Why Arts and Nature Experiences for Veterans?

Thousands of service members and veterans—though just a fraction of the US military and veteran population— have found that creative arts and nature activities bring them relief from symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury. In health care and community settings, veterans are discovering vital outlets for expression and pathways to purpose and joy through activities such as writing, gardening, performing music, hiking, painting, and fishing

SIDESTEPPING STIGMA

Although not a substitute for professional treatment, community arts and nature-based activities have several advantages. They carry little stigma when compared with psychotherapy, making them a more readily accepted avenue through which to share traumatic experiences, confront emotions, and gain support. Arts and nature activities are also free of the side-effects that deter some veterans from taking medication.

BENEFITS OF ARTS & NATURE EXPERIENCES

Researchers, professionals who work with veterans, and veterans themselves have reported myriad benefits of spending time in nature and the creative arts. They include, among others:

Decreased feelings of anxiety
Reduced levels of stress hormones
Greater focus, self-awareness, and sense of confidence
Improvement in cognitive skills and the ability to process trauma
Higher capacity for confronting frustrations, transitions, and grief

Veterans say creative arts and nature activities:
Facilitate bonding with other veterans
Enable them to feel calmer and more in control
Offer respite from problems and stress
Ease their transition from military to civilian life
Help them find meaning in their recovery
Make it easier to talk about difficult subjects
Give them a reason to live

SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE

A growing body of research has demonstrated the therapeutic value of the arts and spending time in nature. Below are selected studies:

Creative Arts

Coming home to the arts: theatre with military veterans and families

Participatory choral music as a means of engagement in a veteran’s mental health and addiction treatment setting

Randomized controlled trial of online expressive writing for veteran reintegration difficulty

Nature

Sharing a New Foxhole with Friends: The Impact of Outdoor Recreation on Injured Military

Enhancing the well-being of veterans using extended group-based nature recreation experiences

Nature adventure rehabilitation for combat-related posttraumatic chronic stress disorder: A randomized control trial