Using the arts to assist in recovery from injuries and illness might appear to be new for the modern defence force; however, it is not new for general society. The arts have always been part of our lives, whether as a hobby, a profession or as a rehabilitation tool. The arts are about telling a story—and we all love a good story.
Following the success of the 2014 play The Long Way Home, a Defence and Sydney Theatre Company production focused on the challenges facing Australian Defence Force personnel as a result of their service. Defence agreed to trial an arts-based program—ADF Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills (ARRTS)—to assist Australian Defence Force members who have been wounded, injured or become ill in service.
Evaluations of the first two ARRTS programs reported significant wellbeing benefits for participants, including improved self-esteem and social functioning levels. Defence intends to continue the ARRTS program twice a year until 2020.
The month-long program offers participants the opportunity to specialise in one of four creative streams—music and rhythm, creative writing, acting and performance, and visual arts. A health team of a psychologist, nurse and physiotherapist provides support to participants suffering physical and psychological injuries.
The program is designed to improve confidence and resilience by demonstrating to participants they are capable of learning new skills and able to adapt to different environments. The acquisition of arts-based skills in a positive learning environment encourages improved self-esteem, initiative and team-work.
The program is an adjunct to conventional therapy. Trainers, experts in their individual artistic stream, offer skills training which is incremental and tailored to the ability of each individual. All artistic endeavours entail storytelling in some way. This will help participants improve their ability to communicate with their families, their mates and the community.
In each program, up to 30 Defence members try something really outside the box and the program concludes with a showcase to display their achievements. Family members are invited to attend the showcase and they are normally pleasantly surprised by the achievements and changes they witness.
So far the program has assisted 66 members in developing a new skill, relearning an old one and gaining the confidence to discuss their concerns with others—whether that skill is a poem, short story, performance, sculpture or painting, beating a drum or singing a song they wrote.
A new sense of purpose appears to be the most important result of this program, as attendees are able to form a new team with like-minded individuals who share experience of both service and injury or illness.