Tennessee Considers Licensing Art Therapists

Published June 10, 2019

A bill under consideration in the Tennessee General Assembly would regulate art therapy and require a license to practice the profession.

S.B. 55, sponsored by Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), states in part, “No person shall represent to be or function as a professional art therapist in this state unless the person holds a valid license issued by the advisory committee. The committee shall also regulate the practice of art therapy.”

The bill would require art therapists to have a master’s degree in art therapy and a thousand hours of clinical training. It was assigned to a subcommittee of the Senate Government Operations Committee on March 13. A bill with identical language, H.B. 781, was introduced by state Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) in the House of Representatives.

Benefits ‘Existing Licensees’

Excessive licensing requirements enable current providers to limit competition, says Braden Boucek, vice president of legal affairs at the Beacon Center of Tennessee.

“The parties advocating for these laws are existing licensees, who have every reason to make it hard to be an upstart, and the bureaucrats themselves, who have a natural tendency to expand their own power,” said Boucek.

Groups lobby intensively to erect barriers to entering their vocation, says Dick Carpenter, director of strategic research for the Institute for Justice.

“Licenses are overwhelmingly created by elected officials at the request of leaders in an industry to be licensed,” said Carpenter. “Industry participants routinely mount aggressive, multiyear campaigns in state legislatures to achieve licensure.

“Once created, leaders and members of the licensed industry will fight ferociously to maintain the license in the event it is threatened through legislative reform efforts or litigation,” said Carpenter.

Harms ‘Greater Community’

A few people benefit from licensure at the expense of the many, and particularly the poor, says Boucek.

“These types of laws artificially inflate wages for a select group of political insiders and end up hurting everyone,” said Boucek. “The cost is highest for those who are trying to lift themselves out of poverty, because they have the least ability to do things like pay $30,000 or go to educational training for years of pointless schooling.”

The harm done by occupational licensing is widespread, says Carpenter.

“These costs include higher prices for consumers, fewer job opportunities, lost economic output, misallocation of human and financial capital, reduced innovation, and depressed geographic mobility, the latter of which is tied to economic mobility,” said Carpenter.

“Meanwhile, there remains little evidence of the purported benefits of higher quality and increased protection for public health and safety,” said Carpenter. “This means aspiring workers, consumers, and the greater community are all harmed by incurring significant costs with little in attendant benefits.”

Jake Grant ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.