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March 22, 2018

Second Lady Karen Pence: 'What I learned during my visit to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center'

Daily Briefing

    Second Lady Karen Pence this month visited Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and spoke with patients, parents, and therapists about art therapy—a cause she has championed since becoming second lady.

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    About art therapy

    Art therapy, as defined by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) is a form of mental health care that uses music and other forms of art-making to improve cognitive and sensorimotor functions, foster emotional resilience, and enhance social skills. Advocates say the therapy can help patients recover from both physical and mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Twelve states currently license art therapists, according to the Orlando Sentinel, and AATA is calling on additional states to license and practice art therapists.

    Pence is hoping to increase awareness about art therapy and its uses. As second lady, she has advocated for private funding for art therapy programs throughout the United States. "I had been an art teacher for years. And had never heard of art therapy and so when I first heard of how this could affect children with cancer, I was just amazed," she said.

    Pence's visit to Cincinnati Children's

    During the visit to Cincinnati Children's, Pence got to see how the hospital's two full-time music therapists and two full-time art therapists support children's recovery.  

    For instance, Pence visited a five-year-old girl named Katherine Donner, who was born with a congenital heart defect. At just four months, Donner began music therapy, listening to a guitar in her hospital room, and now plays the guitar herself. Tabitha Donner, Katherine's mother, said the music makes a hospital stay more comfortable. "Katherine loves music and she plays the guitar and she sings to her babies, and it's something that I play the guitar and I play to my children as well."

    Pence in a White House blog post also talked with another patient who relearned how "to walk and move his muscles by taking up bongo drumming."

    "In art therapy, it is not about the finished product; it is all about the process," Pence wrote. "And the artwork can sometimes represent a very emotional experience. So, sharing this experience with me and explaining what the process meant for them is an intimate and affirming moment. And it never ceases to impact me" (Pence,, 3/13; Mitchell, WLWT, 3/13; Rohrer, Orlando Sentinel, 10/18/17; American Art Therapy Association explainer, accessed 3/21).

    The case for improving coordination between behavioral health and pediatrics


    The CDC estimates that nearly $247 billion is spent annually on the treatment and management of childhood mental disorders. Further, pediatric patients and caregivers often struggle to access high-quality behavioral health expertise due to a limited number of specialists and fragmented approaches to behavioral health services.

    In this presentation, we review the case for improving coordination between behavioral health and pediatrics, and describe four successful models that increase access to behavioral health care.

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