Art can heal PTSD’s invisible wounds | Melissa Walker

Art can heal PTSD’s invisible wounds | Melissa Walker


You are a high-ranking
military service member deployed to Afghanistan. You are responsible for the lives of hundreds of men and women, and your base is under attack. Incoming mortar rounds
are exploding all around you. Struggling to see
through the dust and the smoke, you do your best to assist the wounded and then crawl to a nearby bunker. Conscious but dazed by the blasts, you lay on your side and attempt
to process what has just happened. As you regain your vision, you see a bloody face staring back at you. The image is terrifying, but you quickly come to understand it’s not real. This vision continues to visit you
multiple times a day and in your sleep. You choose not to tell anyone
for fear of losing your job or being seen as weak. You give the vision a name, Bloody Face in Bunker, and call it BFIB for short. You keep BFIB locked away in your mind, secretly haunting you, for the next seven years. Now close your eyes. Can you see BFIB? If you can, you’re beginning
to see the face of the invisible wounds of war, commonly known
as post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. While I can’t say I have
post-traumatic stress disorder, I’ve never been a stranger to it. When I was a little girl, I would visit
my grandparents every summer. It was my grandfather who introduced me to the effects
of combat on the psyche. While my grandfather was serving
as a Marine in the Korean War, a bullet pierced his neck
and rendered him unable to cry out. He watched as a corpsman passed him over, declaring him a goner, and then leaving him to die. Years later, after his
physical wounds had healed and he’d returned home, he rarely spoke of his
experiences in waking life. But at night I would hear him
shouting obscenities from his room down the hall. And during the day I would announce myself
as I entered the room, careful not to startle or agitate him. He lived out the remainder of his days isolated and tight-lipped, never finding a way to express himself, and I didn’t yet
have the tools to guide him. I wouldn’t have a name
for my grandfather’s condition until I was in my 20s. Seeking a graduate degree in art therapy, I naturally gravitated
towards the study of trauma. And while sitting in class learning
about post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD for short, my mission to help service members
who suffered like my grandfather began to take form. We’ve had various names
for post-traumatic stress throughout the history of war: homesickness, soldier’s heart, shell shock, thousand-yard stare, for instance. And while I was pursuing my degree,
a new war was raging, and thanks to modern body armor
and military vehicles, service members were surviving
blast injuries they wouldn’t have before. But the invisible wounds
were reaching new levels, and this pushed military doctors
and researchers to try and truly understand the effects
that traumatic brain injury, or TBI, and PTSD have on the brain. Due to advances
in technology and neuroimaging, we now know there’s
an actual shutdown in the Broca’s, or the speech-language area of the brain,
after an individual experiences trauma. This physiological change, or speechless terror as it’s often called, coupled with mental health stigma, the fear of being judged or misunderstood, possibly even removed
from their current duties, has led to the invisible struggles
of our servicemen and women. Generation after generation of veterans have chosen not to talk
about their experiences, and suffer in solitude. I had my work cut out for me
when I got my first job as an art therapist at the nation’s
largest military medical center, Walter Reed. After working for a few years
on a locked-in patient psychiatric unit, I eventually transferred to the National
Intrepid Center of Excellence, NICoE, which leads TBI care
for active duty service members. Now, I believed in art therapy, but I was going to have
to convince service members, big, tough, strong, manly military men, and some women too, to give art-making as
a psychotherapeutic intervention a try. The results have been
nothing short of spectacular. Vivid, symbolic artwork is being created
by our servicemen and women, and every work of art tells a story. We’ve observed that the process
of art therapy bypasses the speech-language issue with the brain. Art-making accesses the same sensory
areas of the brain that encode trauma. Service members can use the art-making
to work through their experiences in a nonthreatening way. They can then apply words
to their physical creations, reintegrating the left
and the right hemispheres of the brain. Now, we’ve seen this can work
with all forms of art — drawing, painting, collage — but what seems to have the most impact is mask-making. Finally, these invisible wounds
don’t just have a name, they have a face. And when service members
create these masks, it allows them to come to grips,
literally, with their trauma. And it’s amazing
how often that enables them to break through the trauma
and start to heal. Remember BFIB? That was a real experience
for one of my patients, and when he created his mask, he was able to let go
of that haunting image. Initially, it was a daunting process
for the service member, but eventually he began
to think of BFIB as the mask, not his internal wound, and he would go to leave each session, he would hand me the mask,
and say, “Melissa, take care of him.” Eventually, we placed BFIB in a box
to further contain him, and when the service member
went to leave the NICoE, he chose to leave BFIB behind. A year later, he had only seen BFIB twice, and both times BFIB was smiling and the service member
didn’t feel anxious. Now, whenever that service member
is haunted by some traumatic memory, he continues to paint. Every time he paints
these disturbing images, he sees them less or not at all. Philosophers have told us
for thousands of years that the power to create is very closely linked
to the power to destroy. Now science is showing us
that the part of the brain that registers a traumatic wound can be the part of the brain
where healing happens too. And art therapy is showing us
how to make that connection. We asked one of our service members to describe how mask-making
impacted his treatment, and this is what he had to say. (Video) Service Member:
You sort of just zone out into the mask. You zone out into the drawing, and for me, it just released the block, so I was able to do it. And then when I looked at it
after two days, I was like, “Holy crap, here’s the picture,
here’s the key, here’s the puzzle,” and then from there it just soared. I mean, from there
my treatment just when out of sight, because they were like,
Kurt, explain this, explain this. And for the first time in 23 years, I could actually talk about stuff
openly to, like, anybody. I could talk to you about it
right now if I wanted to, because it unlocked it. It’s just amazing. And it allowed me to put 23 years of PTSD and TBI stuff together in one place that has never happened before. Sorry. Melissa Walker: Over the past five years, we’ve had over 1,000 masks made. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? Thank you. (Applause) I wish I could have shared
this process with my grandfather, but I know that he would be thrilled that we are finding ways to help today’s and tomorrow’s
service members heal, and finding the resources within them that they can call upon to heal themselves. Thank you. (Applause)

