Call for art therapy recognition

 

The work of creative arts therapists needs to be officially recognised by the Government, writes JOANNE HUNT

BILL AHESSY is a member of the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists (IACAT). The professional body for music, art, drama and dance movement therapists in Ireland, it is calling on the Government for the State registration and recognition of creative arts therapies in Ireland.

“We’ve been working towards registration as far back as 1992,” says Ahessy, a music therapist who works with children with emotional, behavioural and communication problems and with adults with dementia and schizophrenia.

“Currently we don’t have a correct title or grade for creative arts therapists in the Department of Health and Children salary scale. This affects the growth of the profession and it threatens posts too,” he explains.

Comprising 238 therapists, many of IACAT’s members have Masters qualifications from specialist courses offered at the University of Limerick, the National University of Ireland, Maynooth and Crawford College of Art and Design, Cork. This year celebrating its 25th anniversary, IACAT is calling for the same formal registration held by its UK counterparts since 1999.

Bill Ahessy says there is an increasing body of research detailing the value of creative arts therapy. His own work between the Mater special needs school, the ChildVision School for blind children in Drumcondra and the Meath long-stay facility for older adults is a case in point.

“With the adults, I set up a music therapy group in the form of a choir. We ran a 12-week programme and the outcomes included a reduction in depression by 67 per cent and improvements in cognitive functioning,” he says.

In his work with children, he says the emphasis is on attaining clinical goals in the areas of communication, emotional support and improving motor skills.

“The music is a container for self-expression and emotional expression but it can also be tailored to work on specifics,” he says.

“If a child with cerebral palsy uses her right hand, I could set up a structured song where she can play with that hand, or I might compose songs that encourage children to vocalise.”

But while the benefits of arts therapies are well recognised, our health service is failing to formally recognise therapists.

“I’m in the HSE permanently,” says Bill, “but my contract doesn’t say ‘music therapist’. If I were to leave the post, there wouldn’t be an ad for a music therapist. It’s not a music therapy post even though I am practising as a music therapist.”

This leaves therapists and those who benefit from their work on unsure footing. Ahessy says in Ireland, the discipline is still regarded as “complementary” or “alternative”.

“It’s still kind of seen as the icing on the cake, but the fact is, it’s really essential. For people in long-term care or those in psychiatric hospitals, these therapies are an outlet where people can engage in a non-pressured way.”

Calling for creative arts therapies to be recognised under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act, Ahessy says most concerning of all is that by failing to recognise and regulate the profession, the Government is putting some of the most vulnerable client groups at risk.

“It’s worrying when anyone can use the title music, art, dance or drama therapist without ever having completed a high standard of professional training . . . particularly when the majority of our work lies in mental health, special education, intellectual disability and end-of-life care.

“It’s imperative that urgent action be taken to ensure client welfare and to maintain the professional integrity of creative arts therapies in Ireland.”

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