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Second lady Karen Pence discusses art therapy initiative in Indy

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Second lady Karen Pence participated in discussions with health care and art experts Thursday evening to learn more about art therapy in Indianapolis.

Representatives from IU Health Neuroscience Center and the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI greeted Pence outside of the Neuroscience Center and escorted her upstairs to meet with five IU Health patients receiving art therapy.

Pence is very familiar with art therapy and has chosen the topic as her second lady initiative. Patients she visited with showed her their art and explained how they feel they’ve improved physically and emotionally from the practice.

“It’s taken me from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can,’” said one patient at the table.

“I’ve shared more with her voluntarily than any high-powered doctors have gotten out of me,” stated another patient, referring to his art therapist.

Program directors explained that art therapy can help patients with a wide range of health issues, including neurological problems, and can also enable a healthier emotional atmosphere for patients.

“Right now I’m working with a patient whose big issue is compliance, and so we’re working on images of what it looks like with my life with my medications, and images of what it looks like without it,” explained Kaitlin Knapp, a recent graduate from Herron who attended the round table discussion.

“Feeling sick, versus not being sick,” Knapp continued.

Knapp is employed at St. Vincent Health Hospitals and makes art either with her patients or encourages them to create on their own.

“I’ve seen individuals [who] have decreased anxiety before procedures, decreased depression for individuals who are undergoing some hard news and end-of-life care,” Knapp said.

Pence agreed enthusiastically with patients’ comments on art therapy, adding her own experience working with veterans who have gone through the artistic process.

“It’s so fascinating to look at how [art] is actually changing your brain. Your brain is malleable, elastic, it can change,” Pence said.

After the session with patients, Pence attended a roundtable discussion with several IU Health executives and Herron School of Art administration staff. She told the table that she has a three part goal with her initiative: elevate the profession, educate patients on their option of art therapy, and see more people enter the profession. She added the next step she saw for IU Health and Herron School’s partnership was more research to explain the positive effects art therapy is having on patients.

Herron School of Art program directors told 24-Hour News 8 that Pence has visited their program twice before, and they hope she’ll return to check up on how their work is progressing.

“I’m not aware that another program like this exists and there’s so much potential for us to be able to share the important work that were doing,” said Juliet King, art therapy director at Herron School of Art and Design, “and we’re just very grateful that she has chosen art therapy with her initiative to champion.”