Second Lady Karen Pence will use the next three years, if not more, to promote the legitimacy and reach of art therapy—and Florida State University is along for the ride.
On the university’s Tallahassee campus, Mrs. Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, on Wednesday announced she will use her position to champion art therapy, a healing philosophy that integrates art-making, the creative process, applied psychological theory and human experience to better mental health.
The roll-out was accompanied with an element of pomp and circumstance. The invite-only event began with an introduction from former House Speaker, state senator and current FSU President John Thrasher, followed by Florida’s own first lady, Ann Scott.
As Thrasher introduced the Second Lady, he took pride in his school’s program.
“Art therapy is truly one of the academic disciplines that many people, frankly, don’t know a whole lot about,” Thrasher said. “It’s a rigorous program that produces graduates who are scholars, educators, practitioners and researchers.
“By coming to Florida State University, [Pence] is shining a light on what I believe—obviously I’m a little biased—is one of the best art therapy programs in America.”
The university established an art therapy graduate-level program in 1987. Now, FSU says it’s one of just five institutions in the U.S. that offers an art therapy doctorate.
When Pence took the podium, she began her speech with a nod to the state’s handling of Hurricane Irma, a storm that had postponed her visit, originally planned for September. She also weaved the disaster into the cause she plans to champion.
“Of course, it should not come as a surprise that the art therapy community is also stepping up to help,“ Pence told the crowd, adding that the Florida Art Therapy Association is creating long-term plans to help those that suffered through the storm.
She provided anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of art therapy, telling the audience her experiences and observations from meeting those who’ve participated in the unique healing process.
Mrs. Pence shared the story of a young woman who had recovered from a stroke through art therapy, along with a military veteran who uses the process to manage his post-traumatic stress disorder.
Pence, an artist, did not become aware of art therapy until 2006. Since then, she’s visited programs and spoken with art therapists around the world. She says she will prioritize elevating the understanding of the profession as something more than arts and crafts.
“I am not an art therapist,” she said. “This is a master’s or doctorate-level degree; these are highly-trained individuals.”
She also wants to help people understand it is a versatile treatment option, and encourage young people to pursue the profession.
The specific role FSU will hold in this initiative wasn’t discussed in detail, but lauding the university’s program and students was a common thread between the speakers.
“I am inspired by the FSU students in this room who are studying to become art therapists and I applaud you for your commitment to a life-changing profession,” Pence told the crowd.
Dr. Dave Gussak, chair of art education and professor of art therapy at FSU, said hosting the rollout at the university was a “worthy distinction.”
The Trump administration event was relatively quiet, especially when compared to Trump’s visit to Tallahassee last year. Still, there were small groups of proponents and protesters outside the venue.
Following the announcement, Mrs. Pence toured FSU’s art therapy program, and later the Canopy Cove Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Tallahassee, where art therapy is practiced.
Vice President Pence will travel to Orlando Nov. 2 to be a keynote speaker at a state GOP fundraising event. He met today with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to further discussions held between Tsipras and President Donald Trump.