Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network

Why the Healing Arts

Graphic of a man in camoflage fatigues at an easel painting

Need for Military Arts Program

Healing arts use creativity through music, visual arts, dance, drama, creative writing, craft-making and other creative pursuits in both clinical and non-clinical settings to promote health and well-being and improve quality of life.

Participation in creative arts therapy or in community arts programs can help reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and increase positive emotions. In clinical and community settings, credentialed professionals, artists-in-residence, and other artists can help people improve their emotional, psychological, and physical well-being.

Creative arts therapies increases patient engagement across all health interventions and is seen as critical by all members of the interdisciplinary care team because it helps the patient and their providers gain a clearer understanding of the conditions they are struggling to address. It literally makes these “invisible wounds” more visible. Patients also acknowledge improvement in sleep, memory, pain cognitive function, and the ability to confront emotional challenges. Family members who engage in creative arts therapies express similar benefits as well.

Patient feedback

In a survey at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) Walter Reed Bethesda

  • 85% of military patients said art therapy was helpful to their healing
  • military patients consistently rated art therapy among the top four treatments out of more than 40 health interventions offered

Program Evaluation of the music therapy program at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) Walter Reed Bethesda showed

  • 79% of military patients who attended one music therapy group requested follow-up music therapy sessions (group/family/spousal)
  • Military patients endorsed that participation in music therapy sessions assisted with learning how to use instrument-playing as a positive alternative coping skill, understanding the ability of active music-making as a means to connect with others 

Creative arts therapies are non-invasive and cost-effective medical treatments.

More than five million military families provide care for a family member with TBI or PTSD.

Evidence-based arts treatments for PTSD and depression could save more than $1,000 in healthcare costs per veteran, a total of $1.7 billion.

Only half of veterans who need PTSD treatment seek it. Community-based arts programs can serve as a de-stigmatized access point for those who wish to learn about creative arts therapy in the clinical setting.

History of the Program

The NEA's partnership with the Department of Defense reaches back to 2004 when Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience was created by the NEA to help U.S. troops and their families write about their wartime experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and stateside.

From 2004-2006, Operation Homecoming provided more than 60 writing workshops to troops and their families at more than 30 military installations in the U.S. and overseas, from Camp Pendleton in California to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Workshop leaders included distinguished authors, including Tom Clancy, and Bobbie Ann Mason. A later phase brought writing workshops to veterans and active duty troops at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers, military hospitals, and affiliated centers in communities around the country. More than 6,000 people participated in Operation Homecoming workshops and related activities.

In 2011, the NEA Military Healing Arts Partnership was launched when the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) Walter Reed Bethesda invited the NEA to help build out its creative arts therapy program. In 2012, the Operation Homecoming writing workshops became part of the formal medical protocol at NICoE. After successfully piloting the NEA Military Healing Arts Partnership there, the NICoE Intrepid Spirit-1 at Fort Belvoir in Virginia invited the NEA to replicate the program in their new integrative care facility. The NICoE’s groundbreaking, interdisciplinary approach to working with patients and their families became the model for the expanded healing arts partnership, which ranges from physical and neurological exams, to family evaluation, nutrition, alternative medicine, and art therapy. The partnership involved support for multiple creative arts therapies (therapeutic writing, art therapy, and music therapy) at Walter Reed and Fort Belvoir.

In 2016, the NEA expanded the NEA Military Healing Arts Partnership and launched Creative Forces.