Mark Mitchell talks Expressive Arts Therapy for Veterans suffering from PTSD



Mark Mitchell (far left) moderates an interreligious panel of military chaplains and ministers on the realities of moral injury and PTSD at 2014 forum.

Counselor and extension instructor Mark Mitchell teaches in the Alcohol and Drug Counseling certificate program at LMU Extension. While working as a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for the past 20 years, Mark developed a passion for veterans’ care and has been facilitating public workshops, which address the needs of veterans, their family members, and service providers for military personnel.

On November 12, Mark will host a new workshop on assisting veterans, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), with expressive arts therapy techniques.

In preparation for the workshop, Mark offers us a personalized account of his experience working in the field:

From your experience in treating with Veterans suffering from (PTSD) what would you say is the most efficient type of Expressive Therapy (art, dance, music, writing, video) and why?

In healing veterans, the most brain friendly and effective way of expressive therapy is through singing or rhythm. It soothes and cools down the brain stem that might be stressed out and changes the biology quickly. Humans have always turned to song to get through stress and trauma. People also use repetitive movement for trauma releasing exercises. You see this in tai chi, yoga, dance and simple walking. You see these exercises in many of the Greek tragedies where war was often played out and healed. This is the origin of theater and movies in a way.

How did this healing process develop?

When this is done on a communal level it soothes and bonds people and can be very powerful. It is also helpful in an individual coaching, counseling, or spiritual direction session. Attendees will learn how to adapt this to their helping context. In addition, various visual arts can help in naming the part that is difficult to name and finding the most healing through artwork. Art creates a relationship between the wound and the healing. It also creates symbol that can be very meaningful to the story they want to tell. Finally, another technique is simply letter writing. Both on a communal and individual level, it can give expression to the wound and the healing and can be very personal giving a narrative that almost becomes sacred. All these processes are historical and only recently have been re-discovered through more scientific investigation

What has been your most rewarding experience working in this field?

What has been most rewarding for me; is helping people find tools to cope with their stress and anxiety. In particular, to guide survivors out of the cycle of trauma and stress, especially veterans and their families. It has been a personal calling in order to put faith into action.

Registration for the “Healing Veterans with Expressive Arts Therapy” workshop is currently open. Click here to visit the website.