Shelves of art materials and musical instruments line the walls in a basement classroom studio. Grishelda Hogan walks the class through the day’s creative prompt. “So today’s prompt is ‘Who I was, who I am, and recovery through art.’”
It’s creative art therapy. Writing poetry, painting, sculpture — even latch hooking rugs. These veterans are finding a way to heal through art expression at the Creative Expressions studio at the VA Boston’s Brockton campus.
Vietnam vet Anthony Deberardinis lays out a latch-hooked rug with two wolves on it. He says latch hooking helps him stay calm. “Without this, I know I would be back in the hospital. I’m hoping over a period of time, this will put me back to who I was and not what I am now,” he said.
Program founder Grishelda Hogan says veterans who didn’t respond well to traditional talk therapy thrived in this program.
“It felt very safe — it wasn’t stigmatizing and we learned more about them in — I think the first group was 10 to 12 sessions — than people who had been working with them for up to 12 years.” Hogan said.
The program helps those suffering from various mental health conditions, whether they are psychological wounds from overseas combat, or right here on home turf. US Army vet Hyacinth Graves completed a 10-week program for women veterans who experienced sexual trauma in the military and are struggling with PTSD and substance abuse.
She says the program was invaluable.
“Whether you're knitting, you're painting, sculpting — you've opened your creative side, you know. And it let's you know that the trauma is not what you're about,” Graves said.
And thanks to a grant they were just awarded from the VA Center for Innovation, Grishelda Hogan and her team will be able build out the program for VAs nationwide.
Social worker Abigail Hevert says the plan is to add a wellness center, which will include yoga, farming and mindfulness meditation.
“Basically finding any alternative route to wellness that doesn’t always have to include me sitting in a room with you, asking a bunch of questions,” Hevert said.
They’re shaking up the status quo — and it’s working. But Grishelda Hogan is quick to share the credit.
“For me, one of the most important parts of the program is that the veterans co-own this program with us," she said. "We don’t do anything without their guidance, without their feedback. So, they’ll guide us to where they want to go.”
And for these vets, making art is one way to get there.