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creative:impact - Art + creative therapy is purposeful

Art therapy
Art therapy

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU


Jeff Irwin
Jeff Irwin
Jeff Irwin

I am a passionate public servant. I love helping people and using public policy to make people's lives better. After serving our community for many years as an environmental advocate, a county commissioner, and a state representative, I’m excited to continue making a difference as your next state senator. For too long, Michigan has been neglecting its essential programs and services; we need a new direction and leaders who will make government work again. I know that decisions in Lansing can make a difference in millions of lives, and I know that experienced and principled public servants are best positioned to make those decisions, because I’ve done it. As your next state senator, I will put my experience to work fighting for a better education system, an economy that works for everyone, and equal rights for all citizens.

I am from Sault Ste Marie, MI, but I have lived in Ann Arbor since 1995. Currently, I live in east Ann Arbor, near the intersection of Packard and Platt with my wife, Kathryn, and our two children, Sylvia and Mackinac, who attend Pittsfield Elementary. I came to the area to attend the University of Michigan, where I earned a bachelor's degree in political science. While I was still a student, I took an organizing job with the League of Conservation Voters and later won a seat on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. For a deeper dive of my early family life in Sault Ste Marie along with some serious policy talk, check out this interview by Mark Maynard.

I am so proud of my many years of experience in public service and my record of advocating for progressive causes. My legislative history at the local and state level proves that I will be the best advocate in Lansing for our community.


Senator Jeff Irwin

Michigan Association of Art Therapy (MAAT)

MAAT Analysis for Art Therapy Licensure

Creative Washtenaw: Creative Arts Therapies

MSU Extension: "The benefits art therapy can have on mental and physical health"

Michigan Senate Bill 953 (2022)


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. Thanks for tuning in on Tuesdays to hear our discussions about the impact and reach of Washtenaw County's arts and creative industries and how it impacts and adds to our local quality of life, place, and economy. Art and creative therapy is our subject. While art and creativity in general offers great opportunities for self-expression, reflection, joy, and life-changing experiences, art and creative therapy is very purposeful. All art forms are used in the practice. It's an integrative mental health and human service profession, and it successfully treats people of all ages and backgrounds with depression, anxiety, asthma pain management, post-traumatic stress syndromes, and more. It's also one of the military's top treatments for returning troops and helping them reenter civilian life. While the practice has been used for more than eight decades, it still seems rather new, although it's used widely in hospitals and treatment centers. The ethics of arts and creative therapy practice begins, as do the ethics in all areas of medical practice: do no harm. Although it's regulated in many countries and at least 50 states, Michigan does not currently require licensure for art and creative therapy. Senator Jeff Irwin, our guest today, is trying to change that. Senator Irwin, welcome to creative:impact.

Jeff Irwin: Thanks, Deb. Thanks for coming in.

Deb Polich: Yeah. Congratulations on your new term and your return to Lansing.

Jeff Irwin: Yeah. Thank you so much. It's an interesting time in Lansing with Democrats in control of the legislature and the governor's office for the first time in 40 years. So, you know, as a Democrat, that creates new opportunities to get things done that will hopefully make Michigan a great place to live and work.

Deb Polich: Well, we look forward to that. And, you know, throughout your tenure in the Senate, you've championed all types of legislation. And I imagine some of those causes are lifelong interest of yours and others, perhaps, are introduced to you by constituents. So, last term, you sponsored Senate Bill 0953, an effort to license the health profession of music therapy. What caught your attention about music art therapy and the importance for licensure?

Jeff Irwin: Well, I guess the main thing that caught my attention is just simply that it works, and it's been used for such a long time. And, you know, the fact that it's so effective is important. But, you know, I think it's even more important to recognize that the reason why I introduced this legislation is because we have experts and researchers here in Washtenaw County, at our universities, and, particularly, at Eastern Michigan University, who reached out to me to talk about their program and how a state law providing licensure would protect consumers and, you know, also help their craft get more recognized and help more people have access to services that work.

Deb Polich: Yeah. And it also would regulate the fact that some people, anybody who currently wants to call themselves an art therapist or music therapist, can do that without any repercussions. Correct?

Jeff Irwin: Yeah, that's exactly what I mean by, you know, protecting the public and protecting consumers. If we're going to have, you know, a therapeutic service out there, usually it's important that that service be licensed, so that individuals who really don't have the training, who don't have the expertise, you know, can't hold themselves out there falsely as an expert. And you can't really defraud people and really set people back in their medical recovery or, you know, in their treatment.

Deb Polich: And so, have you yourself or do you know anyone or a story about someone who's benefited from this kind of therapy?

Jeff Irwin: You know, I don't have anyone who's close to me whose story I could deploy in that way. But I certainly have met individuals through, you know, talking with the experts at EMU who, you know, have case studies and, you know, stories of individuals who, you know, have seen a lot of relief and have seen quicker recoveries with this. I've also heard from folks who are in the veteran community who have experienced PTSD and have said that this was, you know, part of their journey toward getting back to normalcy and getting back to, you know, a state where they weren't in panic.

