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Interview With 3 Heroes Who Do Woodworking as CPTSD/PTSD Therapy

Woodworking can be a possible professional career and hobby for some, but recently, studies and actual experiences of people discovered the effectiveness of doing woodworking as therapy, and especially as CPTSD/PTSD therapy. As long as you are creating something with your hands, doesn't matter if you prefer to work with a chain saw or a band saw, and using your creativity - it is gonna be therapeutic.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) are both anxiety disorders that result from trauma. PTSD usually happens to people who experience a traumatic event, which is usually a car accident or a natural disaster encounter.

CPTSD, on the other hand, is a result of repeated trauma that may have lasted for months or years. With the constant anxiety, difficulty in regulating emotions, and challenges with relationships of people with CPTSD/PTSD, therapy is needed to help them cope with the effects of their condition, or be treated altogether. Often, a therapy’s goal is not is not only to improve the symptoms, but also to restore the self-esteem on the person. Amazingly, both of these can be achieved through woodworking.

While there isn’t an actual medical data about woodworking as CPTSD/PTSD therapy, the craft allows people to divert their anxieties in a creative manner, let themselves get busy on a project, and eventually take pride in the result of their hard work. Finding it hard to believe that? Well, good thing we interviewed people who actually experienced woodworking as CPTSD/PTSD therapy on certain levels. Read on to know more about their stories.

 

The Interviews - How woodworking help to those who suffer from CPTSD/PTSD

Mierop Mann


Mierop woodworking

I am a 52 year old guy that choose to walk alone through life, as the memories of my childhood abuse became more recurring through triggers and abuse from my family up to the age of 40. After made a heartbreaking decision to walk away from my business and my family, it was a journey I was never prepared for.

I was struggling with acceptance and trying to understand the viciousness of the family and the alienation that went with it. I had no idea what estrangement narcissism and CPTSD had in common. It was through staying true to myself, withdrawing from reality, self discovery and determination for self help. I had to be creative in the most simple and basic way, and that was to work with my hands and keep my mind trained to stay healthy.

Q: How did you learn that woodworking can have a therapeutic effect on you? Why did you start doing it?
I have always had a passion for furniture and before I started this journey, I was a successful businessman with a vision for doing things differently, kind of a trendsetter. The business opportunity that I had was to put the collection of furniture together and create a film and events props house. The company was called CITRUS LOUNGE.

My creativity flourished and part of the business was to make furniture. I started making very simple cubes and squares. Then I started experimenting with larger pieces, and to fully understand the creativity, I was asked to design the backstage area for Kelly Rowland. She was invited by a cellphone company MTN for a private event here in South Africa. She wanted to have a "love-seat" in her dressing room as part of her technical rider. It was challenging and yes, it was not totally my original design, but I came up with a solution and made my version of it.

When people ask me about what I do, the only way I can explain to them is that I am an artist without a brush but with tools, from big ones like mitre saws, to smaller ones like those. The woodworking journey I am on at the moment is part of my healing process. Losing my business and my home; giving it all away for the sake of my freedom and not having much besides a motor vehicle my dog and some passion for furniture, I have adapted my life into doing basic simple things and what I can afford. I believe in my work, and even if only one person is fascinated by it, I feel validated and I feel alive.

Mierop beach chair

Q: When did you start with the woodworking and what benefits are you noticing?
The work that I do now I started about a year ago. I had  material and I had a broken piece of furniture, and the work that I intended to do with the furniture is something I could not afford. I needed to transform a broken piece of furniture and re-purpose it without costing an arm and a leg.

It was an experiment and I did not know where it would take me or if it would make a statement at all. All I knew was that something looked like an opportunity and I was in an emotional turmoil and nothing that I was doing was original or made me excited. The task at hand was to glue wooden shapes into a pattern that made sense, similar to a brush stroke on an empty canvas. It was scary yet exhilarating as something was happening in front of me.

As I noticed a new piece of furniture coming alive, I felt that the childhood trauma I endured and the struggle to stay alive as a grownup was busy communicating with me, it was the balance of passion and creativity starting to work deep from within. I felt alive, validated, and I had an urge to create more of this painstaking therapeutic furniture challenges. To find a new avenue through passion is extremely liberating, especially if it happens right in front of you.

Q: Which areas of your life have improved since you've started woodworking?
Living with anger and confusion. It is wonderful to bring calm and balance into once chaotic existence. Inner turmoil with creative expression is a very good emotional feeling.

Q: What's your favorite thing about woodworking?
Every piece I do is a new chapter and has a new introduction like a movie. It takes me on a journey, allowing opportunity to reflect on various trauma at different stages in my life. It's the story of my inner-child struggling with the abuse and trying to find light at the end of a very dark tunnel. Woodworking will be the savior to a very conflicted existence.

