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Vol. LXVII, No. 12
June 5, 2015
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Summit Explores Creative Arts as Healing Aids in Military

Creative arts therapies are showing promise in clinical settings to help military service members and veterans in healing and health. However, more well designed, rigorous research studies are needed to inform health practices and health care policies. This was a key theme of the recent “Third National Summit: Advancing Research in the Arts for Health and Well-Being Across the Military Continuum” at Natcher Bldg.

NCCIH joined Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization, and the National Endowment for the Arts to host the summit as part of the National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military. The initiative is a collaborative effort across the military, government, private and nonprofit sectors to advance the arts and creativity for the benefit of military health.

Mask-making in art therapy is a way for service members to reflect on and express who they were before their injury, what they have become and what they will become. A Walter Reed program uses music as a clinical intervention, means of self-expression and way to process traumatic experiences and manage symptoms.

Mask-making in art therapy is a way for service members to reflect on and express who they were before their injury, what they have become and what they will become.

Photos: National Intrepid Center of Excellence

A Walter Reed program uses music as a clinical intervention, means of self-expression and way to process traumatic experiences and manage symptoms.

Researchers, health care providers, creative arts therapists, practicing artists and other attendees learned about cutting-edge research projects and clinical programs, made recommendations for future research and explored potential partnerships.

Dr. Emmeline Edwards, director of the NCCIH Division of Extramural Research, chaired the summit’s scientific planning and one of its symposia. She said, “Non-drug complementary and integrative approaches, including through the arts, are desperately needed to help manage the very complex problems of pain and other symptoms in our service members and veterans and to address problems related to the chronic use of opioids.

“Chronic pain in military service members and veterans is often accompanied by other conditions, including traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, depression and sleep issues. This situation creates very tough challenges,” she added. “At the summit, it was exciting to hear about programs that are already providing much-needed relief to our military populations and their families and to see momentum build and promising directions identified for building the evidence base.”

One speaker, Dr. Donald McGeary, is an NCCIH grantee and assistant professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center. His team is evaluating the effectiveness of an integrative pain-management program for combat-injured veterans with multiple traumatic injuries. The hope is to improve participants’ physical function, reduce disability and decrease chronic opioid use. His program, which is being compared to usual care, includes relaxation, biofeedback, guided exercise, imagery, mindfulness meditation and cognitive-behavioral therapies.

McGeary said, “Art and music have been a part of military life for thousands of years. Now research is exploring how they can be integrated into military research on pain, including complex pain accompanied by other trauma conditions. I believe that a complex phenomenon requires a complex intervention—as simple interventions can fail or create additional problems—and that we should emphasize rehabilitation over pain relief for these patients.”


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