A person who has been sexually assaulted often finds the experience difficult to talk about, for many reasons. There are feelings of shame and self-blame associated with the assault. But studies suggest that not talking may be ok as long as the traumatic memories are addressed through nonverbal treatment.
Art therapy is a way to tap into such memories, as they may be better accessed by sensory means. It is often combined with narrative therapy, which allows someone to express their story and see the problems in it as separate from themselves, making them easier to work through.
The Defense Department-sponsored Warrior Stories app was designed for processing combat trauma. It brings art therapy and narrative therapy together to provide a powerful means of communicating and processing a trauma experience and its aftermath. Using the platform, a patient selects and incorporates the images to create a visual representation of their experience, an emotional state, or a desired goal. The resulting images can be sequenced and annotated with text to help survivors process their experience with a therapist.
Warrior Stories seemed particularly well-suited to cases involving military sexual trauma – an arena where not many survivors seek treatment, and few of those remain past the first session. The powerful, graphic novel-style images can be evocative of buried, emotional memories. The platform’s ability to address the “stuck points” commonly encountered in cognitive behavior processing helps keep the patient engaged, because they can see and feel progress.
Starting last year, we worked with Kinection, a maker of learning environments and creator of Warrior Stories, to expand and enhance the platform for use with MST survivors. The project involved creating a library of MST-relevant images, adapting the combat trauma therapy manual to incorporate the new content, and launching a pilot to teach therapists how to recognize MST and how to use the platform, to ensure that the provider is prepared to work with that survivor.
Training is a crucial part, because clinicians often fail to recognize as many as 95% of MST cases, lowering the likelihood that a survivor will stay in treatment, or that the therapy will address their core issues.
We are excited that the first pilot cohort is nearing the end of their training and will soon be certified. The group was enthusiastic, and used many of their own professional experiences to enhance our resources. Some of them said they were planning to incorporate activities from Warrior Stories into their other counseling sessions because they help teach healthy coping skills and emotional regulation.
We look forward to continuing to recruit Chicago area counselors, social workers, and psychologists – and eventually, therapists from across the state to learn how to use the platform with MST survivors.
Interested? Learn how you can participate and become the next certified therapist!
(Image panel is from the Warrior Stories MST pilot)
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