“What’s bad for your heart is good for your art.”
Perhaps no one understands this truth better than Veterans, many of whom endure pain of all types. It’s also true for many that creating something out of that pain promotes healing – so much so that the National Endowment of the Arts has partnered with the Department of Defense, VA and state arts agencies. Aptly named Creative Forces is bringing the restorative power of art to active duty patients and Veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorders, as well as their families and caregivers.
The one-of-a-kind collaboration is kicking off at James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital, bringing creative arts therapy to an already robust suite of therapies available to patients. James A. Haley is one of 11 medical treatment facilities, and the only VA so far, to take part in the network.
On the heels of announcing her initiative “Art Therapy: Healing with HeART” at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida, on Oct. 18, second lady Karen Pence visited James A. Haley this week to see it for herself.
The Creative Forces program is in its infancy in Tampa, with therapists less than a month on board and the official memorandum of understanding awaiting signature. But Pence was nonetheless excited to see the new clinic, meet the staff and observe one of the existing recreational therapy art classes during her visit. The Chronic Pain Program class meets Monday through Thursday as participants work on leathercraft, stained glass, woodworking and copper foil to alleviate pain without the use of opioids.
She also met with Staff Sgt. Jose Pequeno, a TBI patient treated at Haley after his injury from a grenade blast while serving in Iraq in 2006, and his mother, Nellie Bagley. They sent her home with some of the paintings he created with the help of a therapist.
“Meeting him was the highlight of my day!!” she tweeted.
Pence, a trained watercolorist and longtime advocate for art therapy, was in Tampa attending the Creative Forces Summit at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, where the where the military and arts communities came together to discuss strategies to increase access to therapeutic arts activities for military personnel and their families in local communities. As the mother of a Marine, she is attuned to the unique struggles members of the military and their families face, and how art therapy can change and even save lives.
At Tampa’s VA, Merrilee Jorn, creative arts therapist, will provide art therapy sessions to patients to achieve awareness of self and others, facilitate adjustment, reduce stress, manage anxiety, regulate emotions, and develop skill sets for use outside of the creative arts therapy session.
Natalie Quintana, a music therapist, will use music sessions to reach a therapeutic or rehabilitative goal with patients. Music therapy benefits patients by tapping into emotions, creating neurologic associations, improving social interaction and more.
For more information about Creatives Forces, visit https://www.arts.gov/partnerships/creative-forces.
About the author: Shayna Rodriguez a public affairs specialist for James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, where she manages stakeholder relations. She joined the VA in July 2016 and previously worked for the Army as a writer and public affairs specialist. Shayna holds a journalism degree from the University of Florida.