We Need to Decolonize Creative Arts Therapy Education in India

We Need to Decolonize Creative Arts Therapy Education in India

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Oihika Chakrabarti started this petition to Chairperson University Grants Commision India and

It has come to our notice that the Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT-ADT, Pune) has launched an MFA in Art Therapy on the 26th of June, which will commence in September 2021. However we, on behalf of The Art Therapy Association of India (TATAI), wish to point out that it does not meet the regulatory and ethical standards of a Master's level program in India. The University Grants Commission (UGC) stipulates that the core faculty setting up the program in India must have a PhD in the required discipline and need to be NET qualified. The National Eligibility Test is a mandatory requirement for university teaching in India. Inspite of these rules and regulations, it seems the authorities responsible for this program have gone ahead without taking into consideration what the University Grants Commission in India mandates in the setting up of new Master’s level programs in India.

Both relevant PhD and NET are pre-requisites for teaching at the university level in India especially in the setting up of new disciplines in India (Vide: University Grants Commission (Minimum Qualifications for Appointment of Teachers and other Academic Staff in Universities and Colleges and other Measures for the Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education) Regulations, 2018). So although one may have visiting faculty from abroad (since this seems to be the main thrust of this program), it is imperative that at the ground level the faculty needs to be a) formally trained and have a PhD in the necessary discipline, i.e. Art Therapy and b) also have qualified the National Eligibility Test in either Art or Psychology in India, which is missing in the setting up and running of this program.

Additionally, on ground faculty must have several years practice, teaching and supervision experience in the field of art therapy in India to demonstrate that they are both equipped and skilled to take on teaching positions and program related roles at the university level. This type of program needs to be contextual and equip students to work with ground realities. How will this be possible when their Indian faculty are neither trained nor experienced and their core foreign faculty have no substantial local experience. We have noted that none of the teaching faculty involved in this program appear to have the required combination of professional qualification in Art Therapy and have on ground work experience as an Art Therapist in the Indian context. Without the expertise and knowledge of trained local practitioners and educators on the ground, the program violates the “do no harm” ethic of health care professionals.

It is our understanding that this is probably why the program is being positioned through a MFA which is a separate degree on its own and therefore a misnomer in this case and compromises the identity of Art Therapy as a unique discipline that deserves its own masters. The Masters in Fine Arts is a highly specialized degree in the Fine Arts field and is a separate discipline on its own and must not be mixed up with Art Therapy, both are distinct disciplines that require separate specialized training tracks. In order to preserve the unique identity of the different disciplines within creative arts therapy, a joint collaboration between The Art Therapy Association of India (TATAI) and Indian Association of Dance Movement Therapy (IADMT) resulted in a change in policy in 2020, where both Art Therapy and Dance Movement Therapy were removed from the ambit of Occupational therapy professionals category as cited within the Allied Health Professions Bill 2018 to become separate recognized disciplines within the Behavioral Health Sciences professional category. According to the Allied Health Professions Act 2021 which consolidated some of these amendments, the Act recognizes Art Therapy as a distinct profession, and their criteria for registration is 3600 hours total with 2000 hours training at the Masters (therapist level) and 1000+ hours training at the Art Therapy Diploma level.

Moreover not only does the MFA program not conform with any of the UGC stipulations, which the Maharashtra Institute of Technology (MIT) seems to have bypassed, in addition the Masters in Fine Arts in Art Therapy at MIT is only a total of 33 credits and only 3 credits in practicum when art therapy training demands a high practical component including supervision, personal therapy and internship. Even at the PG Diploma level, there are programs in dance movement therapy (750 hours of training) and expressive arts therapy in reputed institutes in India today, which are offering as much as a total of 48 credits, with 10 credits in art therapy practicum and fieldwork, not to mention that a typical Masters in allied fields like a MA in Psychology is anywhere between 80-96 credits or a Masters of Fine Arts at a premier institute is 90-100 credits at the university level. It is important to bear in mind that this should be the benchmark for art therapy professional training for practitioners to enter the mental health eco-system, in order to be recognized and considered at par with their peers in allied health professions in India.

Looking at all these factors, it seems that there hasn't been due diligence employed in designing the Art Therapy program at MIT-ADT, India which can only set up the wrong precedent in the field by making allowance for inadequate training programs of this nature, and thus end up doing more harm than good for the professional development of art therapy in India. We therefore question the program’s intentionality on two accounts, one is a technicality, and the other is on principle. Firstly, technically the program doesn’t meet UGC stipulations or requirements of a Masters level program in India. The second is on principle, when we have professionally trained practitioners on the ground, who are involved in training and teaching, why should the thrust of a training program in India have to rely so heavily on foreign faculty who are far removed from the psycho-social realities of India - this is reflective of a colonial mind-set. Let us be clear that this is not about citizenship but about domain expertise and local knowledge, which is imperative for a practice based field like art therapy in India.

