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Digital Subscriptions > Mental Health Nursing > June/July 2019 > Multidisciplinary staff co-facilitation of art therapy groups for UK military veterans

Multidisciplinary staff co-facilitation of art therapy groups for UK military veterans



This paper explores the expectations and experiences of a multidisciplinary staff team in relation to their cofacilitation of art therapy groups alongside a registered art therapist. This enquiry is based within the adaptive model of brief, themed and time limited art therapy groups delivered within this service and is informed by a discussion of the relevant literature on the co-facilitation of art therapy groups. Quantitative and qualitative data has been gathered by questionnaire from members of a small multidisciplinary team and is followed by a discussion of the data that relects on recommendations for practice.

Key words Art therapy, military veterans, co-facilitations, PTSD

Introduction: The Combat Stress charity

Established in 1919, Combat Stress is the leading UK veterans’ mental health charity, providing a range of free treatment interventions including short-stay inpatient and outpatient treatment programmes, and community-based and peer support groups.

Referrals for assessment are received via health professionals from across the UK and from veterans self-referring to the charity. The veteran client group is predominantly male (3% are female) with an average age of 43, although the age of veterans engaging in the service has ranged from 20 to 90. Veterans come from all areas of the military: Army, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force as well as the Reserves and the Merchant Navy. They present with mental health problems associated with their military service, which can include anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Factors that compound negatively on the severity of veterans’ mental health problems in addition to their military traumas include issues with physical health, unemployment, experiences of childhood adversity and a longer time living with symptoms before seeking help (Murphy et al, 2017). On average it takes veterans 12 years to seek support (Mellotte et al, 2017) and demand for the service has nearly doubled in the past ten years (Combat Stress, 2019).

Art therapy and the adaptive model

Art therapy is a state registered profession overseen in the UK by the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) and the Health & Care Professions Council. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art making as its primary mode of communication (BAAT, 2019). Art therapists, although trained in a psychodynamic approach, are responsive to a range of theoretical models and work flexibly within different treatment frameworks to best meet the needs of clients (Hogan, 2009; Lobban et al, 2018). Art therapy incorporates the use of a range of tactile, sensory art materials and the clients’ image making process to express experiences and emotions that may be difficult for the client to describe in words.

Within the therapeutic relationship the client and art therapist work together to explore the potential meaning of the imagery and to make sense of the clients’ experiences (Case and Dalley, 2006). In art therapy groups the therapeutic relationship expands to include all group members and is a dynamic environment: ‘It is an extraordinary powerful moment when paintings and models are laid within the group circle as participants reform the group after separating to paint. Many emotions are possible: pleasure and relief in sharing, a sense of belonging, of excitement, exposure or fear. The images work on each other as they reveal the unconscious themes in the group that session’ (Case and Dalley, 2006: 231).

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About Mental Health Nursing

The June/July issue of Mental Health Nursing is the second part of a special edition on art and art therapy in mental health. It includes: - News and views - Reflections on using arts therapies • Service user views • The role of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing • Part two of a comic series on suicide prevention • Research on art therapy in military veterans with PTSD