Art therapy showcases healing and promise at Lejeune

A Marine views artwork at an art expo on May 3, 2012, at Camp Lejuene, N.C., where Marines and sailors attended art therapy to relieve post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.


By THOMAS BRENNAN | The (Jacksonville, N.C.) Daily News | Published: June 8, 2013

For Gunnery Sgt. Jeremiah Warnick, art is his release. On Friday, he was able to bring others into his world during an exhibit at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune.

“Art has really changed our lives — almost every facet of it,” said Warnick, a Marine with Wounded Warrior Battalion East. “It’s been a great way to express myself, to get lost.

“It’s grounding.”

The Naval Hospital aboard Camp Lejeune hosted the exhibit, Healing Wounds Through Expressive Freedom, which included the artwork of 30 Marines and sailors from aboard the base. The arts program is part of the adjunct therapy program aboard the base where service members can express themselves through art.

“For me, the process of painting relaxes me and give me a focal point so things aren’t out of control,” said Warnick, who has been struggling with post traumatic stress disorder since 2004. “It’s a calm place in the storm. It’s where I run to when things fall apart.”

Warnick said he lived in denial before being recommended to treatment in 2012 after dissociating while on a Navy vessel.

“My provider said I should look into art therapy,” Warnick said. “At the time I didn’t think it was going to work out. It sounded like hippie stuff. It paid off quickly though. It didn’t take but once or twice for me to be sold.”

Warnick’s wife Kellie is also sold on art therapy.

“It has really opened up communication for us as a married couple and as a family,” said Kellie Warnick, 34. “It gives the children more understanding. It made it so we can all accept it instead of living in denial.”

Seeing her husband in pain was the hardest part, she said.

“From a spouse’s perspective, it’s hard processing it all and watching him go through it all,” Kellie Warnick said. “It’s hard balancing between wife, friend and caretaker — it’s a juggling act.”

For Gayla Elliott, the art therapist for the Naval Hospital, it’s all about healing, she said.

“Art therapy offers a visual therapy so they can process their memories in a visual way,” Elliott said. “With the drawn images, they can recall details. It helps them fill in the blanks in memories, which aids them in their talk therapies.”

It’s more than just paint or pencil on paper, said Elliott.

“Sometimes when people do art therapy it reduces anxiety,” Elliott said. “It has a calming and soothing affect on the nervous system.”

When combat veterans come back they have a lot of intense emotional energy, Elliott said.

“Art gives them an outlet for their rage and anger, their anxiety and stress. It gives those feelings a voice,” she said.

Giving those feelings a voice is beneficial to the overall care and treatment of the patient, said Navy Capt. Sawsan Ghurani, the director of mental health for the Naval Hospital.

“These therapies integrate well with their individual psychotherapies,” Ghurani said. “We have completely diversified our adjunct therapies such as art, meditation, mindfulness, yoga and spirituality.”

Mental health care on base has expanded significantly since 2007, Ghurani said.

“Each of the available therapies bring out different qualities of expression thereby the patients are able to explore different avenues of communication,” Ghurani said. “It helps them figure out what treatment works best for them.”

The exhibit not only allows the Marines and sailors to showcase their work, it allows them to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health treatment, Ghurani said.

“It’s important to educate the public, patients and families on available treatment and that help is available,” Ghurani said. “We plan to make art therapy and adjunct therapies more publicly recognized and accepted.”

A mask, painted by a Marine who attended art therapy to relieve post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, is displayed at an art expo at Camp Lejuene, N.C., on May 3, 2012.