Alumna's project featured in "Visions of Warriors"

While pursuing her master’s degree in Humanities at Dominican in 2013, Susan Quaglietti discovered she could pair her creative writing skills with photography classes to create a powerful narrative. It inspired her to eventually create the Veteran Photo Recovery Project.

On September 12, Susan’s compelling work was featured in Visions of Warriors, documentary that honors the courage of veterans coping with mental health issues. A free screening of the movie -- co-sponsored by the School of Liberal Arts and Education and the departments of Psychology, Health Sciences, and Nursing -- was shown in Garden Room in Edgehill Mansion. It is part of Dominican’s Democracy and Equity Initiative

Susan, who appeared with filmmaker Ming Lai in a question-and-answer sessions following the screening at Dominican, thinks the University is an ideal place for her project to come to fruition.

“Dominican University is an academic institution that values human service and understands the diversity of the human spirit,” Susan says. “Illuminating personal stories that illustrate the ability to change can motivate others to change the world.”

At Dominican, Susan was motivated to extend her education after being a nurse for almost 40 years. She chose Dominican because of the flexibility to choose her own course work. Joan Baranow, director of Dominican’s Graduate Humanities Program and the new MFA in Creating Writing, was influential in helping Susan understand the importance of using creative expression for psychological healing.

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“The Humanities program confirmed that each human narrative is important and that every story heard allows another person to contemplate how to respond to the identified experiences, such as pain, suffering, joy, or hope,” Susan says. “Creative expression with art or writing provides an avenue to process emotions and thoughts in alternative way. It can be used as a therapeutic tool, as a way to bear witness to an experience, and as a product that can be shared with others in many settings.”

Susan’s experience working as a nurse practitioner at the Palo Alto VA Hospital since 1986 provided the impetus for the Veteran Recovery Project in 2012. Dominican provided her with the tools to help launch it. Data was published that showed a link between poor cardiovascular outcomes and mental health issues, especially for veterans with PTSD. Her goal was to provide more holistic coordinated care for veterans. The Veteran Photo Recovery Project was one way to achieve that goal. The program uses creative expression, specifically photography and the act of taking pictures can be a form of mindfulness.

“Between taking creative writing classes at Dominican and photography classes at Foothill College, I realized I could take the college class format and apply it to a therapeutic workshop for veterans,” says Susan, who now works directly with veterans coping with substance abuse, homelessness, PTSD, and moral injury. “The format works because veterans appreciate the challenge to complete the workshop, the process of creating a lasting memory that documents a period of time, the support of sharing their experiences with other veterans, and the insights gained while contemplating their recovery images.”

An editor from VA’s national website agreed to publish an article about the Veteran Photo Recovery Project in 2013. Ming Lai happened to see it. He was contemplating directing a movie about photography and the military and was stunned to realize that photography could be used for healing as well as documenting war. Ming took the Veteran Photo Recovery Project and now features its concept in Visions of Warriors.

September 8, 2017