Art Therapists are Recreation Therapists?

Sigh. As Cathy Malchiodi pointed out on her Facebook page today, it’s very disappointing to see that the US Department of Labor considers Art Therapists to be Recreation Therapists. Not Therapist or Mental Health Counselor. And of course, not just plain old Art Therapist. Art Therapy apparently can’t stand alone, like Marriage and Family Therapist, Counselor or Social Worker.

Oddly enough, according to AATA, Art Therapy is now a “distinct employment classification” according to the Department of Labor:

“The Association has been working diligently in the past 2 years to add the profession of art therapy to the Bureau of Labor Statistics database as a distinct employment classification.”

Apparently, according to AATA, the definition of a “distinct” profession is to simply be classified at all. But, the meaning of the words and the taxonomy used to describe any given thing defines how we perceive that thing. If Art Therapy is merely a sub-classification, then we’re on a path of public misconception. And once that path is forged is very difficult to gain back ground.

And, while I’m glad that Art Therapist made it onto the list of jobs recognized by the Labor Dept, it’s a blow to the profession that AATA did not come through for and Art Therapy classification that is worthy of the Art Therapy field. To be a certified Recreation Therapist you need a BA. All art therapists at minimum have an MA, and many are PhDs, with specializations in specific psychotherapeutic techniques to treat mental illness and trauma. I’ve worked with several rec therapists, and they all were fly by the seat of their pants when it came to clinical work (if they were even expected to do any clinical work)…because they were not trained in clinical work at the level of an Art Therapist or any other clinician for that matter.

I’m having trouble understanding AATA’s rationale for this decision. Is it that they’ll take what they can get and be happy to be included in the Labor Dept statistics at all? How can they justify Art Therapists needing an MA in order to practice if we’re lumped in with a profession that only requires a BA? Why are they ok with placing the Art Therapy profession on the wrong path? Is it not worth struggling for a longer period of time, but actually being a truly distinct profession, such as Marriage and Family Therapists?

4 Replies to “Art Therapists are Recreation Therapists?”

  1. Hi Liz,

    I am not sure that art therapy is being positioned as a sub-specialty of recreation therapy. But the association as a member of the same Code #29 clan where bachelor’s level recreation therapy is located is really depressing. I am beginning to realize that the national organization has no concept or understanding of the history of our profession and our educational standards, even before counseling was factored in. All continuity has been lost in terms of previous work on title protection and licensure and there seems to be no concern within elected leadership for that loss.

    I really feel like I am on a hijacked plane and that we are all locked out of the cockpit while the plane is spiraling.

  2. Hey Cathy,

    It seemed like art therapy is a sub classification of rec therapy. If you check to see what the average pay is for an art therapist based on the state, you’re brought to the recreational therapy statistics. I’m assuming as art therapists fill in the surveys that are being set out by Onet, their demographics will be added to the already existing data for rec therapy.

    What a blow to all of us. And the worst part is, these codes/classifications/etc will become intrenched…it will be so difficult, if not impossible to turn things around.

  3. As someone who just got their Masters and is working in recreation/rehabilitation I feel like we have a bit of an identity crisis as a field. Though our education has such a clinical basis, as art therapists it seems as though we fill so many diverse roles–it’s hard to define what exactly an “art therapist” does. Being hired for different roles–primary therapist, rehabilitation, recreation, social work, psycho education, etc–we are tailoring art therapy to these roles rather then creating our entirely new role as “art therapist.” In my mind it’s not particularly a bad thing that an art therapist can function in so many different modalities, but it will be a tough road to start defining how the art therapist fits into both these roles, and the general role of “art therapist.”

    It makes me sad that we are classified under “recreation,” but at the same time the degree required to practice art therapy qualifies us for so much more. I’m not completely hopeless on the idea that our field will begin to stake out a more accurate and strong identity, but I definitely think that we have a lot of work to get there.

  4. I hope you’re right, Paige. If art therapy is a valid profession, then why can’t it stand alone, like marriage and family therapy? Instead, art therapists gain certification in these fields (marriage and family therapy, counseling, etc…), making art therapy an adjunct, even though it shouldn’t be. We’ll see what happens…but I think it was a poor decision on AATA’s part.

    It would be great to hear what AATA’s rationale was for this move. Too bad their blog and social media are dead, so it’s pretty difficult to communicate with them about our thoughts and needs.

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