“Even though my friends and family do not understand what it was like in Iraq, I believe my song gives them a better understanding of what I went through while deployed.”— Veteran Participant, Songwriting Program
CreatiVets’ goal is to offer opportunities of relief and healing for the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country. Our purpose is to use various forms of art, including songwriting, visual arts, music and creative writing, to help disabled veterans cope with service-related trauma (i.e., post-traumatic stress, or PTS) by fostering self-expression in a way that allows them to transform their stories of trauma and struggle into an art form that can inspire and motivate continued healing.
Veterans suffering from PTS re-experience traumatic events years and even decades later, reliving the helplessness, fear and horror associated with their traumatic event. Such strong, negative reactions often lead to anxiety, sadness, anger, depression, guilt, shame, irritability, behavior changes and thoughts of suicide. These feelings can cause the individual to avoid environments that trigger reminders of the trauma, resulting in isolation and withdrawal from society and often leading to marital problems, difficulty in parenting, job instability, drug and alcohol abuse, violence and even suicide.
According to the Department of Defense, one in five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are diagnosed with PTS – over 300,000 veterans by the end of 2012. The social and economic costs of PTS are immense, and a study posted by the Military Times in 2015 found that the veteran suicide rate in the United States is 20 suicides per day and 14 of those don’t seek help from the VA. Veterans now account for 20% of suicides in the United States.
Creative art forms like those offered by the CreatiVets’ programs have shown tremendous effectiveness in reducing PTS symptoms, reducing the severity of depression that often accompanies PTS and improving the quality of life for veterans and their family members. Over the last two decades, researchers and clinicians have found the relief and healing provided by expressive writing, music and art is possible because these forms of expression do not necessitate exposure to the facts of the trauma, and also allow the individual to avoid the stigma of receiving mental health treatment.
In modeling the CreatiVets programming, we have structured our sessions in a way that allows the participating veterans to express their thoughts and feelings without having to verbalize or directly confront the trauma. Our artistic outlets focus on creating an environment in which the veteran feels safe, and then providing an expressive medium that does not threaten that feeling of safety.
“I have definitely been a lot happier since the writing session. It showed me a different way to express myself and got a lot of pain off my chest.”— Veteran Participant, Songwriting Program