For Clinicians and Therapists

How do craft kits help veterans?

HEAL VETS arts and craft kits benefit veterans in several ways. They aid in rehabilitation, designed to restore coordination and impaired motor skills, improve attention spans and concentration, and relieve symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions.

Clinical Settings Where Arts and Crafts are Effectively Being Used

  • Nursing Homes
  • Outpatient Programs
  • Inpatient Hospitalization
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers
  • Psychiatric Facilities (inpatient and outpatient)
  • Community Health Clinics
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Physical Therapy Centers
  • Assisted Living Centers
  • Burn Units
  • Health & Wellness Centers
  • Vet Centers
  • U.S. Vets

Therapeutic Arts and Crafts are an Effective Medical Tool

Today, many Physicians, Occupational Therapists, Recreational Therapists and Social Workers prescribe arts and crafts as an important component of a patient’s treatment plan. Such an approach provides tremendous therapeutic and rehabilitative benefits, including improving fine motor skills, cognitive functioning, memory and dexterity. Working on Arts and Crafts can also help alleviate anger issues and the severity of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brian Injury (TBI) triggers such as anxiety, intrusive thoughts, sadness and frustration.

The utilization of arts and crafts was first introduced as a therapeutic tool by founders of the early Occupational Therapy movement during the Industrial Revolution. Traditional courses of medicine were not effective in dealing with a host of new maladies stemming from people working long hours in factory production lines. A few Physicians and University Professors in the early 1900’s were first to notice that medicine could not always heal the entire person and there were conditions that could be improved by adding arts and crafts to patient treatment plans instead of traditional bed rest therapy. The founders of the early Occupational Therapy movement knew that the basic tenets of working on crafts could bring about a host of positive benefits in a holistic manner.

Today, arts and crafts are being effectively utilized in a variety of clinical settings and Help Heal Veterans (Heal Vets) arts and craft kits are helping lead the way. Heal Vets has donated over 29 million therapeutic arts and craft kits to our nation’s veterans and active duty military personnel in support of their healing and recovery. Thanks to Heal Vets donors our nation’s veterans and their clinicians never have to worry about the costs for Heal Vets craft kits.

If you are a Physician, Occupational Therapist, Recreation Therapist or Social Worker providing care for a U.S. military veteran in any medical setting, please consider adding Heal Vets arts and crafts to your patient treatment plan. The craft kits are free because our nation’s veterans have already paid the price through their sacrifice and service to our country.

To apply to receive HEAL VETS Craft Kits at your facility, click here.

In the early 1900’s, several movements swept across America. Modern medicine wasn’t modern and physicians treated the suffering of the patient rather than the whole person. Physicians were trained in mostly eastern Colleges and Universities and “bedside manner” was not on the curriculum.

Converging at the same time was the Industrial Revolution and people who for generations worked in agriculture and ranching were now employed in factories working long hours on production lines. Many workers started complaining of health problems such as anxiety, depression, insomnia as well as a host of physical conditions. Physicians of the time were ill equipped to handle the mounting health concerns. Factory owners wanted workers on the job as people were often thought of as part of the ma- chine they operated.

At the same time, the arts and crafts movement was expanding its influence and Craft Clubs were springing up across America filled with people looking for a simpler way of life. Handmade crafts were considered superior to the production quality items being made in the factories. During the Industrial Revolution, John Ruskin, a mid 19th century University Professor maintained that machines and factory work limited human happiness. Some physicians connected with prestigious schools concluded that medicine by itself did not offer a complete answer to illness. Dr. Herbert J. Hall was interested in developing a cure for factory workers com- plaining of morbid anxiety, unaccounted fatigue, irrational fears and compulsive behavior. He based his therapeutics squarely on the goal that working on arts and crafts and gaining the therapeutic benefits were superior to traditional course of bed rest.
Other physicians were soon looking for ways to humanize the care of the chronically ill. Dr’s. Adolph Meyer and William Rush Dalton in particular led the way for the introduction of arts and crafts into patient’s treatment plans. Meyer, along with his wife Mary, a social worker developed an occupational program that helped introduce the therapeutic prescription of activities, including arts and crafts. Meyer collaborated with Julia Lathrop, a social worker and civic activist to find ways to improve the lives of the less fortunate by applying principles of the arts and crafts movement to patient programs.

