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Art Therapy Licensure Update

The Virginia Board of Counseling’s Regulatory Committee met Thursday, October 29, 2015, in Richmond. VATA GAC Chair, Gretchen Graves, and several other art therapists attended, along with Cynthia Woodruff and Dean Sagar from the national office, to address an agenda item regarding the need for an Art Therapy License. Prior to the meeting, we provided an excellent letter of support from AATA President, Dr. Donna Betts, along with materials supporting the need for an independent art therapy license in Virginia. In the letter Dr. Betts pointed out that, “nine other states have licensed art therapy as a distinct mental health profession”, that it is necessary to license in order to protect clients from harm and, as art therapists, we have equal but distinct training. She also pointed out that there appears to be a movement towards CACREP, which would hinder art therapists professionally.

During public comments, we spoke to a number of reasons for an art therapy license, including protection of the public from harm of non-art therapists practicing art therapy and the continuing move of the Board of Counselors to limit LPC access to graduates of CACREP programs only, thereby inadvertently locking out art therapists who currently depend on the LPC. The committee appeared to be fully aware and in general agreement with our points.

The outcome was extremely positive in that 3 board members, including the committee chair, agreed with AATA’s position that Art Therapy should have its own license and stated that it would be a “win-win” for everyone to clearly define the profession by ensuring that both professions could have the right to work in the positions for which they were properly educated. Board member, John(ston) Brendel vocally supported housing an art therapy license under the Board of Counseling and Chairman, C. Rick Gressard agreed with his arguments to that point (coincidentally, they happen to be from the same educational facility). That is when J. Normandy-Dolberg, who came in late, said, “I’m not really sure how their curriculum could be equivalent to counseling. Don’t they just take a bunch of art classes?” Immediately Rebecca Jacobson and I both responded almost simultaneously that our curriculum at George Washington and EVMS correlates with that of counseling.

At one point, the committee chair stated, “it is clear they [Art Therapists] are a distinct and separate profession” and should be licensed that way. The more complicated points came during a discussion of details – should the art therapy license be regulated by the counseling board and how would that work? Kevin Doyle was concerned about seats on the board of counseling and it being diluted. Dean Sagar was able to provide examples and facts to support how this could work seamlessly while maintaining the integrity of the board’s composition while overseeing the license for the art therapy profession if/when a bill is passed. Some states have an affiliate to the board composed of art therapists that do intake of licensure and advisement as to licensure and discipline in regards to art therapist to the board counseling. And, since the board already oversees other professional licenses, we heard, “not opposed, just a lot of details to work out.” This is important because, in the state of Virginia, being regulated by the existing board will be the most efficient way to move forward. It would be helpful for the Board of Counseling to understand the distinct differences and similarities of art therapy and counseling, both in training and in practice.

Furthermore, Elaine Yates of the VA Department of Health Professions, which oversees all of the health care boards including the counseling board, agreed with the group, and asked where we were in the process. She explained that there was the possibility of having the board introduce an art therapy bill through the governor’s office. That opens at least one possible avenue for VATA to introduce a bill should we decide that is the best route. A bill from the Board of Counseling would have to happen by August 1st to be able to run through the General Assembly for the 2017 session. Any bill proposed by the Board would have to go up through channels and gain the Governor’s approval and essentially become a Governor sponsored bill. Given the results of Tuesday’s election, the Republicans will remain in control of both houses of the legislature for the next two years and may continue to oppose proposals coming from the Governor. While this may present a viable option in the future, the chapter should use this time to find strong sponsors and support within the legislature itself.

Please note there are many details to be worked out before deciding on whether to pursue this route, or to introduce the bill directly which will be discussed in upcoming VATA and GAC discussion. However, yesterday’s tone and outcomes are reasons for optimism.

Our next step will be to set up a meeting with Ms. Yates to discuss the possibilities of collaborating on a bill. Separately, we believe it is time to secure potential bill sponsors from a carefully vetted list of potential state senators and delegates. Dean Sagar will be sharing options and, together with Gretchen, will reach out to VATA members for support and connections.

We still are unsure of why this ended up on the agenda of the Board of Counseling. One theory is a recent Supreme Court ruling regarding not being able to block certain profession from licensure. Another possibility is the amount of response to the Lawson Petition by art therapists.

Please let VATA know if you have any thoughts on Art Therapy Licensure in Virginia that you would like to share.

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