Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

The Great Debate Around Art Therapy Licensure

I was woefully unaware of the great debate around art therapy licensure or title protection when I went to graduate school.


Now that I have more exposure to the field of art therapy and other art therapists, I am slightly more informed about it.


I also better understand some of the frustration that fuels the push for licensure. For example, it’s frustrating when a therapist who has no training in art therapy claims they “provide art therapy” simply because they use some art in a therapy session.


An abstract picture of shapes, line, and color to depict differing perspectives.
"Differing Perspective" Marker by Jackie Schuld

As an art therapist, my education in art therapy informs how I approach a client, what mediums I bring into the room, what I watch for during sessions, and more. It’s a completely different approach than other forms of therapy, not just a little bit of art added to a traditional therapy session. I even have my entire art therapy studio designed for providing art therapy sessions.


This is where title protection would ensure that only those with formal education in art therapy can say they are an art therapist or provide art therapy. It would help individuals looking for art therapy to know who is ACTUALLY providing art therapy.


Other therapists also want art therapy licensure so that art therapy can be covered by insurance. As a self-pay therapist, I do not have this need (you can read about why I don’t take insurance here).


However, I see why it would be beneficial to have insurance pay for art therapy within hospitals, mental health organizations, and other settings. Insurance reimbursement may also encourage employers to create more art therapy positions and provide better salaries for art therapists.


Art therapists also argue for licensure because they feel it will help to legitimize the field. Many think it will help the public to know our services exist and that we can address a wide range of mental health concerns. A formal licensure process does not ensure those things, but many feel it will pave the way for them.


What I don’t want is a dizzying maze of different state laws for art therapy. This is what currently exists within mental health counseling, and it makes it incredibly difficult to move or work with clients in other states. I would much prefer a national licensure process, similar to psychologists who have reciprocity in a large number of states.


At the same time, art therapists must also acknowledge that art has been used for centuries as a healing practice. We do not have ownership over art as a healing modality.


It is also a privilege to be able to pursue formal education in art therapy. It takes an immense amount of time, money (ahem, student loans), work, and effort to become an art therapist. Many people are unable to pursue that path due to the high investment required.


Another issue in the debate is around art therapy itself and its definition. There is art therapy (traditionally seen as using one art modality at a time) and expressive art therapy (seen as using multiple art modalities at once). They are currently different titles and governed by different boards. This impacts the licensure process as well.


There are no easy solutions in this debate. I see why people have differing levels of opinions and personal investment (for example, someone wanting insurance reimbursement would have a stronger investment in licensure than I).


I look forward to seeing how art therapists evolve on this topic over time.

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