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Projects with Promise

Vol. 24 No. 1

Tracings of Trauma: Engaging Learners and Challenging Veteran Stigma through Collaborative Research-based Theater

January 28, 2020


Military veterans are stereotyped in the media as either broken human beings or invincible heroes, often creating implicit bias and affecting medical providers’ ability to establish trusting relationships. Interactive learning methods can challenge stigma and create empathic connections with veterans in a manner that conveys sensitivity. Community-engaged theater has been successfully used in health education to transfer knowledge on both emotional and cognitive levels. This article reports on a research-based theater intervention, Tracings of Trauma, co-designed by veterans and aimed at orienting medical/allied health students to the unique experiences of combat veterans. Early-stage assessment demonstrated statistically significant improvement in students’ self-perceived awareness of stigma, ability to talk to veterans, and empathize with veterans’ varying experiences. Implications suggest interactive, performance driven dissemination can be a strategy to deepen learning experiences of stigmatized groups who experience trauma. Evaluating long-term impact on practice will be critical in linking this intervention to clinical outcomes.