Q: What's your favorite piece you've made so far?
Every piece is a favorite, it's like with children where you can't have a favorite. Each piece is a child with their own challenges, you have to endure the patience to let it become and speak for itself.

Q: Who do you recommend woodworking to?

I can only speak from my experience and my recommendation would be basic: Creativity can't be taught, passion can't be bought. Follow that gut feeling and if it leads you to woodworking, then that would be recommended.

 

Laura B Paskavitz


Laura woodworking cabinet TV/Stand

I'm a single 50 year old woman living in Boston, MA. I don't work and have been living with disability for 25 years due to medical & mental health reasons. I have a great affinity for the well being of other living things. I'm moving toward veganism & that's after being a meat & potatoes kinda gal. I have CPTSD as well as a dissociative disorder from being raised in a cult & around not-well people.

Q: How did you learn that woodworking can have a therapeutic effect on you? Why did you start doing it?
I learned that woodworking can have a therapeutic effect after an artist friend of mine introduced it to me as a way to refocus my anxiety. I started doing it to have a creative outlet and as a way to give original gifts to nieces and nephews.

Q: When did you start with the woodworking and what benefits are you noticing?
I began woodworking in my 20's. I find that it's a great distraction from the daily stressors life brings us. By doing something hands-on and creative, I've noticed my focus & sense of satisfaction increase.

Q: Which areas of your life have improved since you've started woodworking?
My self confidence has improved and I'm inspired to live more in the moment and enjoy the process.

Q: What's your favorite thing about woodworking?
My favorite thing about woodworking is the ability to transform a piece of wood with my own hands into something that is pleasing to the eye and that I can be proud of. And I've learned that even if the final piece didn't turn out exactly as planned, the process itself made the experience enjoyable.

Q: What's your favorite piece you've made so far?
My favorite piece I've made so far is the cabinet/tv stand with a litter box area within the cabinet. It has a side entrance for the cat to enter and exit, and the cabinet doors allow easy access for cleaning the litter area. I live in a small apartment so it works well for me.

Q: Who do you recommend woodworking to?

I think people struggling with self-esteem issues who may not see their own value would benefit from woodworking. By learning to create and build, the hope is that the process and outcome will prove they can make, and are themselves, something to be valued.

 

Rolando Corral


rolando corral with united states wooden flag

My name is Rolando M. Corral Sr. (Age 38) US Army veteran. Born and raised in the central San Joaquin Valley, California. At the age of nine, I decided I was going to serve my country in the Marines. Although I did not make the physical requirements for the Marine Corps, I was able to sign up in the United States Army with medical restrictions. In the Army, I served almost 4 years as a mechanic and machine gunner in convoy security. Into 2005, I was medically discharged and came back home to California.

In 2017, I founded I.G.Y (I’ve, Got, Your) Wood Creations. Our mission to is restore hope for military veterans and first responders through reclaimed wood. We handcraft wooden flags and sale them. We also donate a flag at no cost to most charitable causes.

Q: How did you learn that woodworking can have a therapeutic effect on you? Why did you start doing it?
In the earlier 1990s as a little kid I enjoyed watching “This old house” TV show and many other home improvement TV shows. I always dreamed of being one of those guys who built things out of wood.

When I was medically retired from the Army in 2006, after serving in the initial invasion into Iraq in 2003, I didn’t know I was gonna be suffering from PTSD. Around 2008 I was diagnosed with PTSD. I was already attending college and something just didn’t feel right.

I tried out VA counseling and tried talking to a person behind the desk with a fancy degree on their walls. The degree stated they knew what they were talking about, but I still was having dreams and nightmares and I felt the guilt for not being able to deploy the second time with my Army unit to Iraq. That was in 2005.

Q: When did you start with the woodworking and what benefits are you noticing?
By 2006, I was already attending college and it did help me see the world in an abstract way.
I wanted to take wood shop because that’s the mirror. During my time in service and a bit after that, I only looked at the world as black-and-white, go or no go.

I met a Korean war veteran who’s garage was full of tools. I would pass his house every day on my way to class and one day I decided to go there and ask him if he can teach me wood working. He made me a “poor boy table saw” out of scrap wood and a used Skil saw.

I started to feel like I had a new purpose in life after making my first project which was a window frame for my aunt's 1950s home.

About 2010, I started having a recurring dream after so many failures in other types of therapy. The dream was about me being out in nature and feeling better about myself. And in the dream, another a veteran and I built a wooded American flag out of reclaimed wood and I convinced him not to commit suicide.

