New VA Telehealth Program Brings Art Therapy To Vets At Home

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Without leaving the comfort of his Ocala, Fla. apartment, Joshua Lawhorn, 28, is getting help with his memory problems by learning to play the guitar.

Lawhorn, an active-duty solider, is recovering from post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury after a couple of tours in Afghanistan. He is one of hundreds of people enrolled in the Telehealth Creative Arts Therapy program offered by the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville.

Music therapist Diane Garrison Langston connects with Lawhorn for 50-minute sessions that include more than learning new guitar chords. Langston sits in a ground-floor music therapy room at the massive VA complex, while Lawhorn is more than an hour away in his living room.

They chat briefly. Lawhorn tells Langston that he cut his finger while cooking, so he hasn't practiced playing guitar much.

"There is no requirement for how much he's practiced," Langston said. "This is not music lessons. It is music therapy. It's not supposed to be a stressful thing."

Lawhorn confessed that he would probably stop therapy if it "became a chore" or if he had to drive to Gainesville for the sessions.

Langston said that learning to play the guitar is a good coping skill that helps patients focus.

"Not only is it great for finding gross motor movement because you have to strum," Langston said, "it's positive cognitive processing because they're learning a new language."

Nationwide, the VA provides Telehealth services to more than 700,000 patients a year in more than 40 different programs. They include addiction services, women's healthcare, and pain management.

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