Art therapy brings a new perspective

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

Location(s): Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

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

A guest views some of the static displays that were presented for the Australian Defence Force Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills program. (photo: CMDR Chloe Wootten)
A guest views some of the static displays that were presented for the Australian Defence Force Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills program.

Eight Navy members swapped sea time for stagecraft, scripts and sculpture during November as part of an arts-based recovery program focussing on creative care.

The Australian Defence Force Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills Program offers a supportive learning environment to assist personnel facing health and well-being issues in their individual recovery.

The Navy participants were amongst 28 Defence members delivering their projects at at program's showcase evening at the University of Canberra on 1 December.

Defence senior leaders, families and friends were on hand to witness the culmination of the four week residential program comprising a number of artistic streams which included creative writing, music, drama and visual arts. Command Warrant Officer - Navy Engineering Warrant Officer Rob Drew said it was a privilege to be in the audience.

"Not only is there great artistic talent in the Australian Defence Force, more importantly I'm proud to support the fantastic people in the program as they move through their journey to recovery," he said.

"I highly recommend this program to other members of the Navy family." 

Able Seaman Electronics Technician Kelly Morgan was one of those flexing their creative muscles, becoming the lead singer for the performances of the Music and Rhythm stream.

She participated in the program as part of her recovery from multiple surgeries, which left her in chronic pain and battling with mental health concerns.

"I've only sung in front of people twice; once at high school and once in HMAS Melbourne in the Middle East in 2013," she said.

She said she was extremely nervous on both occasions and her voice didn't stand up to the requirements of a live perfromance. But this time she had the crowd in the palm of her hand, with rock, solo and whole of band performances.

"I never had the confidence I have now, this has definitely helped my mental health a lot, it's been a really good opportunity to bring the confidence out in me.

"The teachers and mentors have been so supportive," she said.

Some of those mentors were members of the Navy Band, volunteering their skills as professional musicians to help the participants play previously learnt instruments publically or even pick one up for the first time. Chief Petty Officer Musician Mark Ham, Leading Seaman Musician Tracy Kennedy, Able Seaman Musician Hideaki David Yoshizawa and Lieutentant Matt Klohs were some of the team who supported the program. The showcase didn't just extend the participants, with Lieutentant Klohs, usually a conductor, finding himself back in the thick of the band.

"My job as a composer, arranger is to take the ideas of the group and build it into a song that has a piece from every participant, it's a process that evolves over a number of weeks," Lieutentant Klohs said.

"It's inspriational to see what the group can achieve, even with me on piano and backing vocals!" he said.

Participants such as Petty Officer Boatswain Frank Knies in the Creative Writing stream wrote short stories, poetry and developed reflective pieces, which were on display for guests.

"You either live in the past, or the present, but, you cannot live in both," Petty Officer Knies wrote.

Able Seaman Maritime Logistics - Chef Leon Dafonte Fernandez was part of the Visual Arts stream and let his photographic work speak for itself with two series of images with both 'finger people' and portraits expressing emotions. 

By offering a supported learning environment to build self esteem, resilience and teamwork through the acquisition of new skills, the program assists personnel to address wellbeing issues and individual recovery.

The program follows the success of the Australian Defence Force Theatre Project/Sydney Theatre Company collaboration – The Long Way Home – which toured nationally in 2014.