12/20/2011 03:20 pm ET

Studies Examine Art Therapy's Effect On Traumatized Soldiers

Making art has been a longtime coping mechanism for pain, depression and heartbreak, but now art therapy may finally gain scientific validation as a coping mechanism for traumatized soldiers. New research conducted by the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at a military medical facility in Maryland offers holistic approaches to healing war's often overlooked wounds.

Soldiers returning from the front lines are burdened by memories and images they do not know how to deal with. Lt. Col Capp, who runs the creative programs, explained the importance of revisiting these painful memories with a creative eye.

"By accessing that memory using a creative art you distance yourself. You're able to create something tangible and you can take it and shape it in a different way."

The resulting images are often disturbing, one man recreated an image instilled in his memory of an Iraqi shot in the head. Yet confronting these images in a creative manner is a crucial part of the healing process.

There are many logical explanations for art's healing properties. Struggling veteran Nick Hendry recalled: "I was struggling trying to justify everything, but as soon as I get hold of a paintbrush it takes my mind off some really bad thoughts and focuses my mind on one thing."

But the conclusions don't end there. Scientists will examine the effects of art therapy on the brain at the NICoE. "We have in this facility the technology to look in great detail at the anatomy of the brain and the function of the brain," director Dr. James Kelly told BBC. The brain's magnetic impulses in response to creative activities like writing, painting and music will be monitored and recorded.

This serves as part of the greater mission to illustrate art's effect on human health and development. At a time when arts funding is always at risk, any example of art's positive impact in the real world is valuable. NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman expressed: "Any intersection of the arts and the real world helps us make the case that it's not just about going to the opera in New York City."