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Art Therapists Remain Divided After Karen Pence Chooses to Champion Their Field

Art therapists have expressed mixed feelings over Second Lady Karen Pence’s decision to advocate for their profession, Catherine Saint Louis of the New York Times reports. While some believe that Pence will be able to bring national recognition to the field as well as additional resources and funding, others think she can only bring harm to their clients, who are typically trauma survivors.

The American Art Therapy Association announced in its newsletter that it was “enthusiastic about Mrs. Pence’s commitment.” Irene David, the longtime director of therapeutic arts at NYC Health and Hospitals/Bellevue in Manhattan, said, “It’s a breath of fresh air that someone in such a position can highlight our profession and can bring attention that’s needed and well deserved.”

Savneet Talwar, an associate professor of art therapy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said some people are arguing that “aligning yourself with her means you’re not being true to our ethical principles.” Kate Broitman, a Chicago-based art therapist, launched an Art Therapists for Human Rights Facebook page for professionals in the field who don’t want to be associated with Pence and her political beliefs. Broitman, who often works with Bosnian refugees, said Pence cannot support arts therapy without confronting the Trump administration’s agenda to end Obamacare and deport noncitizens.

The Facebook group states: “We demand that AATA respond to Karen Pence’s stated commitment to our field by asking her to publicly take action for the rights of LGBTQIA people, Native people, Black and Brown people, Muslims, survivors of sexual assault, people with disabilities, immigrants, refugees, and all people who are in danger as a result of the policies of the current administration. These people are all of us: they are our family and our friends, they are the clients that we serve. If Karen Pence cannot stand with us then we will not enter into dialogue with her in an attempt to ‘advance the interests of our field.’”

Since most states don’t issue art therapist licenses, therapists aren’t allowed to bill insurance companies for their services. Many professionals rely on private donors as well as support from the National Endowment of the Arts to fund their work in schools and medical facilities. The NEA is currently under threat of being axed by the President.

On Inauguration Day, Pence announced on the White House website that she would work to bring attention to the field of art therapy. The former elementary school teacher and watercolorist was the honorary chair of the art therapy initiative at Riley’s Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis and a member of the hospital’s foundation board. She was also a board member for Tracy’s Kids, an arts therapy program serving several children’s hospitals in the Washington, DC, area.