio: A Journal for Focusing and Experiential Therapy 17.1 (1998): 36- 40.
Slayton, Sarah C., Jeanne D’Archer, and Frances Kaplan. “Outcome studies on the efficacy of art therapy: A review of findings.” Art Therapy 27.3 (2010): 108-118.

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