Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network

Art Therapy Research

Key Creative Forces clinical research findings indicate:

  • Art therapy helps in recovering from traumatic experiences, reducing flashbacks and nightmares.
  • Artworks created in art therapy can act as agents for change to improve frustration tolerance and stabilize emotions.
  • Art therapy helps in coping with difficult experiences and feelings such as grief, loss, avoidance, survivor’s guilt, and shame related to wartime.
  • Art therapy may foster connectivity in the brain to help support healthier brain function.
  • Mask-making in art therapy promotes expressions of patriotism and belongingness to address feelings of disconnect with society and the country after returning home from deployment.

Additional research outcomes can be found in the Summary of Creative Forces Art Therapy Research Findings.

Creative Forces Art Therapy Research and Clinical Practice Papers

This section provides links to published research and clinical practice papers associated with Creative Forces. A catalogue of completed, current, and pending research and clinical practice papers is included in the Creative Forces Research Inventory.

  • Using distance technology to deliver the creative arts therapies to veterans: Case studies in art, dance/movement and music therapy
    Three case studies of veterans are presented who received either art therapy, dance/movement therapy or music therapy via in-home, synchronous clinical video telehealth through a VA medical center in the southeastern United States. As the use of distance technology becomes more widely implemented within healthcare, it becomes increasingly important for providers to receive adequate training and develop comfort and confidence in adapting their practices to distance delivery. Case studies are one way for creative arts therapists to conceptualize and demonstrate how their in-person practices can be adapted for distance delivery via telehealth.

  • Observational study of associations between visual imagery and measures of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress among active-duty military service members with traumatic brain injury at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center
    The study aimed to compare recurring themes in the artistic expression of military service members (SMs) with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury and psychological health (PH) conditions with measurable psychiatric diagnoses. Affective symptoms and struggles related to verbally expressing information can limit communication in individuals with symptoms of PTSD and deployment-related health conditions. Visual self-expression through art therapy is an alternative way for SMs with PTSD and other PH conditions to communicate their lived experiences. This study offers the first systematic examination of the associations between visual self-expression and standardized clinical self-report measures. (2018)

  • Art therapy interventions for active duty military service members with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury
    This paper provides an overview of short and long-term art therapy treatment approaches, used in the USA, for military service members with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. The described clinical approaches are based on the theoretical foundations and the art therapists’ experiences in providing individualized care for the unique needs of the patient population. The art therapy models and directives are designed to be more therapist-led in the short-term model, moving on to an increasingly patient-led format in the long-term treatment model. (2017)

  • Art therapy for PTSD and TBI: A senior active duty military service member’s therapeutic journey
    This case study presents the therapeutic process through art therapy in the case of a senior active duty military service member (with chronic PTSD and TBI), in the context of an integrated model of care that included medical and complementary therapies. (2016)

  • Active-duty military service members’ visual representations of PTSD and TBI in masks
    Active-duty military service members have a significant risk of sustaining physical and psychological trauma resulting in traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Within an interdisciplinary treatment approach at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, service members participated in mask making during art therapy sessions. This study presents an analysis of the mask-making experiences of service members (n = 370) with persistent symptoms from combat-and mission-related TBI, PTSD, and other concurrent mood issues. (2017)