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New Emporia State Program Aims To Increase Art Therapists In State


Despite a strong hand in the development of the practice, Kansas does not offer a license to art therapists. But the art therapy faculty at Emporia State University are trying to change that.

In 2001 attempt by the Kansas Art Therapy Association to get support for a licensure bill failed.

Legislators told the Kansas Art Therapy Association they needed 100 board certified art therapists practicing in the state for them to consider licensure.

But, says Emporia State University faculty member Libby Schmanke, they just can’t seem to get close to that number.

“We’ve only got about 40 or so at this point, but it is hard to keep them in the state because they can’t get licensed,” says Schmanke.

It’s a surprising situation, considering Kansas played a leading role in the development of the practice.

ESU’s Master of Art Therapy program is one of the oldest in the country, created in 1973 by Texan-turned-Kansan Robert ‘Bob’ Ault.

Ault and his colleague Don Jones used art therapeutically at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka and the pair went on to co-found with three others the American Art Therapy Association.

“They were invited to come back east by some other women who were doing what they were called art therapy at hospitals back there,” she says. “And these were artists maybe who had undergone some psychoanalytical training and were working with mental patients and doing art and art therapy and they came together in 1969 and created the American Art Therapy Association.”

After that Ault and Jones returned to Topeka and continued to be pioneers in the field. Then, says Schmanke, Bob Ault created the program at Emporia State.

After that, the state’s influence in the field starts to fizzle out.

“Primarily now you will find that most of the art therapy is happening on the coasts, on the east coast and the west coast and in Florida,” says Schmanke. “Back in the day Philadelphia and Topeka were two areas where people were really coming out and saying hey we are doing this.”

43 years later, a new set of pioneers is working to strengthen the role of art therapy and art therapists in the state.

Under the direction of Dr. Gaelynne Wolf-Bordonaro, this year ESU accepted its first cohort of students who will earn dual master degrees– one in art therapy counseling and one in mental health counseling, making students eligible for licensure through the Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board.

Dr. Wolf-Bordonaro says the dual degree program will help to retain art therapists in the state.

“Because with licensure they will be able to practice and have third party payments and things, and they can still identify as art therapists but with licensure and training as mental health counselors,” she says.

Plus she says the more art therapists who stay in Kansas the more they build the threshold of practitioners needed to get the attention of legislators, and ultimately licensure.

“I think art therapists, including myself, really worry about the identity of art therapy when you combine degrees in that way,” says Wolf-Bordonaro, “but I think it is something that we needed to be responsive to our student population and alumni. Where in Kanas, if they wanted to stay here, they can find jobs without the licensure.”

A potential remedy to that catch-22.