Initial Inspiration for the Project
I was driving home from a writing group I facilitate in Chicago in September 2007 and I heard a radio program featuring Ed Tick, a psychotherapist, who has worked with veterans since the mid-1980s and author of War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and John Zemler, a Desert Storm veteran who carries physical and emotional wounds from his combat experience. They were talking about the causes and consequences of PTSD and how healing can happen through storytelling.
Veterans need to share their stories beyond the counseling setting or veterans-only groups to connect to the community to heal. And community members need to hear these stories to understand their role in healing the soul wound many veterans suffer because of their military experience, and realize their responsibility to help support those who’ve served, thereby helping to heal our communities.
I remember waiting at a traffic light on Lower Wacker Drive when I realized that artists can build this bridge to connect veterans to the community. Some veterans have found a way to express their journey through art. Some veterans remain silent because they have not developed their artistic ability or aren’t empowered to speak out, or they are silenced because of shame or anger or estrangement.
I’ve since grown to learn there’s a tremendous difference between expressive art and exploratory art. Expressive art can be done anywhere, even in spaces facilitated by artists. Exploratory art–that is, art that delves deep into one’s life journey including traumas–can be safely explored only in spaces facilitated by a trained expressive arts therapist such as a drama therapist, art therapist, music therapist, dance/movement therapist, or bibliotherapist (writing & poetry therapist). It’s important to understand the difference.
The Vet Art Project only works with trained expressive arts therapists. This gives participants the assurance that they can safely explore whatever arises for them in an exercise.