October 25, 2018 | Advocacy 


As mental health professionals, art therapists are connected with the needs of the communities they serve.  You may already be a champion for your clients in your community to ensure they get the care they need.  Similarly, Election Day is an opportunity to be a champion for your clients and for the values that are core to our profession.

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) has prepared this nonpartisan guide to help ensure that candidates and elected officials alike hear the concerns of our members and the communities you serve.  We also want to provide you with some relevant websites and resources, in case you need specific assistance with voting.  Voting data shows that people are less likely to vote during midterm elections.  Empowering others to vote is just as important as casting your own ballot!

Download the PDF version here.  


Research Your Elected Officials and Candidates

Every member of the House of Representatives and one-third of Senators are up for re-election this November.  Visit their candidate websites, trusted news sources or nonpartisan websites to read about their views and the views of their opponents.

  • On vote411org you can compare position statements from candidates running in nearly 14,000 races across the country.

Know Your Voting Rights

Since the last national election in 2016, eight states have passed new voter ID laws or other voting restrictions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.  Confirm your polling place before Election Day and whether you need to take ID with you to vote.  First-time voters who didn’t register in person and haven’t previously provided proof of ID are required by federal law to show some form of identification, according to USA.gov.

  • The National Conference of State Legislatures identifies voter ID requirements, which vary by state. vote.org can help you find your polling place.  Turbovote can send reminder voting information to you via email!
  • If you have questions about voting or to report an incident, call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE or visit 866ourvote.org. (In Spanish: 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA, Asian languages: 1-888-API-VOTE, or Arabic: 1-844-YallaUS)

The Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal laws protect the rights of voters with disabilities.  However, nearly two-thirds of the 137 polling places inspected on Election Day 2016 had at least one impediment to people with disabilities, according to the Government Accountability Office.  The increasing popularity of paper ballots this year may make it harder to vote.

Learn About the Candidates and Issues

As we near Election Day, candidates are making themselves available to potential voters.  Get to know where they stand on issues important to art therapy.

  • Ask questions at candidate forums, town hall meetings or even during radio interview call-ins or online forums. Make candidates go “on the record” with issues (keeping in mind whether the candidate is running for federal or state office).
  • When you talk to candidates, try to build a relationship with them. Educate them about your work, and keep them updated on the issues important to the profession and your clients even after they are elected.  Keep attending Town Hall events year round!

Share Your Story with Candidates and Your Friends and Neighbors

If candidates and elected officials don’t hear from art therapists, they won’t spend much time working on issues that are important to the profession and the clients we serve.  Remember, YOU are the expert on art therapy!

  • Identify yourself as an art therapist, an AATA member, and a constituent.
  • Educate them on how the issues affect you. Use a specific example when possible as people remember stories more easily than facts and figures.  Offer to follow up with additional information if they aren’t informed of the issue.

Talk with your friends and neighbors about the issues important to art therapy and the clients you serve.  Have a conversation with them about why these issues are important to you—and the importance of supporting the mental health professions and vulnerable communities in need of care when casting a vote.

We have outlined some of the key issues below to help you start the conversation.

Federal and State Issues Affecting Art Therapists

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, equity and inclusion are core to the AATA’s vision that the services of licensed, culturally proficient art therapists are available to all individuals, families, and communities.  As part of the profession’s values, we advocate for the dignity, self-worth, well-being, and creative potential of all people.

  • When you talk to candidates and encourage your networks to vote, explain to them how these values can assist the public in mental health, healthcare, education, arts, and community programs.

Art Therapy Licensing

Art therapy is regulated through professional art therapy licenses in seven states: Delaware, New Jersey, New Mexico, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, and Oregon.  Five states regulate art therapy under related professional license: Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Utah.  Additionally, four states recognize art therapists for purposes state hiring and/or title protection: Arizona, Connecticut, Louisiana, and New Hampshire.

Licensure for art therapists provides numerous protections and benefits for the public and for art therapists, including:

  • Protecting the public from harm and from fraud by offering a means to easily identify practitioners with the academic training and clinical skills required for safe, effective, and ethical practice of art therapy.
  • Offering a cost-effective approach to increase the number of licensed and credentialed practitioners to meet the public’s growing need for mental health services and offer greater diversity and innovation in mental health services available to consumers.
  • Providing title and practice protection for art therapists, which would prohibit persons who do not hold Master’s degrees in art therapy from using the title “art therapist” or practicing “art therapy.”

