The Second Lady of the United States on her passion for art therapy

Karen Pence is a teacher, an artist, a pilot, and just happens to be married to the United States Vice-President, Mike Pence.

As Second Lady she is making it her mission to promote the profession of art therapy.

"I may just have a short period of time to be a good steward in this position, and one of the things I'm very passionate about is art therapy," she said.

In an exclusive interview with the ABC, Ms Pence said she believed art therapy not only changed lives, but saved lives.

She said she had seen art therapy used effectively for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for children with cancer, for children with autism who are nonverbal, and for trauma.

"It's not arts and craft, it's a mental health discipline."

Ms Pence pointed to a collaboration between Australian and American researchers which quantified the benefits.

"When you see pictures of the brain and the progress that's been made, it's powerful," she said.

Her advocacy has resulted in criticism from hundreds of art therapists in the United States who established a Facebook page, "art therapists for human rights".

They expressed concern about what they say is her conservative stance on gays and lesbians and immigrants.

"I'm very cautious about my own political views, so it's unfortunate, but that's what freedom looks like," Ms Pence said.

"People should be able to express themselves, so we don't let that deter us ... Second Lady is a volunteer position."

'I imagine we might get some fallout'

In Sydney, Ms Pence met with seven people associated with art therapy at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

"She's committed with what she wants to do with art therapy and she has integrity around that," art therapist and academic Catherine Camden Pratt told the ABC.

Dr Jo Kelly, president of ANZATA, the professional association for art therapy in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore was pleased Ms Pence was raising the prominence of the subject.

"Karen Pence has been involved with art therapy for years. She wants to raise the profile and we have to be part of the conversation."

But Dr Kelly also added the organisation could receive some backlash from the public by endorsing someone close to the current US administration.

"I imagine we might get some fallout about her husband and what he represents — the Trump Government," she said

On her level of influence

To many commentators in the United States, Ms Pence wields considerable power.

There were reports that when a video was made public of Donald Trump making crude remarks about women, Mr Trump phoned Ms Pence to apologise.

When the ABC asked Ms Pence about the influence she has at the highest levels of the administration through her marriage to the Vice-President, she replied: "I think most spouses have that exact same effect you know."

"We have a very strong marriage, we talk a lot, and I think I have an influence that most spouses have actually."