Art Therapy - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Art Therapy

1. What does art therapy consist of at the Milwaukee VA?

a. We use art as a non-verbal form of therapy, which utilizes a variety of creative art materials such as drawings, crafts and ceramics. This helps Veterans processes and deal with illness, trauma, or challenges in living. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, Veterans can increase awareness of themselves and others, cope with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy life.

2. What are the different forms of art therapy?

a. The spectrum of art therapy services range from “Art as Therapy,” where the focus is on the product (arts and crafts). The art making is used as an outlet for creative expression. At the other end of the spectrum, “Art in Therapy” is used as a vehicle for communication (psychotherapy) for the purpose of developing insight and for resolving emotional conflict. We offer many different forms of art with Veterans, including drawing, painting, ceramics, woodwork and more.

 3. How does a Veteran sign up or participate in this part of therapy?

a. Therapy services are only available for Veterans receiving care in the domiciliary residential programs and in the Veterans Recovery Resource Center. For some Veterans, art is prescribed as part of their core treatment, and for others, it’s an elective they can attend based on availability within their treatment programs.

4. Can Veterans just show up to participate?

a. Some art therapy groups are a mandatory part of the core programming for specific programs such as PTSD, the Iraq and Afghanistan post deployment transition program, women’s program, etc. There are elective programs where veterans residing in the domiciliary may come to “open studio” or “skill building” sessions as their schedule permits.

5. Is there a schedule of events?

a. There is a monthly program calendar in Domiciliary 123.

6. Where does the art therapy take place?

a. Art therapy group sessions take place in the art therapy studio, Room E100 in Domiciliary 123.

7. Why is art therapy so important?

a. Art therapy can be used to treat and assess anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, addictions, trauma and loss, and other mental and emotional problems. It has the power to tap into unconscious material and gain access to emotions and experiences that are buried deep in the brain, without overwhelming the artist. Art therapy provides a pleasurable distraction in conjunction with exposure to difficult content so traumatic that the material can be processed.

The pleasure of creating builds self-esteem, can reduce emotional numbness and help re-establish social functioning. In the end, the art piece can serve as a visual record and evidence of one’s mental state, but it can also serve as a container for difficult emotions. Art therapy can offer solace from physical pain and relief from symptoms.

8. Do I have to be good at art to participate?

a. You don’t have to have any art background or art skill to participate. The only requirement is an open mind and willingness to try something new. The Art therapist comes up with specific art tasks or processes that facilitate self-expression and the specific goals of the group.

9. Will I be forced to talk at these therapy sessions, or can I just do art work?

a. In group art therapy, one-third of the session is art making, the last third is discussion or sharing of the artwork. No one is ever forced to talk. However, reflecting on your finished piece can create new understanding and heighten self-awareness. Open studio is a time for personal art making and there is no formal discussion unless the veteran requests this.

10. What different things can I do?

a. Drawing, painting, ceramic mold pouring, clay hand-building, wheel-thrown pottery, collage, mixed media, beadwork, polymer clay work, leather craft, pyrography, mosaics, and mask-making.

11. How much will this cost me to participate?

a. There is no cost to participate.

12. How does the VA afford these items?

a. Recreation Therapy programs have a limited budget for materials, but they are supplemented by donations through Voluntary Service Organizations.

13. Can I take these items home with me?

a. Absolutely.

14. Am I allowed to display my work at events?

a. This is usually not an issue, but Veterans must get approval of their recreation/creative arts therapist or the medical center director.

15. Can I sell my art?

a. Your art is yours and you can sell it if you wish, but not on VA premises. Veterans who create art work through VA Recreation/Creative Arts Therapy programs are not allowed to sell their work on the VA premises.

16. Are there any competitions where I can show my art work?

a. Across the country each year, Veterans treated at VA facilities compete in a local creative arts competition. The Milwaukee VA hosts their local art competition usually in mid February where we have a panel of artists judge and select the top three places from each category of art.

The competition includes 53 categories in the visual arts division that range from oil painting to leatherwork to paint-by-number kits. In addition, there are 120 categories in the performing arts pertaining to all aspects of music, dance, drama and creative writing. Our winning entries are then sent on to a second phase of competition where they are judged against winners from VAs across the country. A national selection committee chooses first, second and third place winners among all of the entries. Select winners are invited to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival each year.

17. What are some success stories from your art program?

a. We have had Veterans leave our program and become successful practicing artists in the community. We’ve had some other Vets gain local recognition for speaking on their personal experiences and the healing power of art. Others return to the VA to share their creative expertise and give back to fellow veterans by serving as volunteers.

18. Where can I get more information about the VA’s art program?

a. Contact Marisa Straub, art therapist, at 414-384-2000, ext. 41976.

Contact Info


  • Bldg. 123

Contact Number(s)

  • 414-384-2000 Ext. 41976

Hours of Operation

  • 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.