Creative Arts Therapy for PTSD

A conversation with Dr. Mary Rorro, Psychiatrist VA New Jersey Health Care System James J. Howard VA Outpatient Clinic

Creative Arts Therapy for PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often associated with people who deal with high-stress situations, such as emergency medical technicians, firefighters, police officers or soldiers. But every person has the potential to be struck by this debilitating anxiety disorder.

Post-traumatic stress is an anxiety disorder that occurs after someone experiences or witnesses a trauma, usually involving injury or death, with the event causing an initial reaction of fear, helplessness or horror. Later on, the person dwells on the scary occurrence to the point where they can’t get it out of their mind, resulting in symptoms of numbness, avoidance and hyperawareness.

Psychotherapy and/or medications such as antidepressants are used to treat PTSD. The right combination of treatments, along with the support of family and friends, creates the most optimal chance for recovery from PTSD.

To learn more about the symptoms of PTSD, click here.

Here, Dr. Mary Rorro discusses creative arts therapy, an emerging field, and how it can be used to treat PTSD, specifically in veterans returning from war.

What is creative arts therapy and how does the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) support alternative therapies in their programs and services?

Alternative therapies are used to help veterans cope with psychological effects from their service to our country and range in diversity from music to poetry to equine programs.  

What therapeutic music programs are available?

I founded a program called "A Few Good Notes" as a way to bring music to veterans in helping them to cope with such conditions as post-traumatic stress disorder. Having blended music and poetry into my practice, I have witnessed the powerful effects that the arts can hold in a patient’s journey toward healing and how music and poetry can be applied as a complement to care. It's a meaningful way to connect with them.

How did this program get started?

I am a violist; I created this program to perform for my patients, and then expanded it within the national VA system.  As part of the program, I arrange musical performances for veterans in outpatient and inpatient settings, and inspire other employees to share their talents and gift of music with patients. The program was successful from the beginning and has been featured on various radio stations in and around New York.

What other aspects of creative arts therapy do you use?

I also write poetry reflecting themes of PTSD that have been helpful to patients. Two of my poems “Tunnel Rats” and “Bunker Bill” have recently been published in the Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine.

To read a poem by a Specialist Gail Barnett, a veteran recovering from PTSD and a guest of The Dr. Oz show, click here

Where can veterans and families get more information on these alternative therapies?

They can contact their local Veteran Affairs medical facility and access the National Center for PTSD online.

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