My day job is as a dance/movement therapist for Veterans Affairs. I have a lengthy history of working with this unique population that has spanned the range of veteran generations. I am also a current doctoral student in mind-body medicine with a focus on health care systems. Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Third National Summit: Advancing Research in the Arts for Health and Well-being across the Military Continuum as both a participant and presenter. This is the 3rd summit of its kind and was originally created as a means to advance the efforts of the National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military. This year the summit was held at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD and was sponsored by Americans for the Arts and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
The summit’s focus, research in arts and health in the military, brought together an impressive and diverse group of creative arts therapists, health care providers, research scientists, artists, medical experts, veterans, and military personnel. I had the pleasure of attending the summit for the second time and the honor, this year, of presenting my work as a dance/movement therapist with the military and veteran population as part of a panel entitled “Research Innovations on Integrative Care in Military Health Settings and Applications for the Arts.” The panel and discussion, facilitated by Moira McGuire, CAPT, USPHS, DHA, Assistant Chief of Integrative Health Services at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, explored the connections between the arts and integrative health, and how creative arts therapies practices can inform practice and research being conducted in integrative care across military treatment facilities and VA clinical settings. I was joined by esteemed colleagues:
- Heechin Chae, M.D., director of the NICoE Intrepid Spirit/TBI Clinic at Fort Belvoir
- Frederick Foote, M.D., CAPT, (Ret), MC, USN, Institute Scholar, Institute for Integrative Health, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
- Eric Schoomaker, M.D., Ph.D., LTG, (Ret), USA, Professor and Vice-Chair for Centers and Programs, Department of Military and Emergency Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
My presentation outlined the definitions of integrative health, dance/movement therapy, and creative arts therapy practice within the VA. I outlined how these traditions are joined in theory and practice, particularly emphasizing the integration of mind, body, and spirit. I shared photos and testimonials of my work with veterans and military personnel, exhibiting the power of dance/movement therapy to promote creativity, cognitive strengthening, physical stimulation, emotional expression, social connection, self-care, and healing. A handout delineating dance/movement therapy research studies that have exhibited effectiveness with depression, anxiety, traumatic brain injury, cognitive impairment, and psychological and physical well-being was provided to the audience. The discussion portion of the breakout session proved rich and full of innovative ideas for future collaborations. However, my favorite part of the session was when we all got up out of our chairs and danced, truly experiencing the integrative power of dance/movement therapy together.
The summit was a wonderful opportunity for those in the field of military medicine and veteran care to connect, collaborate, and network around the topics of the arts, integrative health, and research. It is my hope that the palpable energy created at this summit will carry on, spreading across the military and veteran healthcare systems, bringing well-being to our wounded warriors. I feel extremely grateful to be able to serve those who have served and am eager to continue advocating for the health of our Nation’s veterans and military personnel for many years to come.
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