FORT BELVOIR, Va. (WJLA) - The battle scars from war zones are often invisible, and the healing process comes in many shapes and forms. A unique outpatient "art therapy" program at Fort Belvoir's National Intrepid Center of Excellence, helps troops suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
Art therapy isn't new. It's been used to help patients deal with addiction and mental illness, but now there's proof that this creative treatment can also help TBI patients. The process allows them to share their emotions non-verbally, and be in the moment.
"I put in, 'I will not fail', because I don't want to fail, I want to get better," said Staff Sergeant Jonathan Meadows.
In one piece he transformed cut-out words, into artwork as a way to share his story.
"I was in a dark place...I couldn't remember my kids names. I couldn't remember nothing," said Meadows.
After deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, this soldier turned wounded warrior. Following several brushes with IED blasts, his brain injury and combat-related stress eventually took over.
"I felt my body just draining away, wasting away," said Meadows.
But something changed last year when he picked up a paint brush, and other art supplies.
"I can express more through art than with anything else," said Meadows.
"Art therapy allowed Jonathan's brain to relax and open up," said Physiatrist Dr. Heechin Chae.
The program offered at NICoE is a unique approach to healing brain injuries and other psychological conditions.
"It promotes relaxation, it decreases stress and anxiety, and provides an opportunity for genuine self expression," said art therapist Jackie Biggs.
Looking at the science, it's an effective way to get the brain to respond.
"Whether that's reconnection between brain cells or the actual healing of the brain cells, we believe art therapy promotes that process," said Dr. Chae.
Rather than hiding behind it, Meadows created a mask as a way to face his past.
"The mask was made for a good friend of mine that got killed on a mission," said Meadows.
"Things that tend to come up are identity, transitions, grief and loss, trauma," said Biggs.
Doctors say with the help of art therapy, and other traditional methods of treatment, it's possible for patients to make a full recovery.
Meadows is already noticing improvements in his vision and coordination.