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        As Long as I Remember: American Veteranos | Lesson Plan: Combat PTSD and Art as Therapy

        “With PTSD, you kind of go right back to that point in time and live there for a while. So the writing kind of takes him there, but then it brings him back out.”

        - Linda Rodriguez, wife of Vietnam Veteran and author, Michael Rodriguez

         

        Through this lesson, students will understand what PTSD is and about its prevalence in the general population, especially among combat veterans. They will also discuss how the specific social and political experiences of Latino veterans interviewed in AS LONG AS I REMEMBER: AMERICAN VETERANOS contributed to their experience of PTSD, and the benefit of art-based therapy in Vietnam Veterans lives and the lives of veterans of modern warfare.

        Lesson Summary

        An estimated 8 percent of Americans will experience Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during their lifetime. PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or assault.

        The occurrence of PTSD is much higher among combat veterans, 30 percent of whom have or will experience PTSD. Most survivors of trauma recover over time, but some people will have stress reactions that do not go away on their own or may get worse. Early treatment is important and may help reduce long-term symptoms; unfortunately, many people do not know that they have PTSD or do not seek treatment.

        Through this lesson, students will understand what PTSD is and about its prevalence in the general population, especially among combat veterans. They will also discuss how the specific social and political experiences of Latino veterans interviewed in AS LONG AS I REMEMBER: AMERICAN VETERANOS contributed to their experience of PTSD, and the benefit of art-based therapy in Vietnam Veterans lives and the lives of veterans of modern warfare.

         

        About the Film:

        AS LONG AS I REMEMBER: AMERICAN VETERANOS examines the steep personal toll and enduring legacy of the Vietnam War on three artists from south Texas: visual artist Juan Farias, author Michael Rodriguez and actor/poet Eduardo Garza. Through the personal histories and experiences of these Chicano veterans, the film reveals the important role art plays in sorting their memories, celebrating their culture, and treating the long-term impact of their military experience including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

        AS LONG AS I REMEMBER chronicles their upbringing in the Mexican-American community, their military service in Vietnam, and their lives after the war. Farias, Rodriguez and Garza’s poignant and powerful recollections illuminate the minority experience in the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps at a time when Mexican Americans accounted for approximately 20 percent of U.S. casualties in Vietnam, despite comprising only 10 percent of the country’s population.

         

        Time Allotment

        90 to 120 minutes + Assignments

        Learning Objectives

        Students will:

        • Discuss and define post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
        • Understand the prevalence and social impact of PTSD in the U.S.
        • View the role that the arts play in the lives of the veterans featured in As Long As I Remember
        • Examine how art therapy is being formally implemented by the Veterans Health Administration for veterans struggling with PTSD
        • Create an artwork in response to the veteran’s stories using media and/or techniques explored in the lesson

        Prep for Teachers

        Notes about viewing and discussing sensitive material:

        This lesson and the accompanying videos address sensitive social and political issues as well as combat-related violence. Teachers should screen the videos and review all of the related materials prior to facilitating the lesson.

        Remind the class that this is a supportive environment and review the classroom’s tools for creating a safe-space, including group agreements. These might include guidelines like “no name-calling,” “no interrupting,” “listen without judgment,” “share to your level of comfort,” “you have the right to pass,” etc. And remind students that when they talk about groups of people, they should be careful to use the word “some,” not “all.”

         

        Supplies

        • Computers with Internet access
        • LCD projector • Speakers
        • Whiteboard or blackboard
        • Pen and writing paper
        • Student Handouts:
        1. Student Handout 1: What is PTSD?
        2. Student Handout 2: Art Heals the Wounds of War

        Media Resources

        Film Modules: available on the PBS LearningMedia website:

        1. As Long As I Remember: Official Trailer
        2. CLIP 1 
        3. CLIP 2 
        4. CLIP 3

        Articles:

        1. How Art Heals the Wounds of War: In making a mask, soldiers who suffer brain injuries put a face to their pain. By Andrea Stone, National Geographic, February 15, 2015 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150213-art-therapy-mask-blast-force-trauma-psychology-war/
        2. National Geographic Photo Series, Behind the Mask: Revealing the Trauma of War http://www.nationalgeographic.com/healing-soldiers/

        Additional Resources:

        Introductory Activity

        AFTER SERVICE

        Time: 10 Minutes

        You will need: writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils

        EXPLAIN:

        • According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as of 2014, there were 22 million living veterans of the U.S. armed forces, which means more than 7% of today’s population have experienced military service.

