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Combatting PTSD (Signal Hill Tribune)
May 4, 2016
Article taken from Signal Hill Tribune
Post-war therapy programs have often been used to combat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An arts program known as Operation Art, formed by the Long Beach VA Hospital and Awaken Arts, seeks to facilitate psychological therapy through creative-art expression.
For some veterans, creating art has already contributed to the healing process. Jeremy Ramirez, a former medic on the battlefield, has been able to address some of his own traumatic experiences.
“This process has helped me heal and open up to others about sensitive memories,” he said. “Moreover, I have seen the same positive impact experienced by others. During one session, I recall listening to a veteran describe a drawing of himself clothed as a superhero with a sword plunged into his back. With tears running down each side of his face, and audible cracks heard in his voice, he described his struggle as a husband and father working tirelessly to maintain his relationship with his wife and children as the pain from his memories were relentlessly trying to destroy him.”
Local veterans are using creative-art prompts to help express the negative feelings that often consume them as a result of traumatic stress. The four-session Operation Arts program allows participants to create alongside fellow veterans in an attempt to help ease the transition back to everyday life. Participants involve themselves in drawing, painting, storytelling, drumming and other creative works as a way to improve and stabilize their psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety and hostility.
“Creative-art expression is designed to help participants bridge their memories of past traumatic events with current daily living,” said Ramirez, who is also a co-founder of Operation Art. “We facilitate a creative-art expression support group workshop to help veterans diagnosed with PTSD engage in a creative modality to help improve participants’ psychological functioning.”
Ramirez shared what one veteran wrote in a post-workshop letter. It read: “I found the time spent here very rewarding in being able to look inside of myself in a positive light. This direction I feel is worth more than taking anti-depression meds. The group leaders set a good tone of safety and the joy of doing art, and that everyone can create something of value from their dark side.”
The program is free and open to those who are enrolled in care through the Veterans Healthcare System. It is also available to male and female veterans from all backgrounds and service who have served in any military campaign.
Ramirez helped co-found the Operation Art program with Christine Apa, the founder and CEO of Awaken Arts. Officials at the Veterans Transition Center (VTC) at the Long Beach VA had expressed interest in offering an arts program for veterans.
Both Apa and Ramirez helped spring the idea into action with support from everyone involved.
Operation Art is currently undergoing a program evaluation in order to improve the experience for participants, according to Ramirez. The research during the evaluation will help process the effect the participatory art activities have on the psyche of the veterans.
As a result, the study will help identify barriers in participating and conducting creative-art activities in a veterans support group setting.
“Having the opportunity to work alongside other veterans further facilitates a safe and non-judgmental space for veterans to share their life experience,” Ramirez said. “Identification of benefits and barriers in participating and conducting this creative-art expression workshop will result in recommendations to help improve health-services delivery and standard of care for our veteran population nationwide.”
Ramirez hopes that creativity will lead to psychological healing for veterans in the long run.
“We strongly believe participation in Operation Art will improve each veteran’s ability to cope with past traumatic events,” he said. “Through our work, we hope to highlight methods to improve mental-health outcomes for our veterans, to whom we owe such an immense debt of gratitude.”
Operation Art will hold sessions on May 6, 13, 20 and 27. To participate, call Chris Pagal at (562) 826- 5568. For more information, visit awakenarts.org .