Iraq war veterans are seeking out new forms of therapy to help heal psychologically as reports of post-traumatic stress disorder and army suicides have increased dramatically.
United Press International reported that the suicide rate of soldiers in 2008 would likely surpass that of the nation’s suicide rate, while an article in the Washington Post noted that reports of post-traumatic stress disorder remain high for both wounded and uninjured soldiers.
New solutions to the problem may be emerging, however.
At the University of Southern California, psychologist Albert “Skip” Rizzo anticipated the return of thousands of soldiers with PTSD and developed a “Virtual Iraq” program that he says has been successful in treating the troops.
Rizzo told NPR that one of the best treatments for PTSD is for the person to relive their trauma using their imagination – something most soldiers want to avoid.
The virtual-reality program, with its sophisticated technology, puts vets back into “the sights, sounds, smells, feelings of the scene.”
Rizzo thinks repeated exposure to traumatic memories can desensitize people, helping them become calm enough to reprocess the experience and eventually heal.
Other veterans find healing through art.
Art therapist Bob Ault of Kansas told the Washington Post “art therapy is a non-threatening way to help people with PTSD experience their feelings.”
Although it is recognized as helpful in treating post-combat mental health problems, the Post reports that few veteran and military hospitals have robust art therapy programs or employ art therapists due to a lack of funding or a focus on other treatments.
Meanwhile, some veterans have taken their healing into their own hands.
The Combat Paper Project, started in 2007 by 26-year old veteran Drew Cameron, helps veterans reconcile their combat experiences by transforming their old uniforms into works of art.
Julia Rappaport, writing for the Vineyard Gazzette, said the uniforms are cut up, beaten into pulp and formed into sheets of paper — what Cameron calls “combat paper.”
From there, the paper can be made into books, painted, covered with photography – anything the soldiers are inspired to do that helps them reclaim their uniform as art.
Veterans of several different wars have participated.
“U.S. Army reports hike in troop suicides”
United Press International, September 10, 2008
“War in Pieces: Combat Paper Project Sees Veterans Use Uniforms to Heal”
Vineyard Gazzette Online, July 25, 2008
“‘Virtual Iraq’ Game Aims to Help Vets with PTSD”
National Public Radio, May 20, 2008
“War’s Pain, Softened With a Brush Stroke”
Washington Post, April 15, 2007