Creative arts help heal Australia’s wounded ADF members

It’s not your typical rehabilitation regime, but the Australia Defence Force has embraced a rehabilitation program using creative arts to bring ADF members out of their shells.

A report from SBS News by Kerrie Armstrong


Australian Army Staff Cadet Bethany Gallagher. (supplied)

Australian Defence Force members are rediscovering their self confidence and learning new skills with the help of the creative arts. The four-week long Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills (ARRTS) program included 27 members with a variety of physical and mental health concerns including post-traumatic stress disorder, physical wounds and depression. The participants immersed themselves in four creative branches – creative writing, music, visual art and drama – and the head of ARRTS, Brigadier Wayne Goodman, told SBS News they had been able to discover new sides to themselves.

From when we first met them 28 days ago to what we’re seeing, what I’m seeing, right now, I’d say it would be like walking past two different people,” he said. “Their self-confidence has improved, they’ve got their head up, a smile on their face.”



Australian Defence Force members play music together as part of the Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills program. (Supplied)

Program participant Leading Aircraftwoman Bianca Kelly told SBS she had struggled with anxiety and depression for the past couple of years and had stumbled across ARRTS by accident.

“I had never experienced depression before and I needed to do something to step out of my comfort zone.”

Leading Aircraftwoman Kelly took part in music and drama activities and said she had found the program to be very beneficial.

“I never thought I would be standing on stage singing,” she said. “It was really hard at first because I didn’t know what I was doing and I’m a quite shy person and when you’re battling anxiety and depression it is quite hard. I feel like I’ve finally found who I am in a long time.”

Brigadier Goodman said being in a group of like-minded people, all of whom were learning new skills, allowed defence force members to open up about their experiences.

“We believe the arts can help them to focus on trying something different to take their mind off their problems,” he said. “We’re really asking them to step outside the box and learn something new.”

He said the program, which was being run wth the University of Canberra, worked alongside the existing health and mental health treatments the participants were undergoing.

“The arts have been around for ever and we’ve always told stories,” Brigadier Goodman said. “Even though lot of us, particularly men, will say they don’t need it, they love it. They’re reconnecting with other people in defence.”

Leading Aircraftwoman Kelly said had gained a lot of self confidence and leadership skills over the four weeks which made her think differently about her return to work next week.

“It’s given me the opportunity to express myself more as a person. I feel like it is definitely a new chapter.”

Brigadier Goodman said the program would run again twice next year and would likely continue you for the next four or five years. Anyone interested in the program should visit and search for ARRTS.



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