        THINK-PAIR-SHARE:

        • Ask students to think about the following question and brainstorm/write down as many responses as they can: What emotions do you think soldiers experience after they return from combat?
        • Have students pair-up and share their responses with a partner, and discuss: o What positive emotions did you both identify? Why do you think a veteran would feel this way?
        • What challenging/negative emotions did you both identify? Why do you think a veteran would feel this way?
        • Have partners share their responses with the class.

         

        Learning Activities

        ACTIVITY 1: UNDERSTANDING PTSD

        Time: 20 Minutes

        You will need: writing paper, white/blackboard, pens/pencils, Student Handout 1: What is PTSD

        PART A: DEFINE

        • Write “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” on the board. Ask if any students have heard this term and in what context (in the news, in films or television, etc.). Ask for volunteers to share what they think this term means.
        • Distribute Student Handout 1: What is PTSD and have volunteers read sections out loud while the class follows along. Discuss:
        1. How would you summarize the definition of PTSD in one sentence?
        2. How does the definition of PTSD relate to our brainstorming from the first activity? 

        PART B: EXPLAIN

        Researchers have conducted various studies of PTSD and overall finding seems to be that most ethnic minority Veteran groups have a higher rate of PTSD than White Veterans.

        The National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study found that both Hispanic and African American male Vietnam combat Veterans had higher rates of PTSD than White veterans. Rates of current PTSD in the 1990 study were 28% among Hispanics, 21% among African Americans, and 14% among White veterans.

        Some of this may be due to psychological conflicts related to identification with the Vietnamese. Another factor may be higher exposure to “war zone stressors” such as being on the front lines or being given higher risk assignments.

        Adapted from: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treatment/cultural/ptsd-minority-vets.asp

        • Screen the As Long As I Remember trailer and have the class record notes, quotes, statistics, and questions that resonate with the class discussion of PTSD. Follow with a discussion of the students’ notes and feedback and review the following question:
        1. Based on what we have discussed, why do you think it is important for all of us to understand PTSD?

          

        ACTIVITY 2: INVISIBLE WOUNDS

        Film Modules: CLIPS 1 & 2: ART AS THERAPY (JUAN & MICHAEL)

        Time: 20 Minutes You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, writing paper, pens

        • Screen CLIPS 1 & 2: ART AS THERAPY (JUAN & MICHAEL) and have students record notes about quotes and scenes that illustrate the experience and impact of PTSD.
        • Discussion questions:
        1. What impact is PTSD having in the lives of these veterans? What evidence did you see in the clips?
        2. How do you think the specific social and political experiences of Latino veterans contribute to their experience of PTSD?
        3. How are these men using art to respond to the ongoing emotional impact of combat?
        4. What does Juan say about the role painting plays in living with the PTSD?
        5. Michael’s wife Linda says: “With PTSD, you kind of go right back to that point in time and live there for a while. So the writing kind of takes him there, but then it brings him back out.” What does she mean by this? What does Michael say about that process?

         

        ACTIVITY 3: DECONSTRUCTING THE MASK

        Time: 30 minutes

        You will need: Computers with Internet access, multimedia projector, writing paper, pens, white/blackboard, pens/pencils, Student Handout 2: Art Heals the Wounds of War and the article

        Media Resources:

        1. How Art Heals the Wounds of War: In making a mask, soldiers who suffer brain injuries put a face to their pain. By Andrea Stone http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150213-art-therapy-mask-blast-force-trauma-psychology-war/
        2. National Geographic Photo Series, Behind the Mask: Revealing the Trauma of War http://www.nationalgeographic.com/healing-soldiers/

         

        EXPLAIN: As of September 2014, there are about 2.7 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in the U.S. population and PTSD continues to be a painful consequence of combat.

