February 11, 2021
This week, AATA sent a letter to President Joe Biden outlining our mental health priorities. In it, we also urged President Biden to address mental health issues as part of his plans to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. Art therapists have been on the frontlines of the pandemic, both as essential workers and supporting Americans via teletherapy, through loss, isolation, depression, and other challenges. Art therapists are keenly aware of the serious mental health needs of children and adolescents caused by the pandemic, the consequences of prolonged isolation of older adults, as well as persistent disparities in access to mental health services among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
We support the Biden Administration commitment to expanding access to mental health care. In addition, we recommend the following:
1. Expand and develop the mental health workforce.
Approximately 122 million Americans currently live in a mental health professional shortage area, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. Many others lack access to appropriate services for their mental health needs. We request that your Administration address these mental health shortage and distribution problems with initiatives, including student loan incentive programs and strengthening mental health parity in payment systems, that help attract and retain a diverse, well-trained, and qualified behavioral health workforce.
2. Permanently expand access to and ensure parity for teletherapy.
Research on the benefits of art therapy through distance technology has been growing over the last decade. During the pandemic, more than two thirds (69.9%) of art therapists are using teletherapy with clients at least part of the time, according to AATA’s 2020 survey. Notably, the majority of sessions are completed via telephone (73%) with just over a quarter of art therapists using video platforms (27%). Despite tech-related challenges and lack of access to the internet and art supplies for some, teletherapy has been critical in maintaining care during the pandemic and is an important long-term solution to ensure rural communities have access to therapy. We request that temporary policies to expand use of teletherapy during the pandemic be made permanent and include reimbursement parity between teletherapy and in-person care, use of telephone as well as video therapy, and removal of certain restrictions on interstate use of teletherapy in order to reach underserved communities.
3. Expand access to art therapy for our veterans, service members, and their families.
First established at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network program is a unique partnership between the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of and Veterans Affairs (VA), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and state and local arts agencies. Creative Forces programs at thirteen military locations have not only served the special needs of military service members and veterans with traumatic brain injury and psychological health conditions, as well as their families and caregivers, but also contributed to evidence-based research demonstrating the unique effectiveness of art therapy for this important population. We urge your Administration to support the expansion of Creative Forces programs to additional military bases and clinical facilities across the nation and to promote art therapy services in additional VA and DoD medical and mental health programs.
4. Expand the workforce of art therapists in schools.
The Washington Post recently reported how growing numbers of studies are showing increases in suicides, visits to emergency rooms, depression, and mental health problems among children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because art therapy has been shown to be especially effective in helping children and youth find alternative means of expressing anger, depression, and trauma, art therapists in schools provide a safe and approachable source of support to identify and assist children who may be unable to cope with pandemic-relating transitions and other mental health problems. Recognized as Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (SISP) in the Every Student Succeeds Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, art therapists are part of a vital mental health workforce needed to support students. We ask your Administration to encourage the hiring of art therapists in school districts across the country.
5. Offer mental health services to detained individuals and reunite separated children with their families.
In addition to re-unifying separated children in Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) custody with their families, we urge your Administration to ensure that all detained youth and adults have access to adequate and consistent mental health care for the duration of the time they are in government custody.
6. Shift resources and response from law enforcement to mental health practitioners during mental health crises.
Four in 100 adults in the United States are living with a severe mental illness but generate a disproportionate one in ten calls for police service, according to a 2015 Treatment Advocacy Center report. An armed police officer responding to someone in a mental health crisis can escalate situations rapidly, an escalation that can end with deadly results. We support initiatives to help local communities shift from reliance on law enforcement in responding to mental health crises to integrated response teams that include trained mental health professionals including art therapists.
7. Fund more research on the benefits of art therapy across populations and diagnoses.
Expand current programs and funding for research through the DoD, the NEA, and the National Institutes for Health to further develop quantitative and qualitative studies on arts-based approaches to address medical and mental health conditions.
8. Reinstate the Presidents’ Committee on the Arts and Humanities and ensure mental health representation.
We urge your Administration to reinstate Executive Order 12367 establishing the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). Given the urgency of the nation’s mental health needs and widespread acknowledgement of the arts’ ability to facilitate healing for individuals and communities, we strongly recommend adding mental health to the current five core focus areas of the Committee and to nominate a mental health professional as a private committee member.