Lawmakers Seek to Regulate Yet Another Profession

January 18, 2012

Investigative Reports

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The NerveIf one powerful South Carolina legislator has his way, music therapy will be added to the already lengthy list of professions regulated in the Palmetto State.

Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, recently filed a bill that would create a music therapy board, place the board under the oversight of the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, and prohibit the practice of music therapy without a license.

To date, Leatherman, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, is the lone sponsor of S. 1057. Leatherman’s bill is similar to H. 3093, introduced in the House last year by Rep. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg.

However, Leatherman’s bill may be modified to require a registry for music therapists, rather than an oversight board, according to Dena Register, regulatory affairs advisor for the Certification Board for Music Therapists, a Pennsylvania-based oversight organization for the profession.

“We’re in the process of changing the wording of the bill,” she said.

“We’re looking for recognition from the state because there are a high number of people practicing as music therapists, but they’re not trained as music therapists,” Register said.

“It can be very confusing for the public,” she added. “If you’re, say, the parent of a special-needs child trying to sort out the variety of services available, you want someone with training and background who can help them reach their fullest potential.”

Leatherman did not return calls from The Nerve seeking comment on the bill.

Music therapy, which dates back to the ancient Greeks, involves the use of music to promote healing and enhance the quality of life. The therapy can be used with individuals of all ages possessing a variety of conditions, ranging from psychiatric disorders and physical handicaps to substance abuse and aging.

South Carolina has 62 board-certified music therapists, and both Converse College and the Charleston Southern University offer bachelor’s degrees in music therapy, according to Register.

South Carolina is one of several states considering regulation of the music therapy profession, according to Register. Last year, North Dakota and Nevada became the first two states to require licensing of music therapists, although Wisconsin has had a music therapy registry in place for several years, she said.

Nine other states have legislation pending regarding the profession, and another two are considering it, Register said.

Driving the surge of legislative activity related to music therapy is the “exponential growth” of the profession in recent years, Register said.

“There are about 5,000 music therapists in the U.S. and the public has had difficulty accessing services from qualified individuals,” she said.

Leatherman’s bill calls for the creation of an S.C. Board of Music Therapy to assist Labor, Licensing and Regulation “on all matters pertaining to the education, examination, licensure, and continuing education of licensed, board certified music therapists and the practice of music therapy.”

The board would be composed of five members: two appointed by the House speaker; two appointed by the Senate president pro tem; and one by the governor.

Under the bill, an applicant would have to meet the following requirements to be eligible to be licensed as a music therapist:

  • Be at least 21 years old;
  • Be of good moral character;
  • Abide by the Certification Board for Music Therapists’ code of professional practice;
  • Have successfully completed an American Music Therapy Association-approved academic program with a baccalaureate degree or higher with a major in music therapy from an accredited college or university, or its equivalent;
  • Have successfully completed the board certification exam offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists; and
  • Have successfully completed a minimum of 1,200 hours of clinical training, with at least 180 hours in pre-internship experiences and at least 900 hours in internship experiences in an internship program approved by an academic institution, the American Music Therapy Association, or both.

S. 1057 received a first reading in the Senate last week and was referred to Committee on Labor, Commerce and Industry. Allison’s bill received a first reading in January 2010 and was referred to the House Committee on Labor, Commerce and Industry, but stalled after that.

Because each legislative session runs for two years and this year is the second half of the current session, Allison’s bill can still be taken up.

Similar legislation has received mixed reviews, even in states where it has become law.

State Assemblyman Pat Hickey, R-Reno, called the music-therapy law “silly” and said he was concerned about the health insurance ramifications if music therapy is covered under insurance plans, according to a story in the Reno Gazette-Journal.

“By creating a new category of therapist, we’ll probably, in the process, qualify them for insurance coverage,” Hickey said. “And we will all pay more. Something like that, the state has no need to regulate and sanction.”

However, the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, defended the profession, noting that the therapy was part of the treatment for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in her recovery from a gunshot to the head in early 2011, according to the publication.

Closer to home, a bid to create a North Carolina Board of Music Therapy and require licensure of music therapists hasn’t gotten far. The language in H. 429, introduced last March, indicated the bill’s emphasis was as much about protecting the industry in North Carolina as it was looking out for consumers.

The bill cited the fact that two state schools offer degrees in music therapy: Appalachian State University and East Carolina University. However, while most ASU and ESU music therapy graduates are from North Carolina and are employed as music therapists upon graduation, they often have to obtain employment outside North Carolina, it stated.

The bill also purports that there have been “reports of unprofessional, invasive, and poor quality treatment from some individuals offering ‘music therapy’ services,” but currently there is no protection for employers or consumers against unqualified individuals who offer “music therapy” or against “the risk of application of contraindicated procedures that could harm consumers.”

Finally, the bill states “there has been an increase in people referring to themselves as music therapists with no training or degree in music therapy, no code of ethics to comply with, and no state regulatory agency to which consumers can report grievances.”

The North Carolina bill passed first reading in March 2011 but didn’t progress out of the House Committee on Health and Human Services. Like South Carolina, North Carolina’s legislative session runs for two years, and this year is the second year of the current session.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022 ext. 110, or kevin@thenerve.org.