‘Master My Demons’: Art Therapy Montage Paintings by Active-Duty Military Service Members with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Traumatic Stress

Article Summary by Melissa S. Walker, Marygrace Berberian and Girija Kaimal

As part of a four-week intensive outpatient program for traumatic brain injury and associated psychological health conditions to include post-traumatic stress, military service members (SMs) engage in group and individual art therapy treatment sessions led by credentialed art therapists. In the fourth week, SMs are invited to create “montage paintings,” canvases layered with mixed media to represent a theme of the SMs’ choosing. The authors of ‘Master My Demons’ coded 240 montage paintings and their associated clinical notes for theme using qualitative thematic analysis methods. Findings suggested that “the group art therapy experiences fostered improvement in interpersonal relatedness, hopefulness and gratification for the service members in treatment, aiding in externalisation, progressive exposure and construction of a trauma narrative imperative for recovery.” When correlated with themes found in a similar study of masks made in the first week of care, the team observed increased self-awareness and socialisation, increased patriotism, increased pleasure from art making, greater awareness of psychological distress and decreased reporting of depression and anxiety  (Berberian, Walker & Kaimal, 2018).

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