Karen Pence unveils her second lady platform

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Karen Pence (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Second lady Karen Pence has a message and a mission: Art therapy is not just arts and crafts.

“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,” Pence said Wednesday. “Art therapy is changing lives and it is saving lives.”

Pence formally unveiled her “Art Therapy: Healing with the HeART” policy platform and outlined goals for her work as second lady while speaking in Tallahassee, Florida, at Florida State University, which offers a Masters of Science in art therapy.

Pence is seeking to “elevate the profession so that people understand art therapy is a mental health profession.”

“It is not arts and crafts. It is not therapeutic art. When I get out my watercolors and I turn on some music, that makes me feel better. People think that’s what we’re talking about. That is not art therapy,” she said. “For art therapy, you have to have the art and the client and the therapist, the trained therapist who has a clinical psychology background, who is somebody who can lead their client through the process.”

The second lady wants people to understand that art therapy is an option for those dealing with trauma, and she is also hoping to use her platform to encourage more people to consider art therapy as a profession.

Pence first became interested in art therapy over 10 years ago, visiting and later joining the board for Tracy’s Kids, a program for children with cancer in Washington.

The second lady is an artist herself, specializing in watercolors of homes and historical buildings. Pence has a master’s degree in art education and taught for 25 years, 12 of which as an art teacher. She recently illustrated a children’s book about her family’s pet rabbit, out early next year.

She emphatically stated: “I am not an art therapist. And I want everybody to know that, because an art therapist must be an expert in human development, psychology, counseling theories and techniques. However, I did know that I wanted to get involved.”

Pence has already signaled her platform would be a significant priority: She’s made more than 20 art therapy-focused appearances since her husband assumed office.

Wednesday’s announcement caps a jam-packed few weeks for Pence, visiting art therapy programs and exhibits across the country, including MercyFirst in New York, the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland and New Directions for Veterans in California.

When she traveled to Hurricane Maria-ravaged Puerto Rico with her husband, Pence came bearing 100 pounds of clay, and participated in an art session with children impacted by the hurricane and an art therapist.

Pence has also made art therapy a hallmark of her trips abroad with her husband, Vice President Mike Pence, visiting art therapy programs in South AmericaAsiaAustralia and Eastern Europe.

Pence said the Office of the Second Lady will continue to collaborate with the Art Therapy Association of America, art therapists, academics, military and veterans organizations and medical experts, and she will continue to speak publicly, visit art therapy programs, advocate for the conducting of more research showing its benefits, and share stories of art therapists and programs. She is also starting a blog on whitehouse.gov about her visits to spread the word.

Following her remarks, Pence was set to tour the art therapy program at Canopy Cove Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Tallahassee.

Next week, she will return to Florida to speak about art therapy at the Creative Forces Summit in Tampa and then travel to Buffalo, New York, to participate in the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

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