71 thoughts on “Art can heal PTSD’s invisible wounds | Melissa Walker

  1. Is there actual clinical trials that show that art therapy is effective for symptoms associated with PTSD in comparison to other interventions?

  2. I subscribed to TED about 3 years ago because of its quality content.

    The past year however it seems to have been hijacked by deranged leftist extremists.

    This resulted in me cancelling my subscription.

    Bye TED.

  3. Soldiers that see bad things happening to other people get treatment for ptsd, while children who have bad things happen TO them are ignored.

  4. this is fucking stupid, i suffer from ptsd myself from when i was attacked a few years back, and im telling you that if this women was anywhere near me i would probably tell he she is spouting nonsense, i mean for some people this is great but for most people i have come into contact with would say the same as me, stop making people add to your collection of masks and start putting me in contact with someone who has real medical and therapeutic training… not an art teacher with a want to fill a hole left by her own experiences with her grandpa

  5. I appreciate what this woman is trying to do, but it seems fairly pseudo-sciency, like chiropractors and acupuncture.

  6. Amazing!! My heart is filled with gratefulness for each and every mask made – & for each one yet to be made. I've always known that art is healing, but it was fascinating to hear the fellow speak about how each feature unlocked another key to healing. It's just so amazing!

  7. What about all those who claim to have PTSD because someone on the Internet hurt their feelings? Will art work for their TBI as well?

  8. To create art is to share a piece of yourself with the world. When you paint, draw, write or craft you are giving your thoughts a place to live outside of your head. You are giving them a home.

  9. Share your pain or it destroys you. This is hardly anything new. Art is just a medium for expression. The difference between now and the past is a society more accepting of everyone's faults, failures, and hurt feelings. It's ok to show weakness, temporarily. Well, ok so it may still get you fired or ostracized or whatnot, but you have SJWs on the doorstep waiting to defend you. No, society still isn't prefect when it comes to accomodating the human condition… but at least we have this art. Yay?

