Operation Oak Tree Helps Military Families by Integrating Therapy Through Arts

The following is a press release about a great program – Operation Oak Tree – that utilizes art therapy and the creative arts to help military families. Looking for related articles about the arts and military? You can read more about art therapy for PTSD.

Table of Contents:

  1. Press Release: Operation Oak Tree and ITA’s presentation to White House Officials
  2. About Operation Oak Tree
  3. Pre-Mobilization Programming for Military Families
  4. Programming for Families of a Deployed Service Member
  5. Reintegration Programming for Military Families
  6. Programming for Families of Fallen Military Service Personnel


Press Release: Operation Oak Tree and ITA’s presentation to White House Officials

Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden meets with therapist Katherine Dillingham to discuss creative arts therapy programs for military families.

The Institute for Therapy through the Arts (ITA), a comprehensive, Chicago-based creative arts therapy program of the Music Institute of Chicago, participated in a presentation to Dr. Jill Biden, joined by Illinois Army National Guard soldiers and their families, June 16. The Second Lady was in Chicago to launch a tour as part of Joining Forces, a national initiative she is spearheading with First Lady Michelle Obama to mobilize all sectors of society to give service members and their families the opportunities and support they have earned.

Registered Drama Therapist Katherine Dillingham, coordinator of the ITA’s Operation Oak Tree programs for military families, presented information about ITA’s “Deep Roots, New Leaves” Reintegration Program, which aims to create a smooth transition between deployment and homecoming for soldiers and their family members.

“We know it can be hard for military families to get back to normal after a deployment,” said Dillingham. “By using the creative arts, a language children are comfortable with, we’re giving these kids the tools to express their feelings, the skills to engage their parents in a healthy dialogue, and the screening to determine if they need more help.”

Dr. Biden and Ms. Obama have dedicated themselves to shining a light on military families’ strength and courage as well as the challenges that they face, traveling in both the United States and abroad to speak with soldiers and their families and to raise awareness for the special sacrifices that these Americans make.

About Operation Oak Tree

art therapy military mosaic wall

Through Operation Oak Tree, the Institute for Therapy through the Arts offers services for military families throughout the cycle of deployment. Its mission is to:

  • empower individual expression to foster personal growth
  • deepen interpersonal roots between and among family members
  • strengthen coping strategies so that families may more easily weather challenges inherent in each season of the cycle
  • and make it easier for families to branch out into their communities for support.

Among the programs available under the Operation Oak Tree banner:

Pre-Mobilization Programming for Military Families

This program helps children identify and express their feelings verbally and nonverbally and strategize methods that might help the family remain connected during mobilization.

The mission of the Family Pre-Mobilization programming is to strengthen family and individual resilience and readiness in advance of the disruption caused by a service member’s mobilization. Through the creative arts, children have an opportunity to identify and express their feelings both verbally and nonverbally.

Arts experiences are designed to help children anticipate difficult emotions surrounding a loved one’s departure and to strategize methods that may be of use to them throughout the deployment period. These strategies may include ways in which the family will remain connected during mobilization, and ways in which individual family members will communicate their concerns and experiences to one another.

During the summer of 2010, ITA served a pre-deployment event at Naval Station Great Lakes in Lake County, IL. ITA staff facilitated a welcome engagement activity as well as nine creative arts therapy groups for approximately 40 children from Navy Reserve families.

Programming for Families of a Deployed Service Member

This program promotes awareness of feelings and behaviors, helping family members adjust to their new roles in their loved one’s absence and connect with other families.

ITA’s mission in serving families coping with a service member’s current deployment is to engage and enact strategies generated during Pre-Mobilization services, to reassess the needs of the individual and family as they adjust to the absence, and to help the family remain connected and communicative throughout the experience.

Creative arts therapists will facilitate self-expression and insight to promote awareness of feelings and behaviors associated with the mobilization of a loved one. Therapists will help families explore ways in which they can assure the proper place in their home will be held for the service member while determining how to adjust and adapt to their new roles and responsibilities in their loved one’s absence. Families will be offered opportunities to interconnect, building a community of families moving through similar adjustments and managing similar circumstances.

Reintegration Programming for Military Families

This program facilitates a smooth transition between deployment and homecoming, aiming to create a scaffold upon which a family can build a new normal.

ITA’s mission in serving military families post-mobilization is to facilitate a smooth transition between deployment and homecoming for Illinois Army National Guard Families. The Creative Arts Therapies serve as the delivery system for communication tools provided during workshop events and in a take-home activity book. Programming is designed to catalyze expressive, enjoyable interaction among all family members. This program aims to create a scaffold upon which a family can build a new normal.

ITA staff served Yellow Ribbon Reintegration events between September 2009 and July 2010. During this time the program grew and changed with the assessed needs of soldiers and their families.

When providing therapeutic opportunities through artistic mediums, participants are able to explore feelings through the safety of a contained experience. Drama, art and music therapy provide a means of nonverbal expression which then can be viewed, heard or enacted, providing an external representation of internal thoughts and emotions.

This artistic representation can then be processed verbally with therapists in order to explore personal reactions and facilitate insight into each individual’s own experience. Creative arts therapists monitor this process carefully, attending to expressive content as it emerges and frequently containing it within a metaphor. Art can then become a process once can explore without revealing too much personally. Instead, personal experiences are attributed to the art medium through a dramatic character, a drawing or a musical composition.

Programming for Families of Fallen Military Service Personnel

This program guides families through grief toward a celebration of the life of the fallen military personnel, strengthening bonds and deepening communication.

ITA’s programs for families of fallen soldiers offer opportunities which usher participants through the process of grief toward a celebration of the life of the fallen military personnel and of the family members who survive, while strengthening bonds and deepening communication. ITA hopes to create a community of families who mourn a similar loss, and who may support one another as they adapt toward a new normal. ITA will use the creative arts to facilitate emotional expression throughout the phases of mourning.

About Institute for Therapy through the Arts

Founded in 1975 as a division of the Music Institute of Chicago, the Institute for Therapy through the Arts is one of the few comprehensive community-based arts therapy programs in the United States that offers all four arts modalities: music, drama, art, and dance/movement therapies. During the past 34 years, ITA has treated 44,000 individuals throughout the Chicago metropolitan area with psychological challenges, physical impairments, and developmental delays through music, dance, drama, and art therapy. ITA is nationally recognized and has distinguished itself in the use of integrated arts approaches to help children and adults with disabilities find healthy and positive ways to express themselves. ITA’s fully trained and credentialed creative arts therapists continue to make advancements toward reaching ITA goals. ITA is currently serving 2,500 individuals at 92 sites in four Illinois counties (Cook, DuPage, Lake, and McHenry). The sites include three in-house clinic locations, schools, adult day centers, hospitals, a drug rehabilitation center, and a domestic violence shelter.

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