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Looking Beyond Politics, Karen Pence Becomes an Advocate for Art Therapy

The Second Lady backs a program that is undeniably good for everyone.

The first lady of the United States and the second lady are both expected to have platforms that define their roles in their administration. With the power of the administration behind her, Karen Pence has chosen Art Therapy as the major cause that will define her time over the next four to eight years.

Pence officially announced the program yesterday at Florida State University, called “Art Therapy: Healing with the HeART.” Florida State is known for having a very elite art therapy program. She stressed the need for widespread art therapy for people all over the United States.

“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.” Second Lady Pence is correct: art therapy works. While studies that quantify the results of art therapy are far and few between, their results, however thin, are positive. And people in art therapy report feeling like they were working through their problems more effectively than without it.

Karen Pence

Pence’s cause of choice isn’t exactly a surprise: She holds a Masters degree in art education and was a long-time teacher — and has dedicated a lot of her time to nonprofit work. Decades before she was in the White House, she was an advocate for art therapy.

Art therapy is a form of therapy during which people express themselves through art to help work through issues and improve such traits as self-esteem. It’s particularly useful in the trauma recovery process. It was used, for example, for the survivors of the Hiroshima attack, where therapists asked patients to paint images from their experience and measured their ability to discuss their experiences during the traumatic event before and after painting. Perhaps art therapy’s most useful or promising tactic is that it allows patients who may not be comfortable with verbal expression relay their experiences through images, rather than writing or talking

And it can be very useful for families. One family who lives in a shelter in North Philadelphia glowed about it. Xavier, a 12-year-old who lives in the shelter with his mother and 9-year-old brother, said it made him feel better, and that when he’s angry, he takes to drawing to work out his problems. A trained dance-therapist who works at the shelter, which has transformed to be a center to help young children and adults deal with trauma effectively, extolled the benefits of the program and noted that for many people, it allows them to deal with their problems before they are ready to talk about them. 

It’s refreshing to hear about something undeniably positive in an era of Twitter feuds, unverified peeing scandals, and he-said-she-said arguments over who is the best President to those who have lost their children to war. Behind the scenes, Karen Pence is doing something that matters. Hopefully, it helps our children.