Members Only: Is the Profession of Art Therapy Exclusive or Inclusive?


Members Only: Is the Profession of Art Therapy Exclusive or Inclusive?

Members only. The phrase conjures up mental impressions of both exclusivity and inclusivity, depending on which side of the fence you’re facing. Middle school is where many of us first learned lessons about belonging vs. not belonging, although some of us might have been unfortunate enough to experience this awareness even earlier in childhood. It’s true that belonging to a group is beneficial to one’s survival.  There are a multitude of reasons why many animal species demonstrate group behavior, but the drive to exclude vs. include is often taken to new heights by human beings with our country clubs, gangs, and every membership organization in between.  Accordingly, non-art therapists have asked me from time to time whether the profession of art therapy is exclusive or inclusive.  The answer is yes and yes.


Let’s pursue the argument of exclusivity first (since exclusivity is usually a downer!).  Art therapy is a distinct profession, having a set of educational and credentialing requirements that are similar to yet different from the requirements of other mental health professions.  A non-art therapist is welcome to use art materials and directives with clients as long as she/he has been trained to do so in a safe and effective manner; all mental health regulatory boards have rules that prohibit the use of interventions in which a licensee/certificant lacks adequate preparation.  For example, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors stipulates in Title 22, Texas Administrative Code, Chapter 681:

Subchapter B. Authorized Counseling Methods and Practices.

§681.31. Counseling Methods and Practices.  The use of specific methods, techniques, or modalities within the practice of professional counseling is limited to professional counselors appropriately trained and competent in the use of such methods, techniques, or modalities. Authorized counseling methods, techniques, and modalities may include, but are not restricted to, the following: (17 categories are listed, including) expressive modalities utilized in the treatment of interpersonal, emotional or mental health issues, chemical dependency, or human developmental issues. Modalities include but are not limited to, music, art, dance, movement, or the use of techniques employing animals in providing treatment.


Please note that even with appropriate training and competence, a non-art therapist who uses art with clients is not actually providing art therapy services.  Although they may look the same to an uninformed observer, the use of art in therapy is very different from the practice of art therapy, and to that extent, the profession of art therapy is exclusive.  This goes back to the specific educational and credentialing requirements within the field, both of which were respectively established to ensure the knowledge base of its practitioners and the protection of the public.


Now let’s chase the argument in favor of inclusivity (which is usually more fun!). As renowned art therapist Judy Rubin said to her art therapy peers in a presentation called “A Compassionate Discourse on Non-Art Therapists Doing Art Therapy” at the 1992 conference of the American Art Therapy Association:

We do not own the art therapy, the healing, or the helping.  There will never be enough art therapists to go around.  Part of our job, if we truly believe in it, is to educate others on how to use it safely.


Art therapists recognize that while we are few in number, we live in a world where the needs are many and so, fortunately, are our kindred spirits!  A clinician does not have to be an art therapist to benefit from entering into the world of art therapy to find support, resources, and guidance relevant to the use of art in therapy.   The American Art Therapy Association’s website features a smorgasbord of information for art therapists and non-art therapists alike.  You don’t even have to be a member of AATA to take advantage of these offerings!  For those who want increased access to resources that will enhance their ability to use art safely and effectively in therapy, membership in AATA is available to non-art therapists at the Contributing and Associate levels; click here for a list of the benefits associated with membership in these categories.  Regardless of your member/non-member status, the profession of art therapy is inclusive and welcomes you!  Is it time to join forces and promote the ways in which safe and effective artmaking experiences can facilitate positive change in the lives of those we serve?  Again, I think the answer is yes, yes.


With appreciation for the important work you do,

Megan June 2011

About the Image on This Page

This is a thumbnail of Public Domain Arcane Image, posted to The Public Domain website by Mitch Featherston in 2012. Click here for more information.