Chicago hospital's art therapy lets veterans reveal what their PTSD looks like

Military veterans are revealing what their post-traumatic stress disorder looks like.

In a unique program offered by Rush University Medical Center, they are participating in art therapy and making masks that mirror their emotional state.

"A picture is worth a thousand words, right?" said Rush Medical art therapist Stephanie Clark. "It’s one thing to tell someone how you feel, it’s another thing to show someone how you feel."

Art therapy is part of the hospital’s two-week, intense outpatient treatment program for veterans called "The Road Home." The program is free for veterans and their family members — across the country.


Navy veteran Teri Studer traveled from Florida to participate.

"People probably don't realize the amount of heaviness that I carry inside because of those situations that I had to face," Studer said.

She is a survivor of military sexual assault.

"My PTSD got triggered a few years ago from the society things, like the ‘Me Too’ movement… and it just completely derailed me," she said.

During the program, Studer created a mask as part of the treatment.

"The idea behind the mask is we have a public self and a private self. We have a way the world sees us, and then we have a way we feel on the inside. Often times veterans, when they're transitioning back into civilian life, they feel like they have to put on this tough persona, feel very patriotic, and on the inside they're really hurting because they're been through a lot of traumatic experiences," explained Clark.

While some veterans leave their masks behind in the art therapy room, Studer chose to take hers back to Florida.

"It’s a representation of what was, doesn't always need to stay," Studer said as she displayed her mask. "And if I just allow healing to happen, then I can be a lighter, brighter person."

"We routinely hear people say that they have rediscovered the will to live, that they no longer want to die, that they've re-connected with other people [through the program]," said the program’s clinical director Brian Klassen.

The Road Home program provides mental health care and wellness to veterans of all eras, active duty military and their families at no cost and regardless of discharge status.

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