Art therapy for a recovery journey

This article has photo gallery Published on CMDR Chloe Griggs (author and photographer)

Location(s): Canberra

Topic(s): Health, Fitness and Wellbeing, Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills

The Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) addresses the Australian Defence Force Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills program 17-2 participants at the University of Canberra. (photo: CMDR Chloe Griggs)
The Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd) addresses the Australian Defence Force Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills program 17-2 participants at the University of Canberra.
Creative writing, sculpture, rock songs and acting aren’t normally the daily work of service men and women, but for a group of 22 Defence members recovering from injury or illness this was their day job in November.
 
The Australian Defence Force Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills Program is hosted in Canberra twice a year and provides opportunities to embrace the power of creativity to assist members to re-engage with families, friends and workmates. Their efforts are showcased for families and Defence senior leadership in a gala evening, celebrating their progress and highlighting their recovery journey.
 
Providing training and practical experience in the creative streams of acting and performance; music and rhythm; creative writing and visual arts, the head of the program, Brigadier Wayne Goodman said experience was not necessary.
 
“Participants are mentored by professional artists, actors and creative staff over the four weeks and there is no audition process. You don’t even need any talent, just a willingness to give it a go,” Brigadier Goodman said.
 
Six Navy personnel took on the challenge in the second iteration for 2017, and Maritime Warfare Officer Lieutenant George Philbey, and self-professed “tinkerer” was one of them. He was prolific in the four weeks, making huge moving sculptures from scrap to delicate copper roses in glass chambers. He shared his work with his family on the night.
 
“My left shoulder is fused, which means I can’t lift my arm past a certain height and since 2010 I’ve had about 10 operations after dislocations that started in 2006,” he said.
 
“[Because of that] there’s a standing joke at home that if you’re ever sad, you need to imagine a T-rex making a bed, so I came in with an original plan to make a little sculpture of a dinosaur.
 
“But one of the mentors had done some larger work and encouraged me to expand my horizons.
 
“The best thing about the program has been the distraction and focus. If I get the opportunity to sit down and make things I’m good - I got to do things I would have never done before.”
 
His father Howard, came from Brisbane especially to see his son’s work and said the program had given George renewed purpose.
 
“He has tremendous talent and this will give him something to work on, but I think he gets that talent from his mother!” he said.
 
Leading Seaman Maritime Logistics - Chef Jaala Hayes was another artist in residence, and built on her culinary creativity to produce paintings and mixed media works that were worthy of a gallery.
 
First time mentor, Dr Eleanor Gates-Stuart, a professional artist, helped participants combine arts and science.
 
“My personal research is how we look at scientific innovation and how we bring that out through artistic practice,” she said.
 
Dr Gates-Stuart is a parent of a Navy member, and said assisting the team was something close to her heart.
 
“I jumped at the opportunity to be involved,” she said.
 
One of her tools was a digital tablet almost 60 centimetres wide, which assisted participants in channelling their ideas into layered, digital drawings.
 
“Often participants are familiar with the technology but the challenge is ‘how do I get what’s in my head, out?’.”
 
Some participants even took to stage performances including a rendition of Robbie Williams’ Let me entertain you, and dressing as clowns as they poked fun at their struggles with dark humour.
 
The program is one of a number of initiatives run by Defence to assist serving members to recover from physical and mental ailments, to enable their return to full-service or assist in their transition to civilian life.