FORT HOOD, Texas (June 7, 2012) -- Staff Sgt. Maria Rodriguez focused intently on the ceramic basketball bank in front of her. The 1st Battalion, Warrior Transition Brigade Soldier was careful to keep the black lines straight as she painted.

"This is relaxing," she said. "I can concentrate on an object, so it's a stress reliever. It takes my mind off of everything else."

Rodriguez was working on her project, a tribute to the San Antonio Spurs, at Fort Hood's Apache Arts and Crafts under the center's Resiliency Through Art program, an Installation Management Command program supported by the Army's Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program and the American Art Therapy Association.

The program is not art therapy, but it allows active-duty Soldiers an open studio filled with art supplies where they can take a break and let their creativity flow.

"This is where adults come to play," said Barbara Newberry, manager, Apache Arts and Crafts Center.

Newberry and Renee Miller run the program at Fort Hood, the first installation to receive the three-day training through IMCOM. Fort Hood's program officially started May 1, but Newberry and Miller started working on the studio shortly after their training at the end of February.

Trained by art therapists, although not licensed therapists themselves, Newberry and Miller selected a quiet, small room with tables and chairs, and filled a cabinet with all manners of art supplies from paper to paints, molding clay to collage materials. The set-up was suggested by the art therapists who conducted the training, Miller said.

The studio can accommodate about eight service members at a time, and it is designed so that no one has to face away from the door, a common concern for many combat veterans, Newberry said.

Every week, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays, Soldiers can come to Apache Arts and Crafts and relax.

Currently, the studio is open exclusively to active-duty service members and was designed to focus on their needs and wants.

"They're the ones we need to offer the most to right now," Newberry said. "They need a quiet place to relax and create, with no expectations and no pressure."

There is no guidance or judgment with regard to the art, the studio is simply a place for Soldiers to take a break.

"The whole process is about creativity," Miller said. "A lot of people think art is just painting or drawing, but give me 15 minutes, I will show you. Art is abstract."

Licensed art therapist Melissa Walker, art therapist and Healing Arts Program Coordinator at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Medical Center, said the Resiliency through Art program can be beneficial and therapeutic because creating art can help develop self-esteem, a sense of mastery and a sense of pride in the art, all of which can spill into an individual's everyday life.

Walker has seen firsthand the effects art can have on Soldiers, especially those struggling with post traumatic stress or traumatic brain injuries. Art-making affords service members the ability to process difficult experiences from their past that they may not have been able to process otherwise.

"The art-making is a nonverbal modality that accesses different parts of the brain, and then the art itself becomes integrated and the service member is better able to process what he or she is going through," Walker said.

Art-making can aid in resilience by helping an individual understand him or herself and formulate identity through the artistic process, and the personal meaning the art might hold for the individual, she added.

There is a difference between art therapy and art-making, although both focus heavily on the creative process.

"Art therapy is a psychotherapeutic process that occurs alongside a trained therapist. The therapist helps facilitate the session based on treatment goals and aims to illicit self-expression and symbolic and personal material from the individual undergoing therapy," Walker said. "Art-making in one's own or in a class or studio also has therapeutic benefits. The process can be relaxing and cathartic, and the individual can still learn a lot about him or herself through the art-making process."

It is that cathartic experience that Newberry and Miller focus on with their program.
Rodriguez is already seeing some of the benefits of art-making.

Always interested in art and painting, she had gotten away from art. When Rodriguez heard about the Resiliency through Art program through her unit, she started with something simple -- the ceramic basketball bank. She has been stopping by Apache Arts and Crafts twice a week for about six weeks now.

"I shied away from art at first, but this is a stepping stone," she said. "I have motivation now and want to step it up next time."

Rodriguez said the accomplishment of creating her piece and the process "felt good," and noted that focusing on the painting of the basketball helped her difficulties with concentration and trembling hands.

"It helps a lot," she said. "This is good for Soldiers."

Helping Soldiers is the point of the program, as well as the mission for Newberry and Miller.
They hope the program expands and that the walls of the small studio are filled with Soldiers' art.

"If they got any amount of relief or freedom from coming here, that is truly amazing," Newberry said. "We've got to do this for the Soldiers."