In 2017, I used that dream to build my first flag ever.

Q: Which areas of your life have improved since you've started woodworking?
The first time I ever upcycled wood it was my old fence pickets. My kids wanted a table their size. So, I made them a small table, which I had never done before. At that time I had zero experience and had to let down some walls down to open up to someone, like Joe Mohnike, a woodworker and an old veteran. I spent time asking him questions.

You see, it helped me open up and allow myself to let other people know that I was a veteran and encouraged me to not allow my military career define me for the rest of my life. I want woodworking to define who I am for the rest of my life. As for that table, my kids were very pleased and I noticed my creations put a smile on people’s faces.

Woodworking helped me open up to the idea of allowing some people to come into my personal space and share it with them just for a brief moment. I believe Woodworker has help me connect with other parents to help them find resources to improve their lives. Because woodworking helps heal the hidden wounds of war.

Q: What's your favorite thing about woodworking?
Expressing myself through woodworking is what drives my love of building things. I dream about trash that people throw away and I make stuff out of it. I restore it, bring it back to life, and it resurrects as a new creation (upcycle).

For inspiration, I turn to the vivid images I find in dreams. But I also enjoy the challenge of taking a well-known symbol, like the flag, and using it as a medium for art and expression. I enjoy putting my work out there and having folks consider new perspectives. There is something about that kind of connection that makes me feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Those connections are a life source and I hope my art inspires others so we can continue uplifting one another. That’s the "tribal philosophy". We aren’t working for The Self, but for a community.

Q: What's your favorite piece you've made so far?
I chose the American flag as a medium for my work because I believe in what it stands for. It is more than just an idea; it’s a symbol that stands for the dream that mankind can seek freedom. Since it’s creation, the flag has brought together dreamers, thinkers, service men and women, and families. Harmony is at the core of our symbolic flag and my hope is that my flags capture the essence of folks coming together.

My work is a labor of love and each IGY WOOD flag stands out as a one-of-a-kind piece of art, from my heart to yours. That connection and exchange is all that matters to me in the end.

US wooden flag

Q: Who do you recommend woodworking to?

I recommend wood working to anyone who feels they have lost purpose in life. Just start off small, with a handsaw, recip saw or even a cheap jigsaw. You don’t have to have all kinds of tools to make a satisfying creation out of wood.

Summary

Mierop Mann, Laura Paskavitz, and Rolando Corral are just some of the people who did not only face their anxiety disorders bravely, but also made something productive out of their therapy process.

Their stories shed light on how a simple hobby can turn into a transformative way to live a full life, especially for CPTSD/PTSD patients. We may not currently have a full medical viewpoint on woodworking as CPTSD/PTSD therapy, but we do know from their experiences that it can be added to the healing and coping process to achieve positive results.

If you liked this interview, you can read our other interview with four amazing woodworking women:
https://www.sawinery.net/blog/woodworking-women-interview/

7 Comments
  1. Reply Jodi Milner November 5, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    This is wonderful! Such an unique way to release the trauma trapped in our tisdues and use that energy to create something beautiful and meaningful. Art, in all of its forms, whether its movement with the hands or the body or both is a path to healng. Thanks for sharing this article and these inspiring stories!

    • Reply Robert November 13, 2018 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks for the wonderful feedback Jodi!

  2. Reply Raymond Greene November 11, 2018 at 11:19 pm

    This is so moving to me. I have said for years that i found my answer to my issues I have had over the years as I self discovered the hands God has blessed me with to take my minds thoughts and bring it to life through my hands and imagination together are some of the best things I could of found in my time. I dont have a place today to do my therapy like I so bad would be on the daily working to find the spot to set back up and let the wood rip and the craft become mine. This has been a very amazing ad I came acroess. I would be willing to give you my most honest and realist truth in whatever I can do to help this become a more well known place to research into getting the message out that this is a great way to help many people like us become better from known this as the one way to help get through such mental issues that plague us each and everyday. Thanks for this

    • Reply Robert November 13, 2018 at 12:59 pm

      Thanks for the great reply Raymond, glad it inspired you!

  3. Reply Sheri November 15, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    Brilliant intervention for survivors of complex and acute ptsd. As a trauma therapist and a survivor of complex trauma artistic/creative expression has been a source of healing, renewed agency and inspiration. Thank you for promoting this resource!

    • Reply Robert November 18, 2018 at 10:40 am

      Thanks Sheri. Really appreciate your support.

  4. Reply Denise November 18, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Creative solution to a complex issue. Thank you for introducing this. Carry on with your good work.

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