ORLANDO – More than a million veterans receive mental health services from the VA each year across the country.
But we know the numbers of those struggling are much higher.
That’s because many veterans may be getting help from other, non-VA-affiliated providers, or maybe, because of the stigma associated with mental illnesses, aren’t getting any help at all.
So at the Lake Nona VA Domiciliary, one therapist is trying a different approach.
The domiciliary is a 60-bed residential rehabilitation program. It offers short-term housing for veterans who are dealing with homelessness, mental health issues and addiction. The goal is to allow them to transition to traditional housing.
To help them get there, licensed clinical social worker Larry D. Johns is turning to art. He already has an understanding of issues veterans face, as a retired USMC veteran. But when he found pour painting, he said he found a way to relax and process while he attended the University of Central Florida.
Johns doesn’t have any formal art training, but thought it could be a way to help fellow veterans he treats.
“I knew Veterans could benefit from this and when I approached my leadership team, they supported the idea, and I ran with it,” said Johns. “I do abstract art and pour painting. I do it because I believe it will help Veterans relax and pick up a skill that they could use to help them deal with the stressors of life.”
Pour painting is an art form where the artist pours a paint mixture over a canvas in various colors and patterns to get the desired effect. There’s no real wrong way to create, allowing for more of a judgment-free creative process.
Johns said during the art therapy sessions, domiciliary residents can express their emotions through pour painting. Doing this can help to cope, express and heal depression, anxiety, and trauma. During each of these hour-long sessions, the step-by-step process of pour painting is demonstrated.
Johns said then, residents can choose their own paint colors and begin to create their own works of art they are allowed to keep as a reminder of the creativity they have and calmness these exercises can provide.
“Trust the process and give it a try. My mind is at ease during the hour I am pour pairing with Johns and I appreciate what he has taught me,” said Army veteran Charles Fogleman.
“I learned to let go and be creative,” said Navy veteran Michelle Rodriguez. “I can show my art to my family and it is something to be proud of.”
Johns said this is truly a labor of love for himself. He actually has purchased all the supplies himself to make this happen.
“I do it because I love to see the lasting effect pour painting has on the Veterans,” said John. “I feel elated. I love watching Veterans grow and explore their own creativity as they are going through the pour painting techniques. I am at peace when I watch them. To see them come in grouchy and not sure if they really want to do this, to thanking me at the end, and then ready to sign up for the next group, gives me great joy.”