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Music therapy for veterans: an arts group gives back


When the Muskogee Art Guild received a call from Eastern Oklahoma VA asking if they would like to decorate guitars for veterans, his immediate response was yes.

Knowing that these guitars were going to veterans as part of their therapy was all the inspiration the Arts Guild needed. After three weeks, they had completed 17 guitars.

Guitars were displayed at 17 locations in Muskogee and Tulsa

The guitars are part of a new music therapy program offered in partnership with Challenge America, a non-profit organization that uses music therapy to help veterans cope with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress. VA began partnering with the group in 2021, and Eastern Oklahoma VA was selected as one of five VA hospitals to participate this year.

Music camp exclusively for women veterans

“We are very proud to also be the only VA site to offer the music camp exclusively for female veterans, which began June 7,” said Dr. Nathan Williams, Director.

After the guitars were decorated, they were displayed for two weeks at 17 locations – 12 in Muskogee and 5 in Tulsa – which included various businesses, museums, government buildings and non-profit groups. The Art Guild even organized a scavenger hunt in the various locations to promote the program to the community.

“I think every artist really thought about their painting and what they hoped their art would bring to the veteran,” said Muskogee Art Guild member Wren Stratton. “Each artist brought their unique vision of what the guitar could look like and the emotion it could bring to the veteran who chose it. For most of us, the opportunity to serve our country is not was not an option. We are very grateful to those who had the courage to do so. To have the chance to offer even a small gift in return was, in turn, a gift for us.

Music therapy helps veterans cope with traumatic brain injury and PTSD

Veterans work with professional music therapists and songwriters

The camp consists of participants working virtually with a music therapist and professional songwriters in a process that teaches veterans how to play guitar and allows them to convey their emotions in a song they write.

“The last day of camp was their concert,” Dr. Williams said. “Veterans’ songs were performed by professional songwriters as an ode to the therapeutic process of camp.”

The veterans were also able to choose their own guitar from the group, choosing the one that meant the most to them.

There was even a beautifully painted guitar with an image of a red-haired woman, and this guitar was chosen by a veteran that looked exactly like the painting. It looks like a self-portrait of her.

Tears of joy and appreciation

Each veteran shared their appreciation for the hard work that went into decorating the guitars and how much the program meant to them, especially because it was a program specifically for female veterans. There were tears of joy and appreciation, and each veteran spoke of how grateful they were to have had the opportunity to participate.

Joan McWilliams, Whole Health Coordinator, was instrumental in the success of the program.

“Being a long-time resident of Muskogee and knowing our community’s strong ties to art, music and VA, the idea of ​​using our local art guild to decorate the guitars was a great way to increase local awareness and involvement in the project,” said McWilliams.