By: Abha Cole

Mention the American Red Cross, and the first thing that comes to mind is that there’s a disaster of some kind such as a tornado, hurricane, a house fire, etc..  What would you say or think if you were told that the American Red Cross assists active duty military service members of the US Army at Fort Hood, TX who’re suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or have a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?  This is true as the American Red Cross works closely with the Intrepid Spirit Center and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Clinic to help soldiers heal from their “invisible wounds.”

The Intrepid Spirit Center, a 25,000 square foot facility, provides a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and holistic approach to treating Soldiers with Traumatic Brain Injury, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other conditions.  The center brings together doctors, nurse case managers, as well as therapists, social workers and psychologists who focus on Soldier recovery and ultimately, a return to duty.   

At any time on Fort Hood, 200 to 300 Soldiers receive treatment for TBIs at the Intrepid Spirit Center.  TBI’s disrupt brain functions following a blow to the head – a concussion is the most common form of mild TBI. Symptoms range from headaches, dizziness and vomiting to depression, mood swings and balance problems. Often, a brain injury diagnosis can also be associated with physical and behavioral health problems that require multi-therapy treatment.

It’s through one of the therapies, art therapy, that many of the soldiers have been able to express what they’re feeling (anger, sadness, loneliness, etc.) or what they’ve gone through while on deployment. 

The American Red Cross provided various art supplies such as sketch books, crayons, colored markers, colored Sharpies, glue, scissors, paint, paint brushes, blank canvasses, modeling clay, special scrunchy paper, feathers and other decorative items, blank masks and a host of other supplies for the art therapy program.

Having soldiers paint, color, decorate the blank masks allowed feelings to be released onto an object to express what they were not able to verbalize.  The range of emotions expressed when looking at the masks vary from anger and sadness to frustration and loneliness.  Seeing finished masks on display at the Intrepid Spirit Center shows what a difference art therapy is making for the soldiers who are enrolled in the program.

Clinical research indicates that for patients who’ve been involved in art therapy, it can:

  • Reduce symptoms associated with PTSD including flashbacks, nightmares, and interrupted sleep.
  • Foster the ability to experience hope, gratification, and increased confidence.
  • Reduce isolation and stigma through meaningful interaction with others and improved communication with family, peers, and providers.

The need for art therapy is very much needed as there are more than 500,000 men and women of the US armed forces that are living with TBI or PTSD.  Having TBI or PTSD contributes to depression and to the estimated 20 suicides committed by veterans each day. Only half of the service members needing treatment pursue care.

The American Red Cross recognizes the need to assist the Intrepid Spirit Center with the art therapy program to help the soldiers that need the help so that one day soon they’ll be able to return to duty.