By Lt. Jason Kilgore, Schofield Barracks Health Clinic and Ana Allen, Regional Health Command-Pacific
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii — The Second Lady of the United States, Karen Pence, visited with military and civilian leaders during a tour hosted by U.S. Health Clinic at Schofield Barracks, to talk about how a form of alternative therapy is being used to help military members and their families deal with difficulties, disabilities or diagnoses.
The tour took place outside of the clinic’s walls to where art therapists and patients have unfettered access to their tools: pens, paper, brushes, ceramics and more.
Pence, who is a champion for art therapy programs, visited the arts and crafts building on Schofield, where she spoke with patients currently enrolled in art therapy programs. “It’s very encouraging today to see at Schofield Barracks everything they’re doing to incorporate art therapy. From the family to volunteer programs, outpatient, we touched on music therapy and dance therapy, education, there were so many areas that we touched on today. This is a place that is really doing it right. This is a place that is really using art therapy to heal our Soldiers and their families”, stated Pence.
Col. Deydre Teyhen, the clinic commander, talked with Pence about how patients, from the clinic, enrolled in the intensive outpatient department, child-adolescent and family behavioral health services or mental health care can utilize the alternative care program in coordination with their providers. “For the right patient, art therapy becomes a powerful tool in the healing process,” said Teyhen, who led the discussion. “There’s incredible flexibility within the therapy program, which can be tailored to the needs, interests and capabilities of the patient and applied regardless of age. Both patients and providers express how vital the evidence based care is in the recovery process,” she said.
As an artist herself, Pence has seen firsthand the benefits to art therapy. “As an educator...I’m an art teacher and I don’t have the qualifications to do art therapy,” said Pence. “Art therapy is not arts and crafts. It’s not even someone like me with a master’s degree in art education. It’s not something I could do. So, art therapy is where you take these amazing professionals here who are therapists, who understand psychology and they understand how the mind works and they are using art as helping them with healing,” she said. “So if someone is not verbal, they are using visual art, they are using music, dance. These are ways that they are helping the Soldiers cope and we actually see how working through art therapy does heal the brain. It’s astonishing,” she said.
Dr. Lisa Gomes, a clinical psychologist and play therapist and Expressive Arts Group-Therapy facilitator, also discussed with Pence about how she is using art therapy with kids. “During our sessions...we like to keep our adolescent patients engaged by using forms of therapy that cater to their age,” said Gomes. One form of therapy that is popular among children is modeling clay. With an in-house kiln, it’s easy to have the patients create their pieces of art and immediately put it the kiln to be fired and then painted,” Gomes stated.
Tripler Army Medical Center Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, Dr. Patricia Nishimoto also shared information with Pence about Tripler’s annual Oncology on Canvas event, with April being the 11th year of engagement, which has proven to be a meaningful program for participants. During the event, oncology patients and their families use art therapy as a way to deal with the treatment of life-threatening diseases and impacts to the family.
“Art therapy is becoming more popular within the military medical community. However, this kind of care isn’t always feasible in a typical clinical room setting. It takes the community coming together to bring a wide range of therapy mediums to our patients,” said Teyhen.
For example, Resiliency Through Arts is a community partnership with Morale Welfare and Recreation and the clinic’s Intensive Outpatient Program, or IOP, where participants focus on the process of personal expression through art, in a small group setting at the arts and crafts center. “Through attending the IOP courses, I have learned a new appreciation for art. It is no longer just paint on canvas or charcoal on paper. It’s a feeling. When I created this picture,” said Staff Sgt. Bryan Roscoe, referring to his creation, “there was nothing there, nothing in my headspace. Then something amazing happened and it was clarity.”
Another Intensive Outpatient Program participant, Staff Sgt. Nate Hibbs, experienced similar success. “Being a part of this great program has given me a new perspective on life and many outlets for my anger and anxiety that I did not know I was capable of. The painting was my first ever and I truly enjoyed the peace and feeling of accomplishment that I get when I finish one,” hesaid.
Another community partnership program hosted by the Honolulu Museum of Art, entitled Warrior’s Eyes on Art, gives patients the opportunity to paint significant life events that are later shared and discussed in a group setting.
After hearing how key partnerships between the medical community and organizations on and off the installation are making art therapy possible for patients, Pence provided her perspective. “That’s a part of it that sometimes gets left out, is that you can work with an art museum, they can work with community leaders, churches, and this base is doing that. Sometimes we do things isolated and we don’t understand that someone right around the corner is doing a similar thing...is someone I could partner with. I would just say they are doing everything right here. They have got the whole pie they are working with,” she said.
Pence also emphasized the effectiveness of such programs, describing a moment when she saw art therapy make a difference during the tour. “I hear from art therapists, I heard from several today that art therapy saves lives. It can take someone who is contemplating suicide and turn them right around and flip it right over, “said the second lady. “I heard a Soldier say today, ‘I was in a hole and working with clay helped me come out of that hole. I am completely healed, I am not on any medications.’ Just to see people tell these testimonies to me, to say it actually saved my life is just a powerful, powerful tool,” said Pence.
As leaders wrapped up their visit with the second lady, Pence shared her three hopes for the future of art therapy within the military medical setting. “Number one, I want to lift up the profession of art therapy. You have people here at Schofield Barracks that actually are trained art therapists,” stated Pence. “Number two, I want people to go into the profession. There are so many people who are saying, ‘I like art. I like psychology. Maybe this is something I could go into.’ We are never going to have enough art therapists. And third. I want people to understand that this is an avenue for you. If you are someone who feels like you are in that hole, if you feel like you need help, art therapy might be the thing that would help you step out of that hole that you are in. My desire would be for more and more of our military families to know there is help out there,” said Pence.
Art therapy resources are available to TRICARE beneficiaries through a doctor referral.
For more information on art therapy programs and other initiatives, visit army.mil/rhcpacific.