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How one Tampa hospital uses dance to help veterans

Dance therapy is one way to work through pain and anxiety.

TAMPA, Fla. — James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa is taking a unique approach to help our local veterans suffering from pain, anxiety, depression or PTSD.

"Learning a dance is like learning a language for your whole body," Brittni Cleland, a dance and movement therapist at the hospital, said. 

According to Cleland, once people get past the idea of "dancing," they embrace the movement. 

"I explain what it is and then I say, 'you learned to march cadence with others. You learned to breathe and visualize your mission so breathe to shoot a gun, visualize your mission with others.' So dance movement therapy can be a spectrum," she explained.

Sila Regester knows about the benefits firsthand. She's a coach who takes dance therapy. 

"As a veteran myself, I know the need to have someone come in and help us move the pain because it's chronic," she said.

Regester said she can tell the movement is making a difference.

"One thing about creative arts, once you get into the creative arts, whether it's movement, painting, singing, dancing. Whatever it is that you're doing in creative arts, it lifts. It brings a lift to the women where the anxiety is not there at the moment," she added.

The creative therapies are made possible by funding from Operation Helping Hand, a Tampa-based group formed to help veterans and their families with a variety of needs.

"So now we will expand to help out the therapy folks. The art, music, virtual reality and now they have a dance therapy so most of our funds go toward the therapy projects," Jim Griffin, the organization's CEO, said.

Operation Helping Hand hosts monthly dinners for veterans and is always looking for sponsors. Click here for more information on how you can help.

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