Artists for the Humanities, Inc. (A4TH) is an Appleton, Wisconsin-based charitable non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to using expressive art coupled with mental health counseling as a tool for healing. A4TH works with disabled military veterans and other at-risk community populations who have experienced trauma and other challenging situations. A4TH supports people in need, offering expressive art, art therapy, supportive art programs combined with mental health counseling and guidance. A4TH is committed to directing people towards addressing their problems and dedicated to helping them improve the quality of their lives.
Expressive Art Explained
Brain imaging research with combat veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has revealed there is reduced activity in the area of the brain that governs speech, but shows increased activity in areas of the brain governing fear, anger, memory and visual processing. These findings are consistent with the two types of PTSD symptoms: the so-called “positive” symptoms (hyper-arousal, intrusive thoughts, nightmares and anger); and the “negative” symptoms (avoidance and emotional numbing).
There are many ways of treating PTSD, some are more effective than others. Expressive art has been effective in treating both the “positive” and “negative” symptoms. Other therapies seem only to address the “positive.” Emotional numbing is an inability to feel any type of emotion and it must be addressed if recovery is to occur.
In using artistic expression, sufferers of PTSD can make images that are more or less overtly demonstrative of traumatic events which impacted them, or the feelings aroused by those traumatic events. This is uniquely possible even for those who find it difficult or impossible to ‘talk’ about such things, as required in ‘talk therapy’. As drawings are described by the veteran, their corresponding feelings can be aroused and described.
The making of physical art is an externalization (a demonstration outside of self) of the sufferer’s condition and its causes. The revelations of such condition and causes may be emotionally very risky for the individual. Therefore, our group activity must be undertaken only among others who are trusted to be patient, supportive and empathetic. To foster such a ‘safe’ environment, A4TH employs counselors, artists, and mentors—many of whom who are combat veterans themselves. The support and understanding from other veterans in the group often empowers the veteran to own and to learn from what had been a terrifying personal experience.
Moreover, after years of assisting veterans, it has become evident that non-veterans, either male or female, can also benefit from participating in an ‘expressive art’ experience… as can adults who have survived sexual trauma, violence & abuse as well as adolescent refugees from third world countries in hardship. Being able to express traumatic experiences and the related emotions have helped them take charge of their lives in a way that helps them overcome shame, anxiety and anger. Revelations from these expressive art sessions have led to understanding, empathy and caring from their peers. This difficult work freed them to begin using their strength and courage to help chart a positive path forward.