Recently more and more research has shown the positive effects that art can have on military members in and outside of their service. As the fastest growing military population, female vets face particular obstacles.
Here are 5 specific ways that female veterans can benefit from creative therapies.
Helps Process Traumatic Experiences in a Safe Space
According to Women Veterans : The Long Journey Home [PDF] – DAV report by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), “one in five women veterans report having experienced military sexual trauma.” Expressive/creative arts can give female veterans access to traumatic memories and provide a safe way to explore their emotions about them. Research has found art therapy to be a useful tool in unlocking the subconscious and giving a “voice” to things that may feel unspeakable by not having to use words at all. In this way, creative arts can help with trauma-recovery and healing in profound ways.
Offers a Renewed Sense of Purpose
The transition from military to veteran can be difficult. Many veterans struggle with a sense of purpose once their service is over. Female veterans, in particular, struggle with seeing themselves as veterans and often times they are mistaken for being dependents of male service members. Countless female veterans face identity crises when they transition to the civilian world. Art therapy and creative arts can give female veterans a way to strengthen their sense of self worth, and may give them new skills, interests and a sense of renewed purpose.
Allows for Connection
Award winning journalist, Sebastian Junger highlighted the unique bond that occurs between military service members faced with adversity. When veterans exit into the civilian world, finding close connections can feel overwhelming and stressful. For female veterans, social isolation is a prevalent coping mechanism while trying to find their social place in the world. Art therapy can help female veterans to combat loneliness by giving them an outlet for tolerating their distress while they explore relationships, expectations and connections. Furthermore, the therapeutic relationship can help to give her the support that she needs during that time.
Bridges the Gap Between Mind and Body
Female veterans face unique health issues and needs. Women are less likely to trust in the Veterans Affairs Health System (VA) than their male counterparts. According to Helen Thorpe of the New York Times, “Women have health care needs that are distinct from men; cardiovascular disease, for example, plays out differently in the female body” and the VA is often not adequately equipped or trained on issues facing female veterans. Art therapy interventions may help women vets to bridge the gap between the mind and body, working to help rehabilitate and get relief from physiological symptoms. It has been used as a tool in improving many aspects of chronic pain and to decrease perceptions of pain.
Helps Lower Stress and Anxiety Levels
Lastly, female veterans may suffer from anxiety from many of the previously mentioned issues. Using creative forms of expression can help to lower stress and anxiety levels. By using creativity to regulate emotions, female veterans can experience what positive psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi called, “flow”. Flow is a state of complete immersion in an activity. While in flow, they can build a mindfulness-based awareness and cultivate the ability to be present with their emotions. Creative arts as a therapeutic measure can increase focus, self-efficacy and resiliency skills.
As Cathy Malchiodi, international expert on art therapy and the founder of the Trauma-Informed Practices and Expressive Arts Therapy Institute, stated, “creativity as a form of mindfulness reminds me that the present moment contains the possibility for all things, including the liberation from the world of suffering.” Through creative expression and art therapy, female veterans no longer have to dread their transition from the military world into the civilian world. They can feel safe in knowing they still have the tools to overcome and adapt.