  10. I don't believe this. Art is often just a sort of addiction for these people, it won't solve their problems. Actually, it will further give a sense of being a victim for the mentally ill.

  11. While this is one way PTSD occurs, there are other situations when it occurs and I feel those ways should be explored. Maybe Mrs Walker's next talk can be more broad, for example, with caregivers of cancer patients and other terminal illnesses. Peace and love.

  12. thank you shop much for this video! my partner and the beautiful father of my 3 wonderful children has been struggling with PTSD from time spent in east timor and Afghanistan. .. … and I can't thank you enough for helping me try to understand how I can help the man I love. have a brilliant day , peace✌💞😆

  13. Guess it would depend on what type of PTSD one has, how serious it is (leading toward or including dissociation) and what it was caused by. I really like the red and black mask though. I just wish these people wouldnt create one size only therapies.

  14. PTSD also comes from being part of a dysfunctional family, and from any traumatic incident. I've experienced both. The artistic remedy – not much.

  15. her mimics tells everything . . . I am living in dramatic stress ewery day . there is no so called POST in this on going stupidity. WAR AND ART ?! Stress will go on till you REPENT FROM YOUR SINS !

  16. CRIPES, everybody knows Donald is an actor who has many people fooled. he was just for everything Hillary's for. he even had me fooled until I started fact checking & researching him (Trump).

  17. what about the civilians of Afghanistan who have to deal with the US soldiers oppressing and killin them in cold blood, I believe they go through a lot more than PTSD.

  18. I like this talk, but it gets to me that people associate PTSD with war. I have PTSD from severe repeated childhood trauma and it is just as horrible. Many people are in the same situation as I am. while it's very important to acknowledge what these soldiers are experiencing, it would be nice to be acknowledged more often as well. PTSD can happen from any trauma to anyone, and it's something I'll live with in some form for the rest of my life.

  19. There's real healing that happens through expression of deep inner feelings, and creating things. What amazes me much more though, is that she thinks this is all physical brain defects. o_O

  20. PTSD is not just for military people. it bothers me they only speak out about them when they talk about PTSD

  21. Going to have to ask my therapist about this mask making deal. I have PTSD from a medical surgery gone wrong.. Hopefully this can help me work through the trauma I've been dealing with for over a decade now. Thanks for sharing! 😊

  22. that sounds like a wonderful tool to help sufferers of PTSD or, how I think of it given my ongoing harassment (I spoke in opposition to the Iraq War and have been placed on a harassment list and am routinely assaulted and harassed by my government), ongoing traumatic stress disorder

  23. It is discouraging to read about PTSD in the video description as associated only with those who have experienced war. I always feel like a schmuck telling people I have PTSD, because they inevitably ask, "Were you in the military?" When I say I was not, it feels as if I have PTSD-Light. It doesn't seem light to me.

  24. So art can beat PTSD? Thank you for your information! 🙂 I don't have PTSD, thankfully, but, I'm going to share this on my Facebook so that I can do my part of helping others! 🙂

  25. PTSD is the karmic consequence for part taking in immoral actions. Violence is never right, not even in war. War is just a lie to make people commit gruesome crimes against morality. So order followers get what they deserve. Nobody should trade his or her conscience for a paycheck.

  26. I just want to say thank you! I actually made a mask for some reason 4 years ago and didn't know why. I now have a better understanding.

  27. It seems to me that this is the same healing process of EMDR. It helps use both brain hemispheres together when recalling an event and so then the brain can finally assimilate the memory and file it away instead of spinning it around with no where to go.

  28. Excellent presentation. Your granddad would be very proud of you. I’m gonna start drawing my issues right now. I love writing but it hurts to use words to think bout it all

  29. I don't know what physical audience she was speaking to at the time of this video and if it was veterans. To me, she was speaking to PTSD victims everywhere. All victims of trauma. Whether a soldier at war or an innocent little girl being sexually abused. I have buddies that have served and suffer from PTSD and I have a daughter that has been severally sexually abused and suffers from PTSD. A great presentation about the focus of how creative arts therapy can help trauma victims! I know it helps my daughter.

    Thank you Melissa for sharing!

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