Do Minnesota’s music therapists really need a license?

I’ve recently written about how occupational licenses are another example of regulations which kill economic growth, are about protecting producers, not consumers, and have been increasing in extent in Minnesota in recent years.

An example comes from a report produced lat year by the Institute for Justice titled ‘At What Cost? State and National Estimates of the Economic Costs of Occupational Licensing‘.

In February 2016, three individuals went to the Minnesota House of Representatives to ask the state to create an occupational license to regulate the practice of music therapy. These were not people who had experienced or observed harms from the unlicensed practice of music therapy. They did not come bearing empirical evidence of a genuine threat to public health and safety from unlicensed music therapists. Instead, they were representatives from the music therapy industry, all privately certified music therapists themselves, arguing for licensure of their own occupation.

The industry representatives made vague, unsupported appeals to the need for licensing to protect the public, but their primary argument was that licensing was necessary so that health care organizations could more easily differentiate between music therapists and “other non-music therapy musicians in health care.” Calling licensure “a viable solution with minimal government involvement,” one industry representative said, “[w]e feel this is a lowcost approach for the government and taxpayer as we hope it will be budget-neutral.”

Leaving aside the arguable question of whether the music therapy license amounts to “minimal government involvement,” the belief that it would be budget neutral ignores a variety of other costs from licensure, including the costs to aspiring music therapists, to consumers of music therapy services and to the wider economy.

For example, under the proposal, anyone wishing to work as a music therapist would need to earn a bachelor’s degree in music therapy, complete at least 1,200 hours of clinical training, pass an exam and fulfill an ongoing continuing education requirement.

These are steep hurdles, and clearing them requires a great deal of time, money and income forgone. Not coincidentally, they are also the requirements for private certification through the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) —the same private body through which the three industry representatives voluntarily became certified. The lack of substantiated harms from unlicensed music therapists suggests that alternatives like private certification through the CBMT are working well to keep the public safe. At the same time, the lack of substantiated harms from uncertified music therapists suggests that fulfilling the CBMT’s requirements is not the only path to safe practice.

Yet taking the CBMT’s requirements for certification and making them mandatory forces everyone wishing to work as a music therapist to follow this same path—and shuts them out if they are unable (or unwilling) to do so. This is a loss for disappointed aspirants, for consumers who find a smaller pool of music therapists from which to choose, and for society and the economy at large as people are blocked from the occupation for which they might be best suited, forcing them to work in an occupation less aligned with their skills, interests and aspirations. 

Sadly, the fight to impose licensing on music therapy in Minnesota continues.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment.