Art Works Blog

Healing Through the Arts

If you asked me early in my medical career how the arts played a role in healing, I might have checked to see if you had a fever.

How times have changed. Over the past 30 years, I have watched our profession evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of our wounded warriors. Some of those who have fought in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan return with challenging health issues such as Traumatic Brain Injury and Psychological Health issues. These health conditions are complex, and not readily treated by traditional medical interventions.

As the military adapts, so does the medical community that serves it. We are now beginning to evaluate the use of holistic care and alternative therapies to treat our troops. This can be seen at the new National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE). The NICoE opened in June 2010, and is the first state-of-the-art center for wounded warriors to provide evaluation, treatment planning, and research for troops with Traumatic Brain Injury and Psychological Health conditions. Our interdisciplinary team harnesses the latest advances in science, therapy, education, and research, while providing compassionate family centered care for service members and their loved ones through the recovery process.

Through our healing arts program, we have begun to measure the impacts that the arts have on troops facing these unique health conditions.

Today, we announce a partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA has received critical acclaim for its Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, which has encouraged thousands of troops and their families to write about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the NEA will bring its proven literary arts program to patients and their families at the NICoE. Starting in January 2012 and throughout next year, writers and therapy professionals will offer troops writing workshops in two settings. First, there will be writing workshops in a clinical setting at the NICoE. Second, there will be more informal writing and storytelling series for service members and their families at the Fisher House, the residence for families and patients at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

In keeping with the NICoE’s core mission area of research, the NEA and the NICoE will work together to design and conduct assessments to evaluate how Operation Homecoming writing workshops affect participating troops, and establish authentic measurements of their efficacy. This research will help inform the potential replication of the program at other rehabilitation centers around the country.

We hosted the first National Healing Arts Summit here at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in October and the central question of the day was, "How are the arts relevant to what we are doing?" Throughout the day, dozens of military officials, medical and therapy professionals, and wounded warriors answered that question in a myriad of ways, but with one overriding theme: Creative solutions and innovative thinking are the only way forward. The arts can make a difference in the quality of life for troops and their families. Through our research and evaluation, we will strive to identify and measure the “intangible” benefits that the arts may bring to our troops.

We are proud to bring NEA’s Operation Homecoming writing workshops to our troops and their families as part of the NICoE’s comprehensive and holistic clinical care.

The NEA's Operation Homecoming debuted in 2004. Visit the NEA website to learn more about the program's history. Visit our News Room to read the official press release on Operation Homecoming at NICoE.

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