TOKYO (AP) — Karen Pence, the U.S. vice president’s wife, announced Tuesday a $54,000 U.S. grant to a teacher at Tsukuba University in Japan for the study of art therapy, a little-known mental health profession she has championed under the Trump administration.
Pence was in Japan while accompanying her husband, Mike Pence, on a trip through Asia for a series of meetings, including a Southeast Asian summit in Singapore and an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Papua New Guinea.
Karen Pence declined to answer questions during an interview with The Associated Press about opposition in Japan to the presence of the U.S. military and about the recent U.S. midterm elections that saw her husband’s Republican Party lose control of the House of Representatives. Instead, the focus was on art therapy, which uses craft work to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, autism or other mental illnesses, as well as children with cancer.
“When we go all over the world and observe art therapy, it’s used frequently with people who are having some kind of depression, or stress or trauma, anxiety, anger issues,” Pence said in the interview while attending a meeting with art therapists and other guests at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Tokyo.
Art therapy has also been reported as effective for people in the military dealing with suicidal thoughts, depression and nightmares. In Japan, it has also been used for hospitalized children and women experiencing domestic abuse.
Tuesday’s grant goes to Cheryl Okubo, an art therapist, who will pilot a course at Tsukuba University, and introduce a two-year curriculum, taught by both American and Japanese art therapists, for students and faculty.
Japan does not yet have a system to authorize art therapists, and people who want to study it have had to go to the United States or Great Britain. Akie Abe, the wife of the Japanese prime minister, told an audience during the meeting that she appreciated Pence’s efforts to promote art therapy in Japan.
Supporting the spouses of U.S. troops is another interest for Pence, who is not an art therapist. She is a watercolor artist. She met with such spouses at the ambassador’s residence, and called their work as crucial as military service.
“We find it very effective with spouses and children,” she said of the use of art therapy. “Probably the most important is to get it for our service members who have injuries. But the other important thing is to make spouses aware of it.”
Amy Snyder, the wife of a U.S. Army soldier stationed at Camp Zama, near Tokyo, stood in line to get a special bracelet Pence hands out to spouses to show gratitude for their work.
“It was amazing, and I liked how she was talking to us,” she said.