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'The Vision Tree'

OT students connect with homeless veterans through art and garden therapy.

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"The Vision Tree" was an eight week art therapy project designed by Teddy Um, MSOT, a graduate student at California State University Dominguez Hills. Um designed this goal-setting skills project as a part of his Level 2 fieldwork rotation with the Pan-American MOA Foundation, at the Century Villages at Cabrillo Transitional Housing Shelter Community in Long Beach, Calif.

The clients were residents of the US VETS Initiative Shelter. Um, along with occupational therapy students from California State University Dominguez Hills and University of Southern California, helped facilitate groups for a garden therapy program with veterans in recovery from combat trauma, homelessness, and substance addiction in the Veterans Villages Recovery Center in Long Beach, Calif. His goal was to use art as part of the garden therapy treatment plan to stimulate the development of goals, leisure interests, recovery skills and coping strategies.

Um worked in collaboration with Luz Machado, OTR/L, occupational therapist for the Veterans Administration, and Susan Brislin, MA, OTR/L, from the Mokichi Okada Association. He used the philosophical base of Clark's "Occupational Storytelling and Story Making" (1993) to inform his choice to have the veterans construct a three-dimensional art project using floral wire and plaster, in the shape of a tree. From the branches, the veterans hung handmade ornaments. A Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM) assessment was administered to each participant before and after the treatment program to address performance and satisfaction levels of valued life goals.

Clients used guided meditation, customized music playlists with songs that represented important individual life stages and relationships, group discussion, and journaling as part of the art therapy group and worked outside in the garden area as well as in the shelter classroom. The final session was held as a beach outing and picnic at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, Calif. Clients were stimulated with creation of their trees to group leadership on a variety of neglected interests, such as one veteran teaching a series of clay pottery classes to the community on site, and another playing his long-neglected guitar for the group and teaching OT students how to tune by ear. One veteran expressed an interest in adopting a cat as a therapy animal and used her ornament with the image of the cat to take action steps on securing a registered service animal license.

Objects on the trees represented career and education goals as well, and as veterans transitioned out of the program into job training, one pursued his previous career in plumbing, as represented by the shape of his tree trunk, while another pursued an auto mechanic training, which was represented by an ornament made from a toy car.

Clients expressed in journals and group discussion how the construction of the tree object as well as the placing it within their lived environment in the homeless shelter room stimulated their accountability to each other to take action steps on valued goals and demonstrate leadership and community building skills.

Students involved in the project were:

From California State University Dominguez Hills: Teddy Tae Hyon Um, MSOT; Cassandra Hudson, OTS; Jessica Lam, OTS; Leilua Satele, OTS; Vanessa Ladson, OTS; Monika Vartanyan, OTS; Laura Leppke, OTS; Laura Perez, OTS; and Jessica Oberinger, OTS.

From the University of Southern California: Chloe Urbano, OTS; and Aleek Karkazian, OTS.

Photos courtesy of Vanessa Ladson, MSOT, a fieldwork student at California State Dominguez Hills.

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