Karen Pence champions art therapy: It's not just 'arts and crafts'

By Danielle Haynes  |  Oct. 18, 2017 at 7:58 PM
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Oct. 18 (UPI) -- Karen Pence unveiled art therapy as her personal initiative as second lady Wednesday, saying she hopes to educate people that it's a "mental health profession, and not arts and crafts."

She made the announcement at Florida State University, a school renowned for its art therapy programs.

"From children with cancer, to struggling teens, to grieving families, to people with autism, to military service members experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, to those with eating disorders, art therapy is changing lives," she said.

Pence said she wants to bring attention a discipline she says isn't well known.

"I hope to change that," she said.

Prior to becoming first lady of Indiana in 2013, Pence was an elementary teacher. In a blog post about her Art Therapy: Healing with the HeART initiative, she said her interest in art therapy was inspired by a tour of Disneyland with Disney lobbyist Preston Padden.

"He took us around the park and I asked some of the illustrators, because I'm an art teacher, if I should still be teaching the fundamentals of drawing or should I be using more computer assisted art techniques," she wrote in the post.

Pence said Padden connected her with a program called Tracy's Kids, an art therapy program for children with cancer in Washington, D.C.

Donna Betts, president of the American Art Therapy Association, said this form of therapy can be especially useful for people unable to express themselves through words.

"It is evident when I visit art therapy programs across the United States and world, that art therapy is making a positive difference," Pence said.

After her announcement, Pence visited an eating disorder treatment center in Tallahassee that offers art therapy to patients.

Pence isn't the first second lady to champion a cause during her tenure. Jill Biden advocated breast cancer awareness and literacy, Lynne Cheney pushed education reform and Tipper Gore made headlines with her efforts to censor explicit content in popular culture.

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