Health News

Jun 6, 2012 11:32 AM by Matt Stafford

Fort Carson veterans use filmmaking as therapy for stress

FORT CARSON, Colorado (AP) - With a growing demand for ways to treat the psychological damage of war, one U.S. Army project is offering therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder by encouraging soldiers to take control of their stories in a filmmaking class, the I Was There Media Workshop.

The program began last year under the auspices of Ben Patton, a New York documentary filmmaker and a grandson of Gen. George S. Patton, and Scott Kinnamon, an educational filmmaker. Some 20 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars so far have tried to organize their combat experiences in video as a way to fight PTSD.

"You can put everything into a video or a movie, a small movie about what you want to tell people - your story," said 1st Sgt. Jason Gallegos, who deployed to Iraq three times and has produced a short film called "From Hero to Zero."

Some 2.3 million men and women have served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade. The Rand Corp. said as many as 300,000 veterans of those wars may have suffered PTSD or major depression.

Gallegos was a tank commander in Iraq and vividly recalls what he felt after his first engagement with insurgents in 2003. He ordered a tank gunner to fire on a man who had launched a rocket-propelled grenade at his tank, and he watched through night-vision goggles as the bullets cut through the man.

Filmmaking as a way to document or cope with the lasting emotional impact of combat is not a new concept. In Los Angeles, ex-U.S. Marine filmmaker Garrett Anderson is making a documentary with video from pocket digital cameras that captured the November 2004 battle of Fallujah. The 2010 Academy Award nominated "Restrepo," by author Sebastian Junger and photographer Tim Hetherington, tells the story of a platoon in combat in Afghanistan and its emotional impact on soldiers.

Now the Army is looking at filmmaking as possible therapy.

Maj. Christopher Ivany, a psychiatrist, approved the trial classes to supplement more established therapy programs for returning veterans.

The goal, Ivany said, is to encourage soldiers to "take control of the things that happened in the past and paint that in a specific way that makes sense."

For Gallegos, making "From Hero to Zero" was a way to cope with his pending return to civilian life - which was brought on by a diagnosis for leukemia.

The "Hero" refers to his combat experiences in Iraq. The "Zero" depicts him learning about his leukemia and trying to deal with the end of his military career.

"My time in the Army is coming to an end, and I take a lot of pride in what I did over there," Gallegos said.

The results of video as therapy haven't been scientifically validated. Kinnamon and Patton are working with medical researchers and the military to develop a way to study the possible benefits.

Barbara Rothbaum, a psychiatry professor and PTSD expert at Emory University School of Medicine, said there's little to no data on filmmaking for PTSD but that it may follow a proven treatment known as exposure therapy. The idea is that exposure to the memory, like other methods that include talking to a therapist who might record a conversation and replay it, can eventually help a soldier face the traumatic experience at the core of distressing memories.

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