The Legislature opens its 2020 session on Wednesday, and among the bills recommended out of committee for passage that day is a proposal to protect Granite Staters from the cruel predations of… art therapists?
This urgent action wasn’t mentioned among the Legislature’s 2020 priorities, yet here is House Bill 546. Why?
Well, in every legislative session, a small group of art therapists comes to the Legislature with an urgent request: Please outlaw our competition.
They don’t put it quite that way, of course. The messaging is always about licensing being needed for insurance coverage, or the danger posed by poorly trained art therapists. Yet the bills always define art therapy as broadly as possible and include criminal penalties for its unlicensed practice. Classic rent seeking.
Usually, common sense prevails and the bill dies. Committee revisions to the latest version of this anti-competitive legislation might allow it to pass.
New Hampshire does not license art therapy as a separate therapeutic practice. In fact, only eight states do, according to the American Art Therapy Association. Art therapists who have advanced degrees, and sometimes licenses from another state, have for years argued that artists and therapists who blend art instruction with even a small dose of therapeutic practices are a danger to the public and must be stopped.
Never mind that art has been considered therapeutic since cave men started scratching on rocks, or that the practice known as art therapy was invented by an artist, not a licensed therapist.
Art therapists who hold advanced degrees and out-of-state licenses want the state to require that anyone who offers “art therapy” services… hold an advanced degree and a state license.
See how this works?
Currently, licensed therapists in New Hampshire can incorporate art into therapy sessions without having to spend several more years in school to obtain a separate art therapy degree.
For example, a child therapist might have a child express his or her feelings by drawing pictures. Children don’t have the biggest vocabularies, so this can be a great way to help children communicate complicated emotions.
Therapists are not alone in using art to help people deal with emotional or physical issues. Art instructors routinely help people express previously unarticulated emotions through the creation of art. Museums even offer programs that, while not conducted by licensed therapists, are therapeutic in nature.
For example, the Currier Museum of Art’s “Art of Hope” program “provides support for loved ones whose family members suffer from substance use disorder.”
Under House Bill 546, it would be illegal for anyone to offer “art therapy” services unless the instructor has “a masters or doctoral degree from an accredited college or university in a program in art therapy….”
The bill contains an exemption for art teachers who do not present themselves as therapists. But under the definitions in the bill, any presentation that an art instruction program is therapeutic in nature could be construed to run afoul of the law.
Included in the bill’s definitions of art therapy is:
“Using the process and products of art creation to facilitate clients’ exploration of inner fears, conflicts, and core issues with the goal of improving physical, mental, and emotional functioning and well-being.”
Art instructors have been doing this for centuries. Without a license. Suddenly, in 2020, it’s a danger to the public?
There’s no evidence that unlicensed art therapists are inflicting psychological damage on Granite Staters. In fact, as mentioned earlier, only eight states have a distinct art therapy license and only five cover the practice under another license.
But there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that the absence of an oppressive licensing regime has allowed many people to find services that have helped them through difficult times.
Though presented as a public health measure, this bill is simply an effort to restrict competition. It serves a small special interest, not the public interest.
Artificially reducing the supply of a valuable service by writing unnecessary restrictions into law would be an odd way to start this new decade.