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Licensure Blog: What’s happening with Art Therapy in Virginia, currently.

By Gretchen Graves, MS, ATR-BC, CDATA

On January 7th, 2020 Senator Jennifer McClellen prefiled “Bill SB713: Art and Art Therapy Associates: Definitions, Licensure” in the Virginia Senate House for the 2020 General Assembly Session. Our hearts skipped a beat, especially for those of us who had been working to get to this point for years. We were almost on the floor!

The VATA Licensure Committee- whose core consists of myself, Carol Olson, and Leila Saadeh, found out that the Bill would be introduced to the Education and Health Sub-Committee on January 20th. This would be the only time we would really get to speak to the Sub-Committee about the importance of this Bill, although we didn’t know that at that time. The Virginia Art Therapy Association sent out an emergency announcement to all the Virginia art therapists we could, so people could come speak, and show our presence. Several art therapists showed in support and many more sent messages of encouragement.

It turned out to be crucial that we showed up that day, because one phrase regarding other licensed professionals using “art therapy modalities” in the Bill would have made the law weak and ineffective. We quickly negotiated a reasonable adjustment to the phrase, changing the phrase to “art media” that other licensed professionals may use within their scope of practice, and both VATA and the DHP agreed, which restored the Bill’s efficacy. It was adopted and moved on to a vote.

On January 24th, SB713 passed it’s first vote, 14-0, with 1 abstention. The next few weeks became hectic as votes often came quickly and sometimes scheduled without much warning. Several of us tried to attend as many votes as possible even though we quickly realized the forum was set differently and we would not have further opportunities to speak on behalf of the bill.

We decided the most effective use of our time was to try to talk to the Senators and Aides on the Committees making the votes. There are several Senators and even more Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly, so it would be impossible to talk to everyone, we had to be strategic. We gathered our pamphlets, business cards, copies of the Bill and knocked on office doors. In the end, we did talk to several Senators on the Education and Health Committee or their Aides. We believe this helped them understand the purpose of the Bill and the importance. It gave them the opportunity to ask questions ahead of time and made the Bill a little bit more clear and personal. We also had a timeline of “ASAP” since it seemed to be going through the General Assembly quicker than we anticipated. All of this was a new learning curve for us. None of us had followed a Bill through before, and we did not know exactly what to expect.

Each time there was a vote a few of us would go to the Senate floor to watch the Bill’s progress. It was exciting. Waiting for the vote, watching the Senators actually vote and the electric tallies come up on the monitor. Even if we weren’t speaking, at least two or more of us showed up for the vote. We felt our presence was important and we wanted someone to be there in case there were questions or comments that needed to be addressed.

On January 30th, the Bill passed the Senate Constitutional Reading, 37 to 0. It then had to be read two more times in the assigned Senate Committees and Senate House. On February 4, 2020, SB713 passed through the Virginia Senate House, 39 to 0. Now the bill would cross over to the Delegate House. We were halfway there!! This was monumental for the VATA Licensure Committee and SB713.

By the time the Bill passed over to the Delegate House we realized we could Live stream the votes. This was a good thing because they went through very quickly, and many of us had already exhausted our leave from work.

On February 13, 2020, SB 713 was assigned to the Virginia House of Delegates Committee on Health, Welfare and Institutions. Our licensure machine was well-oiled by now and we knew what we had to do. We went back to the General Assembly with a list of Delegates on the Committee and started knocking on office doors. When we did this with the Senators we were able to talk to all the Senate offices, as there are only forty of them. But there are one hundred Delegates. We did not have time to talk to every office, we had to be selective.

On February 18th, the Bill passed its first reading 22 to 0. We were feeling like all our hard work and all the time we had put in was paying off. On February 20th and 21st it was read the second and third time, passing the Delegate House on February 21st with 75 yeas and 22 nays. We watched these votes live stream. They are now archived in the Senate and Delegate House videos and can be accessed in the links at the end of this blog.

On March 11, 2020, Governor Ralph Northam approved SB 713 and it turned into Virginia state law, Chapter 301.

After SB713 was passed and signed in March 2020, we waited to hear from the Governor's office regarding the Art Therapy Advisory Board. But our state and nation were in the middle of a pandemic and everything had a monkey wrench thrown in it. The VATA Licensure Committee gathered resumes and sent them to who we thought were the appropriate people. For months we heard nothing. We understood also that our city and state were going through a lot of stress and activity with COVID and the Black Lives Matter movement, so we were trying to be patient.

As we were heading towards the end of June and the law was supposed to go into effect July 1, so we decided to reach out to the Department of Health Professions and see if they knew what was happening. After a few “out of the office” responses, we finally got an answer, and some direction! This was a gap that no one yet had helped us fill, a gap we didn’t even know existed until that response.

The next step towards Art Therapists in Virginia obtaining licenses is the creation of an “Art Therapy Advisory Board”, under the Virginia Board of Counseling. The Advisory Board will be selected through applications. Once the board is formed, they will set forth the exact regulations for licensure, and begin accepting applications. Setting regulations should be simple, as there is a backbone for them in the original Bill draft constructed with the help of Dean Sagar, from AATA. However, we do not know what the timeline is, at this point.

We do know that New Jersey passed their licensure bill over a year ago and have just started licensing Art Therapists. We are hoping to not have that time frame, and do not anticipate it.

If you would like to apply to be on the Advisory Board, go to the link below and fill out applications to be on the Art Therapy Advisory Board. Applications are apparently kept on file for five years.

Below is a link that discusses the Advisory Board and where you can see positions that are open and filled.

Links below for Senate and Delegate House Videos. Often you have fast forward through the videos to find SB713 clips. If there is an agenda tab you can find the exact time frame and go to that clip through the tab.

Specifically there is a video on February 3rd, in the Senate House, February 18th in the Delegate House: Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee and February 21st on Regular Calendar. And there are probably others not mentioned here.

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