Karen Pence, Second Lady of The United States, visits Home Base to Explore Benefits of Expressive Art Therapy for Military Mental Health

Second Lady of the United States Mrs. Karen Pence with Home Base staff

On Thursday, July 5, Mrs. Karen Pence visited Home Base, a Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital Program Thursday morning to learn more about its art therapy program and integrated wellness approach in their care for Veterans and their Families overcoming the invisible wounds of war, such as post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Pence, wife of former Indiana governor and current Vice President Mike Pence, has championed art therapy as her signature initiative and has partnered with the Creative Forces Military Healing Arts Network, a joint pro-arts initiative between the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs, which puts creative arts therapies at the core of patient-centered care. As of April 2018, Creative Forces has 11 public sites across the US.

Second Lady of the United States Karen Pence

Pence’s trip to Home Base included a tour of Home Base’s new National Center of Excellence, set to open in September 2018, and a round-table discussion with Home Base art therapists, leadership and clinical staff about the integration of art therapy in caring for the invisible wounds.

As a core component of Home Base’s two-week Intensive Clinical program (ICP), Veterans and their family members engage in art therapy sessions, which prove to be powerful catalysts for opening avenues of communication, supporting dialogue, resolving conflict, safely providing progressive exposure and promotes externalization of challenging and difficult emotions.

“As a psychologist I have come to see the benefit of incorporating art therapy to enhance the total treatment process our Veterans and their Families at Home Base – and help keep them in treatment,” said Louisa Sylvia, PhD Director of Health & Wellness at Home Base.

From left: Home Base Special Projects Manager Stefanie Ryan, Second Lady of the United States Mrs. Karen Pence, Home Base Art Therapist Meg Carleton, Home Base Director of Health & Wellness Louisa Sylvia, PhD

And the numbers speak for themselves. According to survey results of Veterans who have engaged in art therapy at Home Base, 90-percent of Veterans say they found art therapy helpful at Home Base. What’s even most interesting is that 84-percent of Veterans found the expressive arts to be a helpful platform in externalizing or visually representing their strength as well as the stressors and challenges that brought them to seek care at Home Base in the first place, cited Sylvia.

As Pence travels across the Nation advocating for art therapy, she says she is excited to learn more about programs that have embraced expressive arts therapy method to care for their patients. “People think art therapy is arts and crafts, but it just isn’t arts and crafts; it’s changing lives,” Pence said. “It’s a Master’s or Doctorate level health profession and we need to get the word out about the effectiveness of this modality. We need to tell the story of programs, like Home Base, that are seeing great outcomes with the integration of art therapy so that more and more people will do what you all are doing here.”

Echoing Home Base’s belief that when one family member serves, the entire family serves, patients at Home Base’s ICP work with art therapists Stefanie Ryan, MA and Megan Carleton, LMHC who facilitate art therapy sessions for both the Veteran and their family member or support person.

“At the end of each therapy session we’ll notice the connection Veterans make with one another. Their art helps remove the barriers of communication, helps them connect with others, and enables them to establish a new sense of self as creator and as someone in control of their future – not controlled by their past,” said Carleton.