Karen Pence was at Billings Clinic on Friday advocating for art therapy, her planned initiative as the wife of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence was last in Billings in May when her husband came to stump for then-candidate Greg Gianforte during the special election campaign to fill Ryan Zinke’s seat in the House of Representatives.
On Friday, Pence steered clear of politics during her hourlong PowerPoint presentation on art therapy, quipping that she was neither elected nor appointed to her current position — she simply ended up there through marriage, she said with a smile — and as such didn’t feel the need to talk politics or policy.
Still, the presentation came at a fraught moment in the national debate on health care. Just 12 hours before she spoke to a full conference room at Billings Clinic about the the need for funding and the important role art therapy can play in the health care process, Senate Republicans failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
In her presentation, Pence explained art therapy helps to heal the “invisible wounds” hospital patients sustain as they go through mentally and emotionally taxing treatments.
“This is an avenue for people to express themselves,” she said.
She talked about a child who had gone through 70 weeks of chemotherapy and how the process of drawing and creating helped him come to terms with the fear and isolation he felt as he faced what felt like endless rounds of treatment.
Pence, an elementary school art teacher by training, met the child after he’d healed when she was seeking to better understand art therapy.
“When I heard, ‘I don’t go to that dark place anymore,’ I thought, ‘This is something I can get behind,'” she said.