Legislature Approves New License for Art Therapists

Marylhurst University has been offering academic programs in art therapy for 30 years, but without a license, anyone can claim to be an art therapist, even people with little to no hands-on training in the therapeutic practice.

After a lively debate, the Senate voted 23-7 on Monday to approve a bill that will license art therapists, which will sanction the integrity of art therapy and ward off unqualified practitioners from using the term.

“Art therapy plays a really important role for [treating] people with mental illness,” said Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat who co-sponsored House Bill 2432 with Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn. “We want to make sure this profession is exercised by professionals.”

But Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, cast doubts about the efficacy of art therapy, an argument he seemed to lose before announcing, after the vote, that he still opposed the bill because the state should stop over-spending and establishing more bureaucracies.

However, the art therapy licensing program will be paid for entirely by fees charged to art therapists, who are voluntarily asking to pay this fee in order to give their occupation the higher degree of professionalism that licensing provides.

“Art therapy is not just casual drawing,” said Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, a family physician. “It’s encouraging people to express painful emotions in a visual way.”

Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, whose wife struggled with mental illness, said he had seen how the ability to express herself through art helped keep her mentally stable. “It has made a huge impact on her.”

Marylhurst University has had an art therapy program since the 1980s, but without a state licensing program, anyone in the state can advertise their services as an art therapist, leaving the field open to people offering arts and crafts projects and making it difficult for art therapists with a master’s degree to be taken seriously. The bill was amended to allow other licensed health professionals to maintain art therapy among their menu of services.

“Qualified art therapists understand the power of art and art-making to unlock memories and reveal emotions. Use of art therapy methods or art materials thus carries significant risk to the emotional stability of clients if applied by individuals lacking appropriate training,” said Mary Andrus, the art therapy counseling program director at Marylhurst.

The recognition of art therapy by the Office of Health Licensing follows the establishment of licensure for a different Marylhurst program, music therapy, two years ago. HB 2432 already passed the House on a 50-9 vote. It heads to Gov. Brown for a signature

“Public confusion about art therapy and risk of potential harm from unqualified practitioners have increased with growing numbers of online and university-based programs that claim to provide degrees and certificate training in areas that sound very much like art therapy,” Andrus said.

Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, broke with his party’s leadership to support HB 2432, noting that art therapy was not only beneficial to people with mental illness but children and adults with developmental disabilities.

“We know that mental health is an area that we are woefully short in,” Kruse said. “These are ways that we can get people to connect. What this bill does is put some structure around it.”

Reach Chris Gray at [email protected].

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