Who can provide art-based therapy?

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A recent amendment of a bill on Art Therapy which was proposed earlier this year (AMENDMENT 6505 ON BILL 6980) could restrict healthcare providers from using art and creativity with clients.  The bill, which began as an effort to protect the title of Art Therapist, outlined the necessity of defining the role of art therapists and the degree/level of education needed to be designated as one.  As with other licensed healthcare providers, the intent is to protect the title by prohibiting anyone who is not a licensed art therapist from portraying themselves as one.  By instituting professional licensing to become an art therapist, there are several goals in mind.  One is to provide clarity to the public regarding what services their provider is actually trained to do.  Another is to maintain the high level of expertise and training an art therapist must possess.  Lastly the hope is to prevent the harm which could befall clients if they are traumatized by the unskilled application of art therapy techniques by someone not trained in them.


Although the bill has merit, the amendment does not.


Here is a section of the bill, defining art therapy:


(1) "Art therapy" means clinical and evidence-based use of psychotherapeutic principles, visual art media and the creative process to assist an individual, family or group in increasing awareness of self and others, coping with stress or traumatic experiences, enhancing cognitive abilities or identifying and implementing therapeutic interventions to meet developmental, behavioral, cognitive or emotional needs…


And here is the amendment:


Sec. 2. (NEW) (Effective October 1, 2017) (a) On and after January 1, 2018, no person may practice clinical art therapy or offer or render services included in the practice of clinical art therapy, unless licensed pursuant to section 3 or 4 of this act.


So the amendment is saying that unless you are a licensed art therapist, you can’t use the modalities defined as “art therapy”.  


One reason is, understandably,  to prevent emotional or psychological harm.  In a recent document from a member of the Connecticut Art Therapy Association, the many reasons for professional licensure were detailed.  In the letter, the writer identified five cases in Connecticut where harm had been caused to clients by the misapplication of art therapy.  Of the five cases, four involved pre-identified trauma in the clients, and three of the providers were not licensed mental health providers.  Certainly there is a potential for harm when negligence is involved, but it does not follow that an entire swath of competent, self aware licensed clinicians should be restricted from using art and creativity in their psychotherapy practice.  A licensed clinician should know, by definition, the limits of their own knowledge and training.   For example, they would be expected to refrain from attempting to treat trauma for if they are aware that this is not something they have sufficient education and experience in.  It would be more effective to prohibit unlicensed clinicians from attempting to practice outside their scope than to penalize all psychotherapists who are working in an appropriate capacity.


The level of education required to become an licensed art therapist is also detailed in the bill, and although it is laudable for high standards to be upheld in any profession, when standards are too high and venues of education too restrictive, the public suffers.  There are currently only 39 approved art therapy master’s degree programs.  Many of these programs do not accept previous psychotherapy training or degrees, requiring candidates to completely re-train to obtain the art therapy degree.  The programs are typically 3 years of full time education and field placement, an undertaking that almost no master’s level clinicians can afford to consider.  Few hospitals or clinics employ full time art therapists, making it a difficult career to succeed in.  With so many barriers to becoming a licensed art therapist, it stands to reason that there are fewer people choosing this career and there would be fewer providers going forward for the clients who would benefit from therapeutic art interventions.  

The best solution to protect the public and the profession of art therapy is to support this bill but to eliminate the amendment.  A way forward would be to work with master’s level clinicians who want additional training in art therapy and are motivated to do so- by offering more add-on credentialing programs which uphold the standards of art therapy but are not prohibitively expensive or time consuming.  Ultimately the public should be considered first and foremost, and it is to their benefit to have increased access to therapeutic art based interventions, administered by skilled professionals.

Are you a therapist or counselor who wants to use creativity with their clients?  Click here to join my free Facebook group, Mindful Creativity, for fresh ideas and support!