It looks to emphasize the qualifications of art therapists, educates people about its benefits and shows young people that it could be a viable career path. Pence said it can be easy to forget that art therapists are highly qualified medical professionals.
“Their profession is really misunderstood,” she said. “People just think they do arts and crafts.”
Instead, the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is an “integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individual, families and communities through active art-making, creative process, applied psychological theory and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship.”
Pence noted that it is not focused on the art as a finished product, but a way for people to deal with their issues. And it can benefit anyone, including those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, children with cancer, those with eating disorders and autism, among others.
“What we find when clients work with therapists, all these feelings and emotions they’ve been dealing with seem to come out of their heart,” she said. “They’ll put them on paper and say, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize I was thinking that.'”
Pence said her interest in art therapy goes back years, having received a Master’s Degree in Arts Education. When her husband, Vice President Mike Pence, was in the U.S. House of Representatives representing Indiana’s 6th congressional district, she saw first-hand the benefits of art therapy at Tracy’s Kids, an art therapy program for children in Georgetown.
And when Mike Pence travels for work, Karen Pence said she looks to join the trip and find an art therapy program to visit.
After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico and the Pences visited to observe and help with recovery efforts, she brought 125 pounds of clay on Air Force Two to donate to an art therapist on the island.
“If we can tag along, we’ll find something to do related to art therapy,” Pence said. “When we knew we were going down to Puerto Rico, we thought, ‘Surely we can find a block of time of an hour or so where we can find an art therapist.'”
Kopenhaver said she enjoyed interviewing Pence about her initiative, which she launched earlier this year at Florida State University. The Pence family has strong connections to Arlington, as both their daughters attended Yorktown High School and were involved in its drama program.
“It was great having Mrs. Pence in the studio today to talk about the important mental health profession of art therapy, and specifically her initiative Art Therapy: Healing with the HeART,” Kopenhaver said in a statement.