Combining ideas that were once important in medical practice with ideas from the arts and crafts movement, these individuals and others founded a new profession which was later named Occupational Therapy. Dr. Dalton came to believe in the “curative” effect of goal directed activity which combined the therapeutic and medical with the diversional and recreational use of activities. Above all, the goal of arts and crafts in Occupational Therapy was to move successful workers back into the workforce.

The Occupational Therapy founders creatively applied these ideas to a neglected group of chronically disabled patients. These applications were varied and creative and included the management of pain during recuperation, the redirection of wandering minds of elders and the diversion from the thought of depression. These professionals knew that the scientific prescription of arts and crafts could cure a variety of chronic problems generally considered outside of the domain of medicine (Tracy 1912; Hull & Buck 1916; Dutton 1918).

Medicine was in part responsible for the initial direction taken by Occupational Therapy. By the turn of the 20th century, American physicians were shifting to a scientific foundation. Disease was understood in terms of physiological processes rather than in terms of suffering, specialists concerned themselves with organs and tissue rather than the whole patient.

Research Conclusions

Their research concluded that a variety of medical benefits can be derived from working on arts and crafts, including;

1. Glaser (1930) noted that the eye, hand, mind and creative imaginations are stimulated by arts and crafts.

2. Arts and Crafts elicit the patient’s goals, values and interests in the activity process.(The Influence of Arts and Crafts Movement on the Profession of Occupational Therapists, Ruth Ellen Levine April 1987)

3. Art Therapy is a creative method of expression used as a therapeutic technique. Art Therapy originated in the fields of arts and crafts and physiotherapy.(Art Therapy, Wikipedia)

4. Craft Therapy is a form of treatment service that assists individuals in improvement of fine motor skills, cognitive, physical and social aspects of their lives. The utilization of arts and crafts is the basis of the therapeutic delivery. The ultimate goal is to enhance the patient’s quality of life through the participation in arts and crafts.

5. Craft can be described as a distinctive knowledge that is intuitive and expressed through making and do- ing. This refers to the act of making, to bodily kinesthetic intelligence and to intuitive learning which occurs in the craft process by evaluation and apprenticeship.

6. Tubbs and Drake (2007) describe the therapeutic nature of craft as something that enhances personal strengths and functioning by sensory, psychological and social significance. 

7. Craft can help clients realize that through the design process, or process of taking raw materials or minimally prepared substances and processing, assembling, and form- ing them, the clients can do the same with their lives.

8. The analysis revealed that craft can be useful in achieving therapeutic changes in following areas:

physiology (heart rate, respiration etc.), psychophysiology (pain, level of consciousness etc.), senso-motory development (internalization of visual, tactile and kinesthetic functions, fine motor coordination etc.),perception (discrimination of differences etc.), cognition (learning skills, knowledge, attitudes, short and long-term retention etc.), behavior (activity level, activity level, safety, accuracy etc.), craft- related skills (composing, craft techniques, using equipments and materials etc.), emotions (anxiety, depression, motivation, imagery etc.), communication (verbal and nonverbal communication, expressive skills etc.), interpersonal (role behaviors, relationship patterns, sensitivity etc.) and creativity (inventiveness, artistry etc).

9. It can be concluded that craft can be an empowering way to functional mental health as it minimizes the ex- posing stressors and holds positive illusions, while it can strengthen the sense of coherence and self-confidence and self-acceptance. Craft may act as a cognitive filter and distraction by maintaining positive mood in cases where a cognitive filter is needed to distort negative in- formation or thoughts in a positive direction, or where it is needed to isolate or represent them in as unthreatening a manner as possible.
Research and Credits:
Bissell, J. C. & Mailloux, Z. (1981). The use of crafts in occupational therapy for the physically disabled. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 35, 369–374.
Breines, E. B. (1995). Occupational therapy activities from clay to computers: Theory and practice. Philadelphia, PA: FA Davis.
Harris, E. (2008). The meanings of craft to an occupational therapist. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 55, 133-142. doi: 10:1111/ j.1440-1630.2007.00700.x
Levine, R. E. (1987). Looking back: The influence of the arts and crafts movement on the professional status of occupational therapy. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 41, 248– 254.
Stancliff, B. L. (1996). Roundtable: Are arts and crafts a valuable modality? OT Practice, October, 51–54.
Thompson, M. & Blair, S. E. E. (1998). Creative arts in occupational therapy: Ancient history or contemporary practice? Occupational Therapy International, 5, 49–65.

Frank Cimorelli, Recreation Therapist and Christine Bishop, ASU Recreation Therapy Intern

Additional Resources