People who know little about art therapy in 2018 would see in all the publicity about Karen Spence’s so called support for art therapy and picking it as her “cause” something positive, however this is not a simple thing at all. If it were that simple, there wouldn’t have been big fights going on at the most recent Art Therapy Conference of the American Art Therapy Association back in November 2017. I did not attend that conference, but I heard accounts of the actual yelling fights that broke out there. Not to condone such behavior when reasoned discourse would be the ideal, but extraordinary times and the complexity of these issues reveal that this issue is complex. One constant of the current Administration (the Presidential one. I admire Michelle Obama’s ideal of not saying the name of the president, partly because everything he does and stands for goes beyond blaming just him, obviously. )
Many art therapist who work with immigrants, people of color and the LGBTQQI populations are boycotting the American Art Therapy Association’s embracing Karen Pence being a spokesperson for art therapy. I recently decided to NOT renew my professional membership of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) for the first time ever, after paying for membership since I was a grad student ’97 to ’99.
Intelligence to some degree involves looking further into something and seeing nuances and the real truth. Seeing beyond propaganda, which is defined as “information of a misleading nature used to promote a biased or political point of view” involves seeing through things that are not what they seem. By now, most of us are way more well versed in seeing the real truth between the lines and inside all the invented news and so called truths going on on a daily basis since the Inauguration. Even the attendance record for that was twisted into a pathetic lie.
All this to say that nothing is what you think it is. There is “candy” everywhere that is being offered as wonderful, while really it is poisoned. I believe that to be a proper metaphor for Karen Pence’s so called advocacy of art therapy as a profession. She would be more truthful if she said she was advocating for causes involving PTSD and the military, and Cancer treatment. I would probably not be writing this is if that were the case.
And here is what I think is the most important question: what is Karen Pence using and what are her goals.
For those who have missed this segment of the news due to a host of other real scandals and terrible events associated with this administration, Karen Pence announced she was choosing art therapy advocacy, raising awareness of “art therapy” (as she sees and defines it, not as it really is) as her big cause. Interestingly, in an interview when someone mentioned Tipper Gore, presumably because of her advocacy of mental health issue and stigma, she made a face and ignored the comment. Who knows what that means, but it is suspect to me that she could not graciously acknowledge her predecessor’s efforts in a cause very connected to art therapy. Nowhere have I seen Pence talk directly of the stigma of mental illness, poverty, affordable care, insurance issues, etc.
You can read The NY Times insulting article about Pence’s so called support of art therapy which insultingly suggests we should be grateful for any support of our field and how art therapy research isn’t extensive or good enough and there needs to be more funding of it, yet another reason we should be jumping for joy that she deigns to choose our field. It shows Karen Pence promoting a program for service people, Creative Forces. Yes, art therapy is useful for people in the armed forces who suffer trauma, but what do we really want from someone promoting art therapy? By now it is quite obvious that when you ally your cause with something to do with veterans and the military, you’re choosing to ignore the other populations that are not so easily cared about by all people of all persuasions. It is a safe bet. Not to knock the importance of health insurance, affordable care, PTSD in the military, stigma etc,. all important causes. But if you are mostly talking about this population and children with cancer, don’t say you’re raising art therapy awareness. Most art therapists work with other populations. What populations? Diverse. You can’t say it’s mostly people with chronic mental health conditions or anything else. You can talk about populations always associated with art therapy, such as the above, and then you can talk about how ubiquitous art therapy is in its uses in 2018.. IF you’re advocating for art therapy.
It’s not 1999. Art therapists needs in terms of raising awareness for art therapy in 2018 have very different focuses in terms of art therapy awareness. There needs to be nationwide licensure, not just a few states licensing art therapists. Is Karen Pence talking about how, if an art therapist moves from NY to California, their license is not accepted, and they gave to get a marriage and family license, costing them hours of classes and a ton of money for classes and state board tests? If an art therapist moved anywhere that isn’t New Mexico, Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey or Oregon, they have to expend a lot of time and money to obtain a license to practice. Most importantly, this would be a license in another associated field. She doesn’t get the most basic concept that universal licensure is what is needed to actually respect our work. She doesn’t understand not just the financial toll but how it is a matter of respect for art therapy. Being told your master’s degree and your credentials are not enough is the worst aspect of being treated as third class citizens by other related fields of social work, psychology, and counseling.
Hey guess what, Karen Pence? Indiana doesn’t have a license for art therapists. Have you said anything about that? How disgusting is it that a person with her power thinks she is promoting art therapy but doesn’t even discuss the licensure issue in her own state?
This is not to mention issues around the administration’s racist, and anti LGBTQQI policies and disgusting policies on immigration. There are real issues around diversity in the art therapy profession that she has no interest in addressing.