Deb Polich: So, there's known statistics and research that shows that these programs work. And 78% of the programs used in most hospitals definitely show the benefit to both patients and staff. So, what what will licensure do? What is the purpose of licensing or certification in general? I mean, so what are the steps?

Jeff Irwin: Right. Well, I mean, I think, to take a step back, the purpose is, you know, what I was just talking about a moment ago, which is the state licenses certain professions for the purpose of making sure that consumers are protected and public health is protected. When you have someone who is seeking some sort of health care service and that health care service isn't bona fide, well, that can really, as I said earlier, set them back in their recovery. Sometimes, it can even injure them and do harm to them. And so, that's why, in the medical field particularly, but in a lot of other sectors of the economy, we've set up some sort of licensure rule to try to make sure that people who are holding themselves out there as a purveyor of a certain service have a certain minimal level of competence. And also, so that if there is a problem, that individual can be held accountable. If someone is, you know, repeatedly violating the standards of care in their profession, then they probably shouldn't be in that profession. And so, that's why we do licensure. It's to hold people accountable, to make sure that the public health is protected, and to make sure that consumers aren't ripped off by, you know, fly-by-night or people who are advertising services they can't really deliver.

Deb Polich: 89 one WEMU's creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and my guest is State Senator Jeff Irwin. So, Senator, as your bill calls for music therapy certification, Michigan House Representative Greg Markkanen, a Republican, introduced a similar bill calling out visual art therapy in the House during last session. I'm wondering that...well, first of all, I think we kind of have to do a little bit of the Schoolhouse Rock "I'm a Bill" here, because I want you to share with us what happened to those bills that you and the representative introduced at the last session.

Jeff Irwin: Absolutely. So, I introduced Senate Bill 953 in the Senate and Representative Markkanen introduced a bill in the House. And, you know, if you go back to Schoolhouse Rock, it all starts with an idea, and then it gets turned into a bill, a proposal, a proposal for a law in Michigan. And what both of these bills did, basically, is say that if you want to help yourself out there and publicly advertise yourself as a music therapist or art therapist, you have to have a certain minimal level of training. And you got to sign up and register with the state and pay a small fee.

Deb Polich: And those have to be reintroduced this session. Correct?

Jeff Irwin: Yeah. Yeah. I was getting to that. And so, what happened with all those bills is that they never did get a hearing. They never moved forward. And so, they never brought forward in committee. They were never brought to a vote. And at the end of every two years in the Michigan Legislature, when a new crop of representatives come in, all of the bills are wiped clean, the deck is cleared, and there are no bills introduced. So, you know, tomorrow, I'm going to be sworn in, and there won't be any bills introduced yet until the second day of session.

Deb Polich: Okay, great. So, considering the new Legislature, what are your thoughts about possibly working with Representative Markkenen to create a bill encompassing all art forms and a licensing program?

Jeff Irwin: Well, my first intention is just to check in with Representative Markkanen and see if it's something that he wants to continue to to work on. And if he does, I think that, you know, I'm certainly interested in continuing to work on the legislation I introduced last year. And we'll talk about what that looks like in terms of, you know, trying to get consideration of the legislation like we did last time and who are the right committee chairs who we need to, you know, avail ourselves to and to encourage to bring this discussion forward and get the ball rolling, because that's really the first step is having a hearing, bringing in the experts, listening to what the public has to say in terms of support or concerns.

Deb Polich: So, art therapists and music therapists can make a decent living--a good living and a purposeful living. Is licensure an opportunity to encourage upper education and apprenticeship programs and workforce development throughout the state?

Jeff Irwin: I think it is. You know, I think it's also an opportunity to further legitimize a long-standing practice that has a lot of clinical efficacy, a lot of research, and get that more into the serious consideration of our insurance providers.

Deb Polich: Great idea.

Jeff Irwin: And find real relief. You know, I do think that that is, you know, what ultimately licensure helps provide because then now you're giving the insurance companies something to hang their hat on in terms of showing that the individuals who are in this practice are educated. And there's there's a certain minimal level of accountability that I think they need to start looking at this seriously.

The Michigan state capitol in Lansing at dusk. Original image from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress collection. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.
The Michigan state capitol in Lansing at dusk. Original image from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress collection. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

Deb Polich: Well, Senator, for all the reasons we've talked about and more, your efforts in Lansing are really appreciated. And I want to thank you for your leadership, your public service, and being my guest on creative:impact.

Jeff Irwin: Well, thank you so much. And thanks for all you do to continue to hammer home how important the creative industries are to not just our joy and our lifestyles, but also to our economy.

Deb Polich: Thanks so much. That's Senator Jeff Irwin, who is sponsoring a bill in Lansing. To look at certification and licensure for music therapists in the state of Michigan, find out more about Senator Jeff, his legislation, and the practice of art and creative therapy at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. Join us every Tuesday to meet people who make Washtenaw creative. This is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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