Northern Arizona VA Health Care System
Highlighting the “Journey of Imagination” Workshop
The workshop is facilitated by Kate Hawkes who is a native of Australia who resides in Sedona and has been offering this unique and creative trauma healing workshop at NAVAHCS since 2012. The PRRC (AKA “The Oasis”) offers services for Veterans who navigate complex, persistent mental health challenges as well as Dual Diagnoses, PTSD, Addiction, and Military Sexual Trauma (MST). By utilizing an evidence-based, person-centered recovery model, Veterans play a central and active role in their recovery process at the PRRC. Here the goal is not necessarily to be symptom free, but rather to design and live an enjoyable, functional life that is a right fit for each individual. In this model the motto shifts from, “What’s the Matter with You?” to “What Matters to You?” Clinicians provide guidance; there are peer lead groups; and the program includes education, coping strategy tools and skill building support in areas like Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Equine Therapy, health and wellness coaching, distress tolerance, effective communication, and healing through art.
PRRC Program Manager Ali Cassidy noted, “it was quite a shock when we had to close down face-to-face services and go virtual. Fortunately, the VA has well established resources like MyhealtheVet (MHV) Secure Messaging system, VA Video Connect (VVC) and the VA National Telecommunication System (VANTS).” The PRRC didn’t miss a beat and began utilizing these technologies to continue program services. Groups and classes are held in HIPAA compliant, secure, virtual medical rooms monitored by PRRC clinicians into which participants are invited. Cassidy said “the upside is that we can still offer access, and even expand it. The downside is that people with mental health challenges need community and it’s just not the same as sitting down with your fellow Veterans over a cup of coffee.” Previously, many participants gathered in the PRRC lounge area prior to classes to socialize and formed new relationships for participating in activities away from the VA. New participants may be more tentative and also overwhelmed by the technology when joining classes and groups online. Regardless, the adjustment has been smooth, and the program is thriving. It has encouraged creativity and overall, it will be a more robust program with the added online options when in-person sessions resume. One class that has made a rather seamless transition is the “Journey of Imagination” workshop facilitated by Kate Hawkes, MFA.
One Veteran in the program said, “the classes I took with Kate opened up a whole new world. I learned more about myself than I ever knew. My life has been changed.” Pulling from her years of education, counseling, and theatre experience, Hawkes developed this powerful approach to trauma healing in 2000 while in the role of Artistic Associate and Education and Outreach Director of the Portland Oregon Artists Repertory Theatre. Originally titled “Performing Wellness” she developed the workshop while working with a group of cancer survivors. Along with participants of the program, she formed the Well Arts Institute. Utilizing various games and exercises Hawkes developed a method for helping participants who shared common illnesses or traumas like cancer, MS, AIDS/HIV, assault, and PTSD to write their story. She then had them share it with other participants, partner with professional performers to play out or tell the story and create live performances for an audience. Over the next five years the Well Arts Institute partnered with healthcare professionals and worked with a variety of venues. She co-founded the Red Earth Theatre in Sedona, where she works with professional actors, and began volunteering with NAVAHCS in 2012 where she offered the 10-12 week “Performing Wellness” workshop once a year. After obtaining a series of previous smaller grants to expand the program, Hawkes was awarded a large grant by the Northern Arizona Healthcare Foundation in 2019. The workshop is now offered year-round.
The first session under the new grant began in January 2020. They were approaching the last few weeks of the when all in-person sessions were halted due to COVID-19 precautions. Hawkes worked creatively and efficiently with the PRRC staff and there was no lag in the program; it continued as scheduled the following week. Now at the end of the second session, all of which has been conducted online, the final production is underway as they work together to create an online Zoom performance compilation for audiences to enjoy. The third session began on August 12 and Hawkes plans to hold an intensive 6-week holiday session beginning in November. She is looking for outreach opportunities to promote the program and hopes to see video productions on the Red Earth Theatre, the NAVAHCS, and other websites soon. Another grant will be sought to continue the program past 2020. Under the current grant, allowances were made for COVID-19 restrictions which gave Hawkes creative license to re-invent the workshop as needed for the online format.
In the “Journey of Imagination” workshop, participants are able to shift their model of trauma healing and self-image from a sick, powerless, dependent, broken patient to an empowered, creative person, with a powerful story to tell. Veterans are working in collaboration with an artistic team to share their story. By the end of the workshop, two tangible creations exist. First, is a book which contains a compilation of the written and visual materials created by all of the group members. It is completed and available for viewing prior to the final week of classes. Second, is the professionally produced performance of their story before an audience. The creative team consists of the primary artist (the participant), the facilitator (or supporting artist), and the professional performer(s), whether it be actors, dancers, or musicians. The primary artist retains all rights to their material. Hawkes said, “Performances may be done in the form of a dialogue, poetry, or a monologue and may include music, dancing, props, or images. This is a narrative approach to healing and is process-based versus outcome oriented. It provides a venue to find meaning in a trauma or illness experience. Each artist becomes a storyteller, a listener and develops empathy as a witness to the stories of others.” The public performance begins the open conversation about the effects of trauma and illness which helps to break the shame cycle. It provides validation, inspiration, and encourages others to share their stories which takes trauma and illness experiences out of anonymity and isolation.
The ability to creatively convey what happened and how they feel about it helps to release the trauma effects. One Veteran said, “It is a huge commitment. Each class builds upon the previous classes, so you have to be willing to fully commit to the 12-week process to get the full benefit, but it’s worth it.” Others observe participants who begin to open up, blossom, become more engaged in life and gain a new sense of control over their situation.
For more information, please contact Ali Cassidy, LCSW, PRRC Program Manager and Veteran Experience Committee Chair at (928)776-5302 or Alexandra.Cassidy@va.gov. The PRRC business hours are Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.