Content of Service Members' Art Linked To Their Trauma Levels

Posted on June 14, 2018

When making visual art during their recovery from traumatic brain injuries (TBI), military service members who depicted psychological injuries like depression or anxiety in their artwork tended to have more acute post-traumatic stress disorder than those who used symbols of their military units. Masks created by 370 active duty service members in the first of a four-week creative arts therapy program were analyzed.

Each mask created in the program starts as a simple, blank human face that participants were encouraged to paint, cut, or add to with the objective of creating a representation of how they felt. Researchers categorized the themes they found in each, then matched every mask with data from questionnaires each participant took earlier that measured depression, anxiety, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder. More than 10 percent of the masks had symbols relating to the participant's military units, like a logo or unit patch. Those kinds of masks were tied to lower levels of post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, another category was noticed in the masks: "Fragmented representations of military symbols." These could include faded flags or pieces of camouflage and weapons, and also showed up in around 10 percent of masks. But, this time, it was tied to elevated anxiety in the mask-makers. There is a subtle difference here between identification with military branch and the use of fragmented imagery associated with the military symbols, where an integrated sense of belonging and identity are associated with resilience, while use of fragmented images are associated with some ongoing struggles.

The main takeaway is that visual representations embed patterns of strengths and struggles can help clinicians and researchers better serve this population in coping with both their injuries, and the psychological symptoms that accompany them.

Category(s):Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD

Source material from Science Daily

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