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Posts Tagged ‘ptsd’

Shakespeare continues to make headlines, working his magic on people from all walks of life — prisoners, refugee children, veterans, and more.

Recently, New York Times reporter Laura Collins-Hughes interviewed an Army veteran who found Shakespeare helped him over a trauma and who now uses the Bard to help other veterans.

Collins-Hughes writes, “Stephan Wolfert was drunk when he hopped off an Amtrak train somewhere in Montana, toting a rucksack of clothes and a cooler stocked with ice, peanut butter, bread and Miller High Life — bottles, not cans. It was 1991, he was 24, and he had recently seen his best friend fatally wounded in a military training exercise.

“His mind in need of a salve, he went to a play: ‘Richard III,’ the story of a king who was also a soldier. In Shakespeare’s words, he heard an echo of his own experience, and though he had been raised to believe that being a tough guy was the only way to be a man, something cracked open inside him.

“ ‘I was sobbing,’ Mr. Wolfert, now 50 and an actor, said recently over coffee in Chelsea. ‘I didn’t know you could have emotions out loud.’

“That road-to-Damascus moment — not coming to Jesus, but coming to Shakespeare — is part of the story that Mr. Wolfert tells in his solo show, ‘Cry Havoc!’ … Taking its title from Mark Antony’s speech over the slain Caesar in ‘Julius Caesar,’ it intercuts Mr. Wolfert’s own memories with text borrowed from Shakespeare. Decoupling those lines from their plays, Mr. Wolfert uses them to explore strength and duty, bravery and trauma, examining what it is to be in the military and what it is to carry that experience back into civilian life. …

“To Mr. Wolfert, who teaches controlled methods of accessing charged memories, the need to retool a lethal skill set for civilian life is a vital task that the military leaves people to figure out on their own.

“ ‘That’s something that we hold uniquely, I think, as veterans,’ he told [a] class. ‘We know what we’re capable of — even for the so-called peacetime or Cold War vets. The training’s still there. And I don’t care if you’re a clerk typist. You still fired a weapon at a human silhouette.’

“This, he believes, is where Shakespeare can prove an ally: as a means to understand trauma, and to start coming back from it.”

More at the NY Times, here. For more on Wolpert, check out a Shakespeare & Co. interview from last summer, here.

Photo: Folger Theatre
Actor Stephan Wolfert in 2014, performing his one-man show Cry “Havoc!” at the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC. The line is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

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Longtime concert pianist Byron Janis recently wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal about programs using music to help veterans with PTSD and other traumas to heal.

“Can music heal?” he asks. “There’s been a great deal of study by neuroscientists on the different ways music acts upon the brain, affecting our behavior, memory and the like. …

“I recently witnessed the healing effects of music first hand. As part of their ‘National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military,’ I was invited by Americans for the Arts to visit the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and participate in ‘Stages of Healing.’ This program, created by Dr. Micah Sickel, helps patients learn how to play a musical instrument and facilitates live performances whose aim, according to the hospital, is to ‘enhance the healing process’ …

I knew what I wanted to play for them—two Chopin waltzes and ‘A Hero’s Passing By’ … I then played two songs from a musical I had written about the Hunchback of Notre Dame. One was a love song and the other is titled ‘Like Any Man,’ which I felt very much suited the occasion. The Hunchback sings that although he is so disabled, he is just like any man.” Read more.

Photo of Byron Janis in 1962: Wikimedia Commons

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I’ve blogged before about programs that use theater for healing purposes and programs that use the arts specifically to help veterans.

Now Dana Ferguson writes at The Los Angeles Times about Shakespeare getting into the act and easing vets into the job world.

“Fifteen years ago former Pfc. and military police officer Jerry Whiteside had two masks tattooed on his left bicep, one smiling, one frowning. …

“Little did he know that more than a decade later, he would be symbolically reunited with the images imprinted on his skin.

“His journey began at the end of a 30-year struggle with drugs and alcohol, he said. Whiteside, a Chicago native turned Angeleno who had served in the Marine Corps from 1972 to ’76, sought help from the Veterans Administration in Los Angeles. He completed a detoxification program in 2011 and for this summer was referred to the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles to do various jobs on the set of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“Whiteside, 61, and some 30 other veterans of the Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam and the Gulf wars assisted in building the set and working odd jobs with the production, which continues through July 28.

