Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, recalls fleeing her war-torn country at 13 in 1975. The boat carrying her four siblings, mother and father lost power and was caught in a storm. Her father fell overboard and drowned.
“That was my trauma,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen has been in the U.S. now for nearly 40 years, and today works as creative expressions community liaison for AspenPointe. She works with trauma victims, including many veterans, in dealing with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injuries. Nguyen also uses art as therapy for the families of combat casualties.
Nguyen said she caters to three distinct types of clients. The first group is learning coping skills and using art to relax. The second group shows innate artistic abilities, so structure is more about learning techniques. The third group learns employable skills including matting, framing, presenting and even arranging an art show.
Nguyen said art is therapeutic because it can access the subconscious and provide a quiet escape from daily interruptions.
Nguyen provided an example of one solder who changed his life because of the program.
“He was in an IED explosion and was a physical and mental mess,” she said. “He was very paranoid and anxious. He didn’t know what to do and heard about the program. He had PTSD and wanted his power back.”
[pullquote]Art is a way of life. Art heals.[/pullquote]He started art for the therapeutic aspects, and began drawing in pencil. Then he moved on to markers and finally used watercolor, “the least controllable medium,” Nguyen said.
“He got out of the Army and went back to school on a full scholarship,” she said. “He got a degree in film and he just won two Emmy’s. He had innate talent and this changed the direction of his life.”
Nguyen said she was nominated by a client, a former Air Force colonel and pilot who flew missions in and out of disaster areas. She became very secluded in retirement,” she said.
Nguyen said she is thankful and surprised by the Women of Influence recognition.
“I’m privileged and humbled,” she said. “I’m not in a high position in AspenPointe. The other winners are vice presidents and very involved, or CEOs. Oh my gosh! How did I get selected for this? I’m very honored.”