Healing Arts program in Blythewood strives to help soldiers find relief from PTSD


Reported by Allie Spillyards

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Jim Dukes photography

A horse at Big Red Barn Retreat. Photo by Jim Dukes

A soon-to-launch program in Blythewood aims to help soldiers cope with the effects of post traumatic stress disorder through a creative outlet.

Jim Dukes became a photographer after years of dealing with combat-related traumatic brain injuries and alcoholism. With no money to spend, he turned to his cell phone to teach himself photography, finally finding relief from the stress he’d lived with for years.

“It provided me another vision in the world around me. You know, I’m trained to find all the things in the world that could harm me: the trip wires and pressure plates. Looking through the lens of my camera allowed me to take that hyper vigilance and attention to detail, but try to focus my mind on the beauty of the world around me as opposed to the danger, so it was both a therapeutic outlet and a physical outlet,” Dukes said.

Now he wants to help others do the same. After starting a Healing Arts Program at Tapp’s Art Center in Columbia, he’s bringing the program to Blythewood’s Big Red Barn Retreat.

“It’s magical. The Healing Arts programs are more about comraderie. It’s not as much about art as it is people that’ve been through similar experiences sitting around a table in a safe environment,” Dukes said.

Participants will use photography, drawing, and writing to fully understand their feelings and find a way to cope.

“The ability to create and use those experiences as a source of inspiration to go back and look at and say, ‘Wow I created that,’ or ‘I put that negative energy into this really ugly, red angry…’ Wow that’s how I was feeling, so let’s start talking about what was the genesis of the feelings that created that,” said Dukes.

His first session is called Screw You Trauma, and Dukes says it will be real talk about real problems among a group of people dealing with the same thing.

It will be held at the Big Red Barn on Feb. 27, and it’s free for active duty military, veterans and their spouses. The session runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and includes lunch.

For more information, visit the Big Red Barn Retreat.