“Shakespeare Center artistic director Ben Donenberg said employing veterans stemmed from another of the company’s outreach programs, Will Power to Youth, which hires young Angelenos to study and perform Shakespeare plays. After seeing alumni of the program serving in the armed services and later seeking jobs at home, Donenberg said, the company decided to extend its employment program opportunity to veterans, starting last year. …

“One of the things we want to do as a company is to ease the transition to civilian life, and part of that is on the civilians; there’s only so much the veterans can do,” [Chris Anthony, associate artistic director at the Shakespeare Center] said. “The rest of us have to see them in a different light. It’s something we need to work on as civilians.” More.

Photo: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times
Military veteran Jerry Whiteside passes out programs before each Shakespeare Center performance.

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At Nourishing the Planet in October, Molly Redfield interviewed Vietnam vet Howard Hinterthuer, a peer-to-peer mentor for an Organic Therapy Program that helps distressed veterans.

Redfield: “You recently gave a Ted Talk on the Organic Therapy Program (OTP). Can you tell us how the OTP started? …

“William Sims, a Vietnam veteran of the 101st Airborne Division who served from 1966 to 1967, started the Organic Therapy Program. Mr. Sims was wounded after being in Vietnam for about 9 months, and returned home to Milwaukee. He was able to deal with the stress of coming home and experiencing combat by puttering around in his mom’s garden. He remembered that.

“The Center for Veterans Issues [in Milwaukee] has about 300 or more formerly homeless veterans in transition with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and depression. These veterans come to us and we provide a wrap-around service to deal with their different problems. Mr. Sims figured that if gardening was good for him, then it would be good for other veterans as well. So he began creating raised-bed gardens to help veterans cope with their problems. …

“Gardening is important because it allows our veterans to have …  positive experiences. This is almost guaranteed by the act itself, as it creates such a peaceful place. Gardening is meditative and increases self-esteem. …

“After the TED talk I gave, I was contacted by a woman in Scotland working with veterans of the British military. Her program used horticulture for veterans’ recovery, so I think gardening is an approach to dealing with difficult issues that can definitely be replicated in other places.”

Read more.

Photograph: AP Photo/Chattanooga Times Free Press/Allison Love
Working in community gardening programs is proving to have many good effects on troubled military veterans.

 

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It’s amazing how much the arts can help people.

I have blogged about programs that use the arts to turn convicts toward something positive, to build up the self-worth of the homeless, to turn Brazilian slums into more hopeful places. The list goes on.

Recently ArtsJournal.com alerted me to a BBC story on an arts initiative that helps veterans reacclimate to civilian life.

“Many veterans are turning to charities for help. One is using the unlikely weapon of art to help fight the psychological wounds of war, while another organisation is actively encouraging artwork in the army. Outside of the [national health service] the charity Combat Stress is the biggest provider of support to armed forces veterans with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.

“Art therapy is one of the treatments it uses. Drawing, sculpting and painting are helping patients manage their symptoms with great success.

” ‘Traumatic memories take a different path from our normal memories and tend to be frozen in the body in the central nervous system,’ explains Janice Lobban, who has been a trauma therapist at Combat Stress for the past 10 years. …

“Group sessions typically begin with the therapist giving a one or two word brief to inspire creativity before veterans are given a selection of materials for painting, modelling or writing. After 45 minutes of quick work, the group then get together to talk about and describe what they’ve just created.

” ‘I try to keep a blank mind and just let images and feelings rise out from my unconscious to my hand and things start appearing,’ says Richard Kidgell … who served in the Royal Air Force from 1978 to 1985. ‘What surprises me is that while I’m drawing I don’t know what it is — they’re just images, but by the end of the session I’ve made a complete story. It’s quite enlightening as sometimes I’m not entirely sure what I’ve drawn until I speak to others about it.’ ”

Read more of Genevieve Hassan’s story on arts therapy for veterans here.

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