Creative arts therapists can help solve New York’s mental health crisis, if Governor Hochul allows us to

Josh Millrod, a licensed creative arts therapist, reports for duty—along with nearly 2,000 colleagues who are also ready and able to do their part in solving New York’s mental health crisis. That is, if you have us, Governor Hochul.

In this year’s State of the State address, Gov. Kathy Hochul talked about how things turned out in New York. We are facing unprecedented rates of anxiety, depression, and trauma, a worsening physician shortage, and an affordability crisis driven by choosing insurance companies and choosing which services to cover and which physicians can offer.

Meanwhile, on December 30, Hochul signed a landmark bill to expand mental health coverage but only after excluding more than 2,000 licensed psychotherapists.

This vital piece of legislation, which took years to prepare, requires insurance companies to cover outpatient services provided by licensed mental health practitioners—including mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, psychoanalysts, and, if you don’t remove us from its provisions, creatives. Art therapists. Creative Arts Therapists would have accounted for over 14% of this expansion until we were shut out in the early hours of 2022.

Unfortunately, this is just another example of creative arts therapists being excluded from Albany’s efforts to increase access and affordability by expanding who can provide the diagnoses patients need to obtain Medicaid-covered services and licenses.

Licensed creative arts therapists are psychotherapists who integrate music, art, dance, movement, drama, and poetry into their clinical work. We receive rigorous training in both our creative method and verbal psychotherapy. To qualify for my license, I earned a master’s degree at NYU including a one-year internship at Bellevue Hospital working with some of New York’s neediest people, earned National Board Certification as a Music Therapist, and completed 1,500 hours of supervised clinical work at Rikers Island where she developed a hip-hop therapy program for detained teens. In the past six years, I have taken over 125 hours of postgraduate psychotherapy training to maintain my license. However, Albany will not mandate that insurance companies cover my services or allow me to provide diagnoses to patients who need them for care.

At the same time that Hochul promoted Albany’s renewed commitment to addressing our mental health crisis, she unnecessarily limited the number of physicians available to New Yorkers. Unfortunately, the doctors I exclude are often the ones most suited to serving patients who are averse to or unresponsive to other forms of treatment. This last-minute exclusion means that my patients remain at the whim of their insurance companies. If they change jobs, change plans, or their current insurance company changes their rules, they risk losing their mental health care.

I have seen firsthand how creative arts therapy can transform lives. At Rikers Island, I’ve helped teenage detainees produce hundreds of songs that tell stories of their pain, trauma, resilience, and hope. These were not music lessons. They were trauma therapy sessions that used music as a safe container for the overwhelming pain and suffering these young people carried in their minds and bodies. Now, in my own practice, many clients come to me because other treatments haven’t worked or because their traumatic past makes it hard to talk without feeling overwhelmed.

I know a little is simple in Albany, but this one is pretty straightforward. Expanding the scope of creative arts therapists with the same mandates and privileges granted to our fellow mental health practitioners would provide an additional 2,000 qualified clinicians to New Yorkers in need.

We’re ready when you are, Governor.

This guest article reflects the views of Josh Millrod, a licensed creative arts therapist and board-certified music therapist in private practice on Long Island.

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