While state recognition through licensure or some level of regulation has been achieved in 16 states, there is much more work to be done!  

  • Educate your state-level candidates and networks on why art therapy licensing is important to protect the public and help more people to access art therapy services. Ask your candidates if they would support art therapy licensure in your state.
  • Share the importance of the title, “art therapist”, to you personally and professionally.
  • If art therapy is already licensed in your state, talk to your candidates about state and private insurance reimbursement for art therapy services.

Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE)

In response to sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), sometimes called conversion therapy, the AATA affirms LGBTQIA orientations are natural, positive, and moral variations of human sexual expression.  The Association and our members embrace the LGBTQIA community and unequivocally oppose SOCE as unethical.  (Read the AATA statement.)

Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have banned conversion therapy for minors: California, Oregon, Illinois, Vermont, New Jersey, New Mexico, Connecticut, Nevada, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, and Hawaii.  Advocates in every other state are campaigning to ban conversion therapy for minors.  Learn more about the Trevor Project’s 50 Bills 50 States campaign.

  • Educate your candidates about the mental health community’s opposition to SOCE or conversion therapy, and your views as an art therapist.

Addressing the Opioid Misuse and Overdose Epidemic

Overdoses involving opioids killed more than 42,000 people in 2016, and 40% of those deaths were from prescription opioids, according to the CDC.  Lawmakers must consider the full-spectrum of prevention, treatment and recovery efforts in order to adequately address the opioid misuse and overdose epidemic.

As part of comprehensive legislation, the AATA supported Section 1003 of H.R. 6, a provision that would help states address urgent workforce shortages and expand access to needed substance use disorder (SUD) care.  In 2017, at least 48 states had governor-led initiatives to address the opioid epidemic, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health.

  • Educate your candidates about how art therapists work to provide SUD care. Ask them about their position regarding federal and state efforts addressing the opioid epidemic that include prevention, treatment, and recovery.

Re-Unifying Children Separated at the Border

The AATA joined numerous mental health organizations in opposition to the Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance policy that separated children from their parents at the border.  Even as the separation practice is halted, steps need to be taken to re-unify the children with their families, ameliorate the trauma that has already been inflicted, and prevent future trauma. (Read the AATA statement.)

  • Urge your candidates and networks to advocate for children and championtrauma-informed practices that support a child’s right to feel safe, be protected, and to live without fear and maltreatment.

Trauma-Informed Care

Art therapy is uniquely suited to help survivors of trauma.  Art therapists are trained in art-based interventions that stimulate the brain’s tactile-haptic, visual, sensory, and perceptual channels to allow integrated verbal and non-verbal processing of emotions.

The AATA works with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to showcase art therapy as a trauma-informed discipline and illustrate the healing potential of art therapy for children and adolescents who have experienced trauma.  Eighteen states, through their governors’ spouses offices, as well as the National Congress of American Indians, are promoting trauma-informed care.

  • Tell your state and federal candidates about how art therapists work with people who have experienced trauma, especially children. Encourage them to support SAMHSA’s efforts at the federal level and trauma-informed care in their state.
  • Thank your Senators for supporting Res. 346, a resolution recognizing the importance and effectiveness of trauma-informed care, which was passed by the Senate on 5/22/2018.

Funding for the Arts

The AATA works in coalition with other arts advocacy groups to support federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which helps promote creativity and public access to the arts in communities across the country.  The NEA, in collaboration with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, also supports the military and their families.  Their Creative Forces program offers creative arts therapies, including art therapy services, at 11 clinical sites across the country to address the unique needs of military patients and veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and psychological health conditions like PTSD.

  • Ask candidates about their position on funding arts programs you care about, and educate your networks about the social, health and economic benefits of the arts to their community. Urge them to support continued funding of the Creative Forces program.

Including Art Therapy in Schools

The unique ability of art therapy to facilitate non-verbal communication is especially useful with younger children who often find non-verbal expression to be the only outlet for their intense feelings of fear, isolation, sadness, anger, and loss.  The nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), now prioritizes state and local plans for how federal funds will be used to achieve broad educational goals with greater latitude given to local leaders.  The AATA is working with state education departments to include art therapy as authorized specialized instructional support services to students in their ESSA implementation plans.

  • Talk to your candidates and networks about your interest in getting involved in the planning at your school, district or state level. Share your experience working with at-risk students and in coordination with other Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISP).