Art therapy helps heal scars from local vets

Therese Gaughan MacKinnon joined the military in 1989 because it seemed like the best option at the time.

After taking some time to complete his military training, MacKinnon has been subscribed to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a specialization in dance and music. A classically trained pianist, she dreamed of going to New York and becoming a full-time musician. But in the middle of her fall semester, her romance was shattered.

Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, and the United States, along with the United Kingdom, France, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, rushed to Kuwait’s aid and expelled Iraqi forces in what became the Gulf War.

MacKinnon was called to duty, to which she immediately responded. Putting her studies aside, she deployed to the Persian Gulf. When she returned two years later, her university told her that since she had missed so many things, including her final exams, she would not be able to continue her studies there.

She decided not to give up on her dream and moved to an Army National Guard unit in Troy. But soon she realized that what she had seen during her wartime would not leave her. It stuck with her and she didn’t want to recognize that part of her life anymore or that she wasn’t even part of the military anymore. No matter how much she repressed them, memories came back to haunt her.

Years later, during a poetry reading when she heard another veteran play, something changed about her.

“She said something in her poem, and it made me freeze,” MacKinnon said. “And it was like I was talking, telling part of my story, and I couldn’t believe I couldn’t believe it was so similar.” And his poem was so deep. So I decided, I’m going to talk to this veteran.

Veteran Penny McGinnis ran an art therapy group for veterans at the Joseph E. Zaloga American Legion Post in Albany. This is where Thérèse Hikari was born.

MacKinnon chose “Hikari” as his artist name because it means light in Japanese. It was also a nod to her mother’s Japanese heritage.

She has been making art since she was a child, but it wasn’t until very recently that she started using it as part of her recovery. MacKinnon started art therapy in early 2020 and was finally able to recognize his past by putting a veteran sticker on his car.

“This has been the healthiest year of my life as an adult, because it’s real, but it doesn’t have to bind me anymore.”

Other veterans also recognize the power of art therapy. Mary Jo White, also a Gulf War veteran, found solace in art and knowing that there were other people going through the same thing as her.

“It’s been very, very good for me,” White said. “There really is no judgment. And we are all there and we support each other and we help each other learn how to do different techniques and not all techniques are for everyone, but you can definitely choose things and enjoy the joy to others when they find out they can get out of things like this. “

Christine Mikolajczak began art therapy when she was at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Campus of the VA Hudson Valley Health Care System in Montrose, Westchester County. She joined the service in 1984, graduating from the Naval Technical Training Center in Meridian, Mississippi. She was stationed at the Pentagon as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and with the Chief of Naval Operations and later under the general surgeon of the medical command. However, while in the military, she was sexually assaulted twice.

Mikolajczak then left the army, making the difficult decision to retire prematurely.

“I loved my job. And I still miss it today, ”Mikolajczak said. “It gave me great satisfaction and basically matched my personality. But then it happened and it ruined everything. That’s why I came out. I wish that didn’t happen.

She then began art therapy for her trauma. Art had always interested her and she found it to be one of the most effective forms of therapy.

“It’s extremely helpful when it comes to what happened to me. And it just provides therapy that I can’t get with anything else. And you can do anything, there aren’t really any rules. You can just create whatever art you can think of, ”Mikolajczak said.

The art has evolved from a form of therapy to a full-time vocation for many of these veterans. Their art has been exhibited in galleries across the region as well as in veterans’ memorials in Washington DC. They use a variety of mediums ranging from oil painting to photography and their art ranges from abstract to expressionism.

Mikolajczak exhibits his work at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Museum in Hyde Park. His work has been exhibited in New York State Capitol, Arlington Cemetery and Dulles International Airport in DC

Mackinnon featured her work in an exhibition at the Art Associates Gallery in honor of Women’s History Month last year, and these two artists will be showing work at the Women in Service Memorial at Arlington Cemetery.

“It gives you a voice,” MacKinnon said. “Sometimes the most important part is that we have to get along to really feel heard. And I think the main thing here is that we keep a space for each other, so that we can be heard, and we recognize it. Just by simply being.

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