This paper examines visual arts practices in the context of Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills (ARRTS), a four-week intensive residential program for ill or injured serving Defence personnel, which has been hosted twice annually by the University of Canberra since 2015. Two datasets of visual material sit in the public domain and invite opportunities to undertake close reading of the visual artworks produced and processes pursued. Our work considers the intersections between participatory, expressive creative practice, and art instrumentalised for its therapeutic benefits. We attend to the tensions between stakeholders operating in an explicit hierarchy that does not reward expressive individualism, vulnerable participants emerging from this social and professional context, and researchers defined by an obligation to critically evaluate. Navigating this delicate space challenges ARRTS mentors to achieve a productive balance between artistic critique that reflects the professional legitimacy, rigour and worthiness of creative activity, both intrinsically and for its beneficial effects, and creative practice for solace and escape. Interpretations of participants’ own published disclosures, combining visual artwork with descriptive statements protected from a clinical gaze, enable us to better understand how the program’s participatory and expressive agenda aids recovery. This supports a tentative finding that positive health outcomes in ARRTS are enhanced by sidelining health contexts and goals.