A creative force for healing

With up to 30% of returned servicemen and servicewomen developing mental illnesses after deployment, researchers at the University of Canberra developed the Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills (ARRTS) program to help defence force members heal, reflect, express, and create following their trauma.

Since 2015, around 500 Defence and Emergency Services personnel have participated in the ARRTS program, which provides servicemen and servicewomen — including ADF, ACT Emergency Services, and the Australian Federal Police — who have experienced service-related trauma with opportunities to participate in creative writing, music, theatre, and visual arts workshops. After being introduced to a diversity of creative arts methods and practices, participants work among like-minded peers to share their stories, fears, and concerns within a positive and supportive environment.

Researchers at the University of Canberra mentored participants in creative practice and artistic thinking with a focus on making and reflecting. Through this process, the program supported participants’ confidence and resilience through exploring creative practices as a supplement to mental, physical, and psychological wellbeing assistance.

Since their time in the program, some participants have gone on to publish their work in children’s books and as autobiographies. Researchers found that ARRTS had a positive impact on participants’ wellbeing, with the program enhancing confidence and increasing participants’ sense of acceptance. After the conclusion of the program, more than 85% of participants continued engaging with their chosen creative arts practice.

In 2018, the University of Canberra and the Australia War Memorial launched the Napier Waller Art Prize in recognition of the significance and healing potential of creative arts for defence force personnel. In recent years, the reach of recovery through creative arts has also been extended to other programs such as Regeneration, which supports healing for bushfire-affected communities.


[Photo credit: Australian Defence Imagery: Above, Participants of the ADF ARRTS program 22.2 on the showcase night of the program, held at the University of Canberra. Right, ADF ARRTS program participant Petty Officer Lee-Anne Cooper develops an art piece during the program held at the University of Canberra’s Inspire Centre.]

Want to see more of IRU members’ research strengths?

Learn more