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unmasking the agony art therapy helps soldiers cope with trauma
“Unmasking the Agony” – art therapy helps soldiers cope with trauma

These masks and montage paintings were created during art therapy groups at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICOE), a Department of Defense research institute. Soldiers can participate in art therapy, music therapy, and therapeutic writing during a four-week intensive outpatient program designed to advance the treatment, research, and education of traumatic brain injury and psychological health concerns.

This mask was created by an Army flight medic who said one side represents the United States shedding tears for the military and the other side represents the military shedding tears for the U.S. A quote on the mask reads "I have destroyed my life and myself so that others may live."
This mask depicts the words TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) painted onto a vice clamped to the mask. The mask was created by a soldier symbolizing the pain he feels as a result of his traumatic brain injury.
This mask represents the men who were killed in action while the Marine who created it was in command. It symbolizes death and his attempt to resuscitate the wounded. His fingerprints on the nose and chin are reminders of his CRR efforts.
Various memories and scenes from deployments are recreated on this Marine's mask. A drawing of his family on the mask's chin symbolizes how he felt they "took the brunt" of his issues after he returned home.
This montage painting represents the changes, or "repairs," the patient went through after coming to NICOE. The door represents the soldier completing the program -- he said he felt he could stand upright and proud as he was leaving.
This mask symbolizes the soldier's need to camouflage himself to fit into society. The soldier shared that art therapy was one of the only times he felt he could truly express himself.
This mask, entitled "The Shock of Death," is the depiction of one soldier's traumatic memory of an Iraqi who was shot in the head during a firefight. Even though part of his skull was gone, the soldier could see that the dying man was still conscious.
This mask symbolizes the patient's inability to open up about his emotions and experiences due to the stigma associated with mental health issues. He said the metal eyes represent how he feels service members are trained to be machine-like, or robotic. The background colors are those of Afghanistan's flag.
This mask was created by a Marine to symbolize his "split sense of self": his happy, civilian side, and an injured, military side that has been affected by war and traumatic experiences.
This mask was created by a soldier who was exposed to multiple blast injuries in combat. The mask depicts the EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) symbol. EOD units dispose of bombs or improvised explosive devices which could severely injury or kill if detonated.
Titled "Emotional Hostage" this mask expresses how emotions inevitably grab control of the soldier who created it, despite his effort to suppress and hide them.
This mask is part of a two-piece artwork exploring the significance of death and the surviving spirit that remains after a person is killed.
tttc questions
TTTC Questions
  • Who has died? How did he die? What tone does his death set? Why?
  • Who is Martha? Describe the role she serves in this first chapter.
  • What are some of the things that they carried?
  • Why do you think O'Brien gives the specific weights for the objects the men carry?
  • Questions you have?
characters tttc
Characters, TTTC
  • Tim O’Brien
  • Jimmy Cross
  • Kiowa
  • Rat Kiley
  • Ted Lavender
  • Henry Dobbins
  • Elroy Berdahl (old man)
  • Dave Jensen
  • Lee Strunk
  • Martha
tim o brien from tttc how to tell a true war story
Tim O’Brien from TTTC, “How to Tell a True War Story”

If you don't care for obscenity, you don't care for the truth; if you don't care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty.

your turn or the things you carry
Your turn, or The Things You Carry

Borrowing from O’Brien’s technique, list the things you carry…

Include the tangible things you physically carry with you – these are the things you have every day, your “essentials.”

Also include the non-tangible things do you carry with you? What feelings, memories, hopes, hearts?

to mindmap in your groups
To Mindmap in your groups


  • Tim O’Brien
  • Jimmy Cross
  • Kiowa
  • Rat Kiley
  • Ted Lavender
  • Henry Dobbins
  • Elroy Berdahl (old man)
  • Dave Jensen
  • Lee Strunk
  • Martha

Stories we’ve read so far:

  • The Things They Carried
  • Love
  • Spin
  • On the Rainy River
  • Enemies


  • Lack of appreciation
  • Emotional issues:
  • Injuries/psychological impacts
  • What to do with feelings?
  • Developmental issues
  • Guilt –
  • Blame
assessing your items
Assessing your items

Go through your bag. On the back of your items, answer the following questions:

  • For your tangible items: Why do you prioritize these; why do you walk with them? What might this say about you and/or your priorities? How much do they weigh?
  • For your less tangible things, why do you think these “stay” with you? Where do they come from? If you were to rank their weight on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), how would you rate them?
characters themes
Characters & Themes

Tim O'Brien

Jimmy CrossBob "Rat" KileyKiowaNorman BowkerHenry Dobbins 

Story Telling & Truth



Place your character at the center

  • Mindmap around the character; connecting them to stories, themes, events
  • I encourage the use of visuals; it does not have to be written
  • Somewhere in your map, have a quote you noted or highlighted (at least one)
  • It was something that would never go away, he said quietly, and I nodded and told him I felt the same about certain things. Then for a long time neither of us could think of much to say. The things to do, we decided, was to forget the coffee and switch to gin, which improved the mood, and not much later we were laughing about some of the craziness that used to go on.”
what things did they carry
What things did they carry?
  • What do you think is the heaviest thing that the men carry? Why?