By Clara Keane  | August 30, 2018 | Advocacy


On August 23, 2018 the Virginia Board of Health Professions (BHP) voted to recommend licensure for art therapists in the state of Virginia.  Following years of advocacy work and a full year in the formal sunrise review process, a group of art therapists gathered to witness history unfold in the field of art therapy.  After the BHP’s Regulatory Research Committee made their final recommendations and “concluded that all criteria [for state regulation] were met,” the Committee voted unanimously to “adopt a separate license for Art Therapists to practice in Virginia.” Read the draft meeting minutes here.

Gretchen Graves; Carol Olson, LPC, ATR-BC, VATA President; and Leila Saadeh, MS, ATR-BC, VATA Vice President after attending meetings of the BHP Regulatory Research Committee and the Full Board on August 23, 2018.

The process began in August 2017, when the Virginia Art Therapy Association (VATA) submitted a 30-page application to the BHP Regulatory Research Committee requesting a review into the need to regulate art therapists in the state of Virginia, initiating what is known as a “sunrise review”, in which BHP staff conduct a study using seven criteria to determine whether lack of regulation of the profession in question poses harm to the public and to investigate the economic impact of regulation.  The BHP Regulatory Research Committee created a thorough Study Workplan, which involved several meetings, holding a public hearing and open comment period, and creating two editions of their report, “Study into the Need to Regulate Art Therapists in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Immediately following the BHP Regulatory Research Committee meeting on August 23, the full Board met and voted on the motion “to accept the recommendation of the Regulatory Research Committee to license Art Therapists in Virginia.” Eight members voted in favor and one in opposition to the motion.

Of the eight states in which AATA chapters have engaged in sunrise review processes, favorable results in two states were achieved without going through the full sunrise review process – with Arizona adopting legislation providing for state hiring and title protection for art therapists, and the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing determining that art therapy master’s training met the education requirement to qualify for the Clinical Mental Health Counselor license. However, Virginia is the first state were art therapists have undergone the full sunrise review process and received a determination that a separate art therapy license is necessary to protect the public!

The AATA is optimistic that this recommendation will not only pave the way for art therapy licensure in Virginia but also have a positive impact in other states where art therapists are pursuing licensure, and at least 4 states where art therapists are currently engaged in sunrise review processes.

Thank you to all the art therapists in Virginia for the sustained effort required to achieve this accomplishment for the profession! We look forward to continuing to collaborate with VATA as we push for licensure in Virginia, now with the endorsement from the BHP.

Gretchen Graves, MS, ATR-BC, CDATA, VATA Past President, shares her thoughts on this journey:


It’s been a long road since 2006, when Carol Olson and I revitalized the state Chapter in Virginia (VATA) and took on licensure.  Since then I have been working hard to achieve our goal.  VATA has tried several different paths, wrote to many legislators, and tried various methods to accomplish this goal.  Finally, with great help from Dean Sagar, AATA’s Public Policy Advisor, licensure for art therapists in Virginia has been recommended by the Board of Health Professions. Thank you to everyone who helped in this tremendous effort!

For more details on the events leading up to this accomplishment and the sunrise review process, read Gretchen Grave’s January blog post, “Virginia Sunrise Review Application Featured in Board of Health Professions Meeting” and AATA’s June blog post, “Art Therapists Make the Case for Regulation in Virginia.”