April 21, 2022 | Margaret Carlock-Russo, Ed.D., LCAT(NY), ATR-BC, ATCS, Past President, American Art Therapy Association

For a long while, even before art therapists first became licensed anywhere in the US, art therapists have been debating the value of professional licensure. Many of us who have been professionals in the field for more than 10 years most likely had to pursue an alternative license such as licensed professional counselor (LPC) or licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) to work providing mental health counseling in most states. If you already hold a license as an art therapist, LPC, or LMFT, you may not realize or be personally affected by the changes—particularly in the counseling profession—that will very soon lock art therapists out of gaining an LPC. Similar changes are coming regarding the LMFT license as well. Whether you are personally affected or not, your attention must be on these changes for the long-term sustainability of the profession. We need to think about those in education programs now and future art therapists.

Some states have already been grappling with the inability of newly graduated art therapists to pursue the LPC. As early as 2024, art therapy graduates in most other states will be grappling with this as well. Pursuing the LPC or LMFT were stop-gap measures, until art therapy licensure could be attained, that have turned into typical paths to practice for a variety of reasons. Rather than advocate for change, we’ve become used to a career path that not only muddies our very identity, but will also effectively prohibit future art therapists from clinical practice.

Let’s consider the counseling profession first.

The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), establishes the educational standards for counseling and accredits counselor education programs. The CACREP education standards are used as counseling licensure requirements, or equivalents, in all states. This is similar to how CAAHEP, through ACATE, sets education outcomes criteria and accredits art therapy education programs. The CACREP standards have been gradually becoming more specific and appear to no longer provide any flexibility to accept art therapy courses within the CACREP guidelines. To make matters more urgent, updated CACREP standards will be issued in 2024. You can review a draft of the 2024 standards here. Most importantly, CACREP accredited programs or closely aligned non-accredited programs are the only ones that will be accepted for LPC licensure in the future. While there are a few CACREP-accredited programs that have art therapy as a focus area, the vast majority do not. So, the LPC is not a realistic path for art therapists moving forward. The LMFT path will likely follow suit.

If one looks at the CACREP education standards, they will notice that each benchmark is focused keenly on developing the identity and knowledge of a counselor and rightly so. Our own CAAHEP standards reflect similarly about the art therapy profession. So, why wouldn’t we strive for future generations of art therapists to focus on art therapist identity and knowledge? Why continue to support art therapy as a subsidiary of counseling or MFT instead of a unique profession as it has been established? Where is our professional pride? What do we want for the future of art therapy?

Realistically, I understand that many of us have been caught in a system that doesn’t recognize art therapy and we’ve had to pursue other licenses to support our careers. I get that. Shortly, we will no longer have that option – so either we gather our strength now and advocate for future generations or watch our amazing profession slowly be relegated to a sub-specialty area. I, for one, do not want to see that after all the growth and legitimacy we have already achieved. It is critical to gain art therapy licensure to ensure professional sustainability for generations to come.

So, what do we need to do now?

We collaborate, gather our community strength, with AATA assistance, to make noise. We move forward with legislative initiatives in as many states as possible. This means participating in advocacy efforts in whatever way you are able. Write to your legislators, attend AATA virtual advocacy events—especially our next licensure advocacy learning session to be held on June 9th—and support your art therapy advocacy team for local initiatives and events. I am confident that together, as a profession, we can make it happen.


Margaret Carlock-Russo, EdD, LCAT(NY), ATR-BC, ATCS

Margaret has over 24 years of experience as an art therapist working with individuals and groups. Much of her career has been spent working with people with health conditions or impairments and learning disabilities. Most recently, she has developed Chroma Soul Arts, an organization focused on providing community groups and retreats, addressing issues of aging, social connection, self-care, and wellness.

Margaret is also an associate faculty at Prescott College, coordinating their Expressive Arts Therapy Post Master’s Certificate Program. She is the Immediate Past President of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) and has previously served as Speaker of the Assembly of Chapters (2016) and Governmental Affairs Committee Chair (2011-2015). Margaret’s academic research interest focuses on teachers’ understanding and integration of students’ social and emotional development within the academic environment.