Art Therapy May Provide Relief to Traumatized Baltimore War Veterans

The American Art Therapy Association is holding its 47th Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD at the Marriott Hotel on the Inner Harbor. The 4-day event starts on July 6th and ends on the 10th, and will have members converge from over 34 states to represent 5 thousand participants of the art therapy profession. This year, multiple sessions will examine the effects of art therapy on military veterans in particular. With a lengthy backlog of Baltimore veterans who are seeking to claim disability status, the city’s “sour dough” (as ex-soldiers are sometimes jokingly referred to as) can use all of the alternative help that they can get.

There are 32,741 veterans in Baltimore City, and as of last year, 9,500 of them are waiting to be approved of by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VA) for disability. Prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Baltimore VA had a manageable backlog of 5 thousand veterans pending status. In the years since, however, the numbers have steadily increased, reaching 6,200 by 2008.

In 2009, new regulations allowed Vietnam veterans to apply for an expanded list of health complications arising from the use of Agent Orange (a chemical weapon that has left many injured), and the backlog jumped to 7 thousand. Within 3 years, 16,600 veterans were awaiting a response.

The Administration was completely inundated – by 2013, veterans were left on their own for an average 429 days until they received compensation. In comparison, national average at that time was 267 days. In 2015, the Baltimore VA had failed to set up a first appointment for over 3 thousand cases.

Art therapy may be an especially valid option for veterans with pending disability statuses to explore as they await a response from the VA. Proponents of art therapy feel that combat victims with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can find a voice, find personal safety, and empower themselves more easily than they may otherwise be able to with traditional speech therapies, which can be too painful or intense for some to find effective. Instead, art therapy encourages combat veterans to use various forms of art to creatively unlock and get in touch with the source of their traumas in a way that does not feel like conventional speech therapy.

At the Baltimore conference, the world’s top music therapists plan to discuss creative workshops, therapy groups, and other solutions that are designed specifically for soldiers with combat-related traumas.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, science has yet to uncover exactly what causes PTSD, but it is believed to be a result of a traumatic event that overwhelms the mind (possible physical changes within the hippocampus – the area of the brain that controls stress response and memory – are being looked into as well) Symptoms usually develop within 3 months of the traumatic event, but sometimes they do not manifest until months or even years later.

These symptoms can come in the form of intense nightmares, reoccurring flashbacks, depersonalization, a sense of depression or feeling without hope, feeling guilty for the event (even if you weren’t responsible, a syndrome otherwise known as “survivor’s guilt”), irrational anger, a constant fear of danger, sleeping problems, being startled easily, and physical symptoms such as irregular heartbeat or a high blood pressure.

The goal of art therapy is to have traumatized veterans use guided artwork exercises to explore and actualize their feelings, recognize and resolve emotional disturbances deep within, regain a sense of self-awareness, promote self-confidence, and to reduce overall anxiety. Essentially, these are the same values that traditional therapies espouse, and may be of service to Baltimore veterans in need of immediate care.


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