What I want from someone promoting art therapy awareness is to look beyond the obvious, like programs for the military. How long ago did National Geographic publish a major feature about mask making and art therapy with the military?
The cover of their February 15 issue: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150213-art-therapy-mask-blast-force-trauma-psychology-war/
What she is talking about and highlighting is what’s really important. This where wag the dog and propaganda come in. It’s not unique to Karen Pence. Even Michelle Obama, who would be a million times more preferable as a spokesperson for art therapy, was not immune to the pressures of big Agra business, when her campaign about children needing to change their diets changed to talking uniquely about exercise. At least she got some things done that mattered before the food industry basically shut down her real message. And at least she addressed a controversial topic head on. https://www.google.com/amp/s/thinkprogress.org/how-big-food-corporations-watered-down-michelle-obamas-let-s-move-campaign-85d09b60607b/amp/
Today’s issues about art therapy were there in 2015. The real focus needs to be on other things than veterans and sick children. There are so many important political figures involved in such worthy causes. Karen Pence is choosing to promote art therapy in a way that shows no real understanding about where the field is today and what really needs to be the focus. It’s obvious Pence is only figuring on art therapy in a way that avoids real and controversial issues.
Even her definition and idea of the scope of art therapy is outdated at best. Art therapy is more than an opportunity for patients to express themselves non verbally and creatively. Art therapy is useful in more settings than the now stereotypical. It is more than useful for children, people in chemo, military personnel with PTSD and people on psych wards. Has she mentioned anything about private practice or said that she herself could be a patient with an art therapist? No. Has she talked about work in schools and work with underserved populations and immigrants? Has she talked about the licensure issue in her own state and almost everywhere else? Has she discussed health insurance companies and how only a handful pay art therapists? Has she talked about Medicaid specifically and what it would do politically and financially for art therapists and their patients if Medicaid reimbursed us? Has she discussed a big elephant in the room- the people in urban areas caught in a terrible bind in terms of their mental health- most of my patients- which is young and older adult professionals who can barely pay their rent on their salaries and have health insurance that doesn’t cover mental health? These people have either huge deductibles that mean they have to pay out of pocket for art therapy or any therapy or they have no mental health coverage. Or they have such huge student loan bills that even first to at least third year associates at big law firms can’t afford a regular out of pocket fee for therapy. Has she talked in any real way about art therapists salaries at agencies and hospitals? Does she even know all the actual research published in the American Art Therapy journal that the NYTimes article ignores in their claim that maybe we should be grateful for crumbs/ for anyone in power to deign to try to raise any kind of awareness about the profession of art therapy?Yes the NYTimes seems to be stuck in 2004 when it comes to art therapy.And who else has taken on art therapy as a cause long before it would even be considered sort of cool or cute? Hilary Clinton!Here’s what I call propaganda of the wag the dog kind. Pence and her people say this of who benefits from art therapy:Those who benefit from art therapy include 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.”Would you see this as a description of those who benefit from therapy provided by other fields? No. Of course it’s true but the emphasis is guaranteed to keep the field of art therapy stuck in 1990s. This description does not emphasize private practice and suggests that art therapy benefits people with very extreme diagnoses exclusively. It ignore what really needs to be the primary focus of raising awareness. We want art therapy out of the dark ages. Out of people graduating and not finding any jobs at places with the populations Pence cites. Does she care about the salaries of art therapists at agencies and hospitals? Does she know about the facilities that used to serve the homeless, chronically mentally ill and low income people that have closed and continue to close?She is also irresponsibly encouraging people to go into the field of art therapy with absolutely no understanding of student loans and the unemployment many will face after graduation not to mention the low salaries and terribly disrespectful job titles and job descriptions? Does she care about how many obstacles are faced by people with a masters in art therapy who have the goal of obtaining private practice?With the “Me Too” movement it’s sickening that Pence wouldn’t connect rape and sexual abuse victims as benefitting from art therapy; how can she uphold such values while being associated with the current administration. She may have spoken up during the campaign but then got back in line and currently seems to be unaware of a responsibility to discuss this issue while promoting art therapy.I’ll end on an important statement that summarizes the most important reason for my ending my 20 year membership in the American Art Therapy Asdociation due to their allying with Pence:Ms. Broitman said her clients in Chicago are worried they may lose their health insurance or be deported as a result of the policies supported by the vice president. “You can’t shine a spotlight on art therapy without being accountable to the real danger our clients currently face,” she said.
“I don’t see how you can advocate for art therapy if you are not advocating for people to have access to mental health care,” she said. “If these programs are cut, if Medicaid expansion is cut, then there is no art therapy.”