        • According to research, at least 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have PTSD and/or Depression.
        • 7% of veterans have both post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury
        • 50% of those with PTSD do not seek treatment and of those who do, few get adequate or effective treatment.

        Source: “Veterans statistics: PTSD, Depression, TBI, Suicide”, Veterans and PTSD: http://www.veteransandptsd.com/PTSD-statistics.html

        • Organize the class into pairs or small groups and distribute Student Handout 2: Art Heals the Wounds of War. Have students read the National Geographic article, How Art Heals the Wounds of War By Andrea Stone on a computer or tablet or print the text and project the accompanying photographs using a multi-media projector (Facilitator’s Note: This reading activity can be offered as a take-home assignment. Additional supporting articles are also included below for reference.)
        • Have the groups read the article and complete the handout together. Reconvene the class and review their responses.
        • Project and discuss the gallery of mask artwork from the National Geographic’s Behind the Mask: Revealing the Trauma of War http://www.nationalgeographic.com/healing-soldiers/ 

        Additional Resources:

        1. Unmasking the agony: Combat troops turn to art therapy, NBC News, Sunday May 26, 2013 http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/24/18471262-unmasking-the-agony-combat-troops-turn-to-art-therapy?lite
        2. Melissa Walker: Art Therapy with Military Service Members at the Cultural Programs of the National Academy of Sciences (CPNAS), March 29, 2011 (View clip from 5:05-7:20) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNr6lA1yqrI

         

        Culminating Activity

        CREATIVE INTERVENTIONS

        Time: 20+ minutes 

        Option 1 - Activity/Presentation:

        • Have students select a veteran from the film and using that individual’s medium of choice (writing, performance/poetry, painting), create an artwork that expresses their experience of and/or response to that veteran’s story and the lesson.

        Option 2 - War Reporter:

        • Students will take on the role of journalists and further investigate the role that the arts play in treating PTSD. Have students research and report on resources for and experiences of Veterans in your community:
        1. What resources are available?
        2. How are veterans expressing their experiences (what art forms are they using)?
        3. What opportunities are offered at your local Veterans Administration?
        • Resources:
        1. Armed Service Art Partnership: http://www.asapasap.org/
        2. Creative expression and therapeutic opportunities for military veterans and families through the arts: http://www.operationwearehere.com/ArtTherapy.html

         

        EXTENSION ACTIVITIES

        Two Wars/Two Masks:

        Have students further research the aftermath of combat related PTSD in the lives of veterans from both the Vietnam and Iraq/Afghanistan War. Using their research as inspirations, they should create masks that represent the similarities and differences of the veterans’ experiences.

        Social and Economic Costs of PTSD:

        With such a large veteran population, combat-related PTSD has become a major social and economic issue in the United States. Have students research and present their findings on the impact of PTSD in a variety of social areas and make a case for the strategies, approaches, and resources that they believe are most promising or effective for addressing this issue.

        PTSD Beyond the War Zone:

        In times of peace, in any given year, about 8% of the general population are struggling with PTSD caused by a variety of factors, including natural disasters, abuse, car accidents, and physical trauma. Have students examine the causes and consequences of PTSD, including resources and treatments that are available. Students can complete their research by developing a Public Service Campaign to raise awareness about the prevalence of PTSD and how those affected can find support.

        Intergenerational Impact of PTSD:

        View ALAIR CLIP 4 and explore the impact of PTSD across generations and the value of art as a means of healing and bearing witness for children of veterans.

        Resource: When a Child's Parent has PTSD, VA National Center for PTSD http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treatment/children/pro_child_parent_ptsd.asp

         

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