Focusing on Art as Medicine for the Military

military_header3_smallerLast month, a group of experts and thought-leaders within the fields of military, medicine and the arts, gathered at the third annual National Summit on Arts and Military Health to examine the critical research needs impacting military service members, veterans and their families in promoting health, healing and well-being from pre-deployment, deployment to reintegration into civilian life.

As in years past, sessions addressed the health and well-being of service members and their families by exploring the integration of science, art, medicine and creative expression to deal with issues stemming from trauma and physical injury.

The Summit also facilitates an ongoing dialogue with other government agencies and non-profits, including the Foundation for Art & Healing.

The event was sponsored by Americans for the Arts and hosted by National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health,and the National Institutes of Health, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH, president and founder of the Foundation for Art & Healing with Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts

Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH, President and Founder of the Foundation for Art & Healing with Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts

As part of the agenda, Dr. Jeremy Nobel, President and Founder of the Foundation for Art & Healing, facilitated the discussion on arts-based research and innovative tools across military and veteran settings.

The session confirmed the importance of a range of tools and approaches to assist those burdened with stress-related military injury, including digital health applications that can be delivered on-line or through a mobile device, to provide effective support to a range of users.

“The use of digital solutions in other health conditions is well underway and there is no reason to hold back on using these important breakthroughs to aid the military community,” said Nobel, who evaluates the use of technology innovations in his Harvard Medical School work at the Center for Primary Care.

“The Foundation for Art and Healing is delighted to have been able to participate in this landmark event. It’s timely to go pedal to the metal for accelerating the pace at which effective arts-based programs are available to address physical health, mental health and social health challenges, while doubling-down on the research that underpins it all,” said Nobel.

Over the last two decades, researchers and clinicians have explored the effectiveness of a series of alternative or supplemental therapies for individuals with PTSD that do not necessitate exposure to the facts of the trauma, while also minimizing any stigma associated with mental health treatment. Such therapeutic approaches include expressive writing and expressive group therapy, a range of creative therapies (e.g., art, music, body-oriented), and mindfulness training.  Find out more about these approaches by downloading our white paper, Creative, Artistic, and Expressive Therapies for PTSD.

“This Summit represents one more milestone in the journey to bring the benefits of creative arts forward to assist active duty military veterans and families with a range of challenges within military service,” said Robert Lynch, President and CEO of Americans for the Arts.

“Today, the arts and military connection is bigger and stronger than ever—but still not obvious. From art and craft instruction in recreation facilities on bases throughout the world, to the extensive military music program, to battle photography and visual art battlefront illustration, to the use of writing and theater programs for service men and women returning from war, to art and music therapy and arts healing programs for the wounded— the arts today are there as a partner, as a support system, and as a friend to the military, just as they have been since the beginning of our great nation,” noted Lynch in the white paper Arts, Health and Well-Being across the Military Continuum.

Also on the agenda was a discussion exploring research innovations on integrative care in military health setting and strengthening the health and well-being of service men and women and their families through the arts.

Captain Moira McGuire, USPHS, DHA, Assistant Chief, Integrative Health & Wellness, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

Captain Moira McGuire, USPHS, DHA, Assistant Chief, Integrative Health & Wellness, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center

“We are pleased that Walter Reed National Military Medical Center can be in the forefront of exploring and prioritizing creative arts expression as a path toward health and well-being for service members and their families,” said Captain Moira McGuire, USPHS, DHA, Assistant Chief, Integrative Health & Wellness, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“The Summit represents a major step forward, furthering exploration with the military and other stakeholders involved. “

As the United States wraps up its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the significant public health issues related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) will travel home with many of the returning troops. While veterans of past wars also suffered from the symptoms of what we now know as PTSD – nightmares, anxiety, depression, flashbacks, hyper-vigilance, and hyper-arousal – the statistics from Iraq and Afghanistan are startling:

  • 2.2 million served in Iraq or Afghanistan
  • 1 in 5 returning veterans suffer from PTSD, and lacking treatment, the number could be as high as 1 in 3 (2008 RAND study)
  • Or 440,000 to 770,000 service people with PTSD
  • 3,400 suicides by active duty service personnel (1 suicide every 36 hours)
  • 1/3 of military spouses report depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders
  • High rates of divorce, homelessness, substance abuse, family issues, and un/underemployment

As we face the growing public health challenge of PTSD/TBI, exploring new paths to progress is essential. Creative expression-based programs are one such path.

The 2015 Summit program examined the current evidence base for the efficacy of the arts and creative arts therapies in helping service members and veterans recover from illness and injury, with emphasis on topics of interest to military and veterans’ health, including resilience, physical and psychological healing, family strengthening and reintegration, and articulated in the NIAHM Blueprint for Action, The Arts: A Promising Solution to Meeting the Challenges of Today’s Military.

Presenters addressed innovative arts and health research strategies, such as participatory research models, and the development of new, computer-based tools to enable greater access for veterans, and their families, for the healing of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the related issues surrounding these injuries. More information about the event here.

“The opportunity for the Foundation for Art & Healing to be a continuing voice in the discussion for integrating the arts and creative expression as a part of the standard of care for returning military within the clinical setting, as well as the community setting, is an exciting and challenging opportunity,” noted Dr. Nobel.

A report and recommendations based on the Summit is expected to follow in late spring.

Information online regarding the Americans for the Arts and the “National Initiative for Arts & Health in the Military” can be found here.

By Amy Powers