Art Therapy in the National Dialogue on Mental Health

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Art Therapy in the National Dialogue on Mental Health

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Thursday, October 16, 2014 - 1:15pm


by: Sarah Deaver, PhD, ATR-BC, President
Donna Betts, PhD, ATR-BC, President-Elect
American Art Therapy Association

The need for effective treatments for mental illnesses and other psychological conditions is garnering widespread interest. The American Art Therapy Association notes that art therapy is increasingly part of this dialogue. Art therapy is a mental health profession regulated in the United States by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) and the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). Currently, AATA’s Education Program Approval Board sets the education standards for the profession and monitors compliance with educational institutions providing art therapy master’s degree programs. The ATCB sets the parameters of ethical practice for the profession through the Code of Professional Practice, and importantly, protects the public by promoting the competent and ethical practice of art therapy. Thus, professional art therapists with ATCB credentials have the appropriate training and certification to ethically practice.

Some support exists for applications of the arts in many healing contexts, such as is described in the Arts, Health and Well-Being across the Military Continuum, a 2012 “white paper and framing a national plan for action” by Americans for the Arts. Rear Admiral Alton L. Stocks, SHCE, USN, Commander, Walter Reed Bethesda, cites successful examples of arts programs in US military facilities. The white paper also articulates the need to “strengthen the growing body of knowledge concerning the health benefits of arts programming and creative arts therapies in the military and veteran populations” (p. 9). However, the differences should be clarified.

Several recent studies have shown that credentialed art therapists have enhanced patient coping, improved mood and quality of life, and reduced depression and situational anxiety. Furthermore, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and notable military and VA health facilities across the nation, have recognized art therapy as an effective and needed treatment for returning military personnel suffering from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress and for their family members who have endured the emotional strain of multiple military deployments.  

Art therapy has received bipartisan support. For example, Senator Tom Harkin (IA) sponsored the American Art Therapy Association national client artwork exhibition (Robertson, 2001, pp.167-168) held in the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, in June, 2001. The exhibit impressed Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. Impacted by her visit to the exhibit, Senator Hillary Clinton (NY) issued a Congressional Record Statement (S12154) on November 29, 2001, urging her colleagues in Congress to “support the field of art therapy and expand awareness” of  its benefits. She said, “I want to thank art therapists, in New York and every community in America, who are assisting survivors, rescuers, and the bereaved. Throughout the country…credentialed art therapists [are] working in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and shelters. They are among the army of mental health professionals who support those suffering from psychological trauma from the [9/11] attacks, and undoubtedly will continue to serve the needs of individuals coping with subsequent stress disorders.” 

Indeed, they will – and the American Art Therapy Association will persist in its efforts to encourage the highest standards of professional competence, through ongoing development of initiatives in research, policy and practice.


The American Art Therapy Association’s Mission

The American Art Therapy Association, Inc. (Association) is an organization of professionals dedicated to the belief that making art is healing and life enhancing. Its mission is to serve its members and the general public by providing standards of professional competence, and developing and promoting knowledge in, and of, the field of art therapy. Adopted April 2008



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