Oh my God, Karen! You can’t just promote art therapy
It started with Abigail Smith Adams, and now here we are in the era of Second Lady Karen Sue Batten Pence. Beginning around the 19th century, the first and second ladies of the United States, began to become involved in charity work or some kind of goodwill cause. This developed into more of an expectation for these women in the public eye to take on on some kind of cause, “pet project” if you will, that is supposed to set the tone for their role in the political sphere. Just as Michelle Obama took on eradicating the purveyance of junk foods in school systems during her time as First Lady, Second Lady Pence has chosen the platform of art therapy to guide her political actions whilst occupying the role.
Now if you were to follow the arrows of the internet to the official White House website, Karen Pence’s personal biography is illuminating. It begins, “As Second Lady of the United States, Karen Pence works to bring attention to issues facing children and families by shining the spotlight on the mental health profession of art therapy.” The statement goes on to detail the people for whom art therapy is beneficial, explaining its links to individuals with a wide range of impairments. It specifies that art therapy is most commonly utilized for “individuals who have survived trauma resulting from combat, abuse, and natural disaster; people with adverse physical health conditions such as cancer, traumatic brain injury, and other health disability; and individuals with autism, dementia, depression, and other disorders.” Speaking of disorders, homosexuality was a diagnosable psychological disorder, listed in the official psychological disorders manual or the DSM until 1973. If Karen Pence is so hell-bent on helping out individuals with any one of these disorders or conditions, is she aware that homosexuality was removed from the DSM fifth edition of psychological disorders handbook 44 years ago?
One of the most controversial aspects of Mike Pence’s rise to vice presidential status is the alarming rumors that he is a proponent of electroshock conversion therapy for homosexual individuals. These rumors were ignited during Pence’s run for congress in the 1990s when a byline on his website spoke about how “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” according to an ABC News article. In Nov. 2016, Pence’s representatives called this a mischaracterization of Pence’s intentions for the aforementioned research — however, as written by Liam Slack of The New York Times,/em>, “Mr. Lotter said the vice president-elect had been calling for federal funds to ‘be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices’ during his 2000 congressional campaign, and he said it was a ‘mischaracterization’ to see the statement as a reference to conversion therapy. But he declined to explain which organizations Mr. Pence had wanted to lose their federal funding.”
So where does Karen Pence and her pet project for art therapies targeted at people with “developmental, medical, educational, and social or psychological impairment,” if her husband openly opposes gay rights? Take it a step further and examine what kind of marriage they must have if, while her pet project works to support art therapies, Vice President Pence shows his own kind of subtle allegiance to the kinds of treatment centers that allow for conversion therapies.
After announcing art therapy as her choice, Pence’s representatives explained to the Associated Press that, “Although art therapy isn’t usually covered by health insurers, Pence doesn’t feel it’s her place to try and encourage companies to provide for it. She simply wants to use her platform to bring awareness.” Ironic that she’s preaching about the importance of health insurance coverage when her husband’s party based their entire platform on the promise that they would repeal the Affordable Care Act, a healthcare plan that has benefitted a lot of people, despite some of its flaws. Moreso probably a lot of people that would maybe turn to art therapies — if only their insurance would cover it. I guess that’s what Karen Pence is for.
But what do art therapists think of their newest supporter? Well according to New York Times author Catherine Saint Louis, this issue is quite divided among art therapists. While, “The American Art Therapy Association announced in its newsletter that it was ‘enthusiastic about Mrs. Pence’s commitment’ and eager to support her efforts,” other art therapists disagree. One is “Kate Broitman, an art therapist in Chicago, started a Facebook page called Art Therapists for Human Rights to organize with other art therapists who ‘felt that great harm might come to our field, our clients and our work, if the association were to enter into a dialogue with Karen Pence.’” The latter division directly oppose the Pence’s stance in regards to some of the very core principles of art therapies as well as some of the people art therapies directly benefit: immigrants and trauma survivors.
One thing to be said for Karen Pence’s efforts, she does have a platform and the public attention to actually make a difference in this kind of therapy and its outreach as long as she does it with the good intentions that she has professed to having. As Second Lady, Mrs. Pence could really have a lot of influence, and maybe that’s the most important thing to consider in all of this. Does the end justify the means in the case of Karen Pence’s uncharacteristic crusade for insurance, art therapies and healthcare? Only time will tell.
Mila Phelps-Friedl is a second year journalism major that thinks the Pences need the most therapy of all. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.