In a country where art therapy is beginning to develop as a professional field and today we have a set of trained art therapists practicing on the ground who are perfectly capable of developing a home-grown training program, this is just another form of colonization, one that we as a community have been trying to rise against and counter as a collective voice from within our growing art therapy community over the years. In fact a consensus research study done three years back amongst professionally trained Arts Therapy professionals working in India clearly highlighted the need to develop a home-grown Master’s level training program, one that is culturally relevant and conforming to UGC guidelines. The MFA program at MIT which has been put together rather hastily, positioned through a MFA (which is a separate discipline) does a disservice to our field, and ought to have been developed more consciously and according to applicable protocols and guidelines.

As Founders and Members of The Art Therapy Association of India (TATAI) it saddens us to say that the MFA in Art Therapy at MIT-ADT, India neither meets formal standards of Master's level programs globally or nationally in allied fields in India, nor is it credible as a benchmark for entering the mental health professional eco-system in India. We at TATAI have requested both MIT (rahulkarad@mitpune.com) and the UGC (cm.ugc@nic.in) to reconsider this program. Significant trained practitioners, many of whom maybe considered pioneers, from both the art therapy field and the larger arts therapy community in India, stand united in support of this ethical stand and have consented to put their names and testimonials below in this petition as a mark of solidarity. 

While the undersigned are representatives of the arts therapists’ community who have done their masters level training in their respective fields abroad (in the absence of formal training in India) and returned to practice and contribute to the development of their respective fields in India, we would also like to acknowledge that there are several practitioners with rigorous practices in the country who rose from different paths. We are aware of the diversity in the country and want to be inclusive of those factions as well. This however does not take away from the fact that at this point in time, there is no excuse why a course has to circumvent UGC rules and not include trained on ground practitioners. We therefore wish to appeal to the larger community to join us in solidarity. In this petition we would like to reach out to practitioners, researchers, trainers, educators and academics in the arts therapy and allied fields both in India and overseas to sign this petition and help support us in our quest for accountability and social justice.

Oihika Chakrabarti Art Psychotherapist, MFA, RATh, DAT-c
Co-Founder & Chairperson, The Art Therapy Association of India (TATAI)
Founder Director, Manahkshetra Foundation (art for social change) India

Disha Dutt
MA (A Th) AThR
Art Therapist
Co-Founder & Secretary
The Art Therapy Association of India (TATAI)

Sruthi Sriram, AThR
Licensed Art Therapist, MA (A Th)
Co-Founder & Treasurer
The Art Therapy Association of India (TATAI)

Krupa Jhaveri, MPS, EXAT, CAGS, PhD-c
Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapist & Art Director
Founder of Sankalpa & Sankalpalam, based in South India
Advisory Board Member,
The Art Therapy Association of India (TATAI)

Neha Bhat
Clinical Art Therapist, ABT, ATR-P
Executive Board Member,
The Art Therapy Association of India (TATAI)

Charithra Ballal
MSc Clinical Psychology
Clinical Psychologist & Arts in Health Practitioner
Executive Board Member,
The Art Therapy Association of India (TATAI)

Dr. Maitri Gopalakrishna,
PhD, MA (Drama Therapy), RDT
Counsellor, Trainer & Supervisor,
Parivarthan Counselling Training and Research Centre, Bangalore

Preetha Ramasubramanian
PhD (Candidate), MA DMT (Distinction), MSc Psychology, PG Dip Spl Ed
President - Indian Association of Dance Movement Therapy)
Founder / Director - Kinesthetics
Co-Founder - The Arts Therapists Co-Lab

Anshuma Kshetrapal
Drama and Movement Therapist
MA psychosocial clinical studies, MA Drama and Movement Therapy
Co-Founder, Course Director, The arts therapists Co-Lab
Founder, The Color of Grey Cells
Vice President, Indian Association of Dance Movement Therapy (IADMT)

Devika Mehta
Dance Movement Psychotherapist
M.Sc Dance Movement Psychotherapy, M.A. Applied Psychology (Clinical)
Co-founder - Synchrony
Treasurer, Indian Association of Dance Movement Therapy (IADMT)


Testimonials from the arts therapy social action movement on social media on 4th of June, 2021 in India:

In my view the MFA in Art Therapy program slated to commence at the Maharashtra Institute of Technology (ADT) is problematic on several accounts. First and foremost it does not follow the standards stipulated by the University Grants Commission (UGC). Secondly, positioning it as an MFA which is a specialized and separate discipline does a disservice to the identity of Art Therapy as a separate specialized discipline which requires its own master’s program, a minimum requirement for practice in the field. However not having the pre-requisites to start this program be it in the form of trained and experienced core faculty at the ground level, the program seems to be heavily relying on foreign faculty who are far removed from the psycho-social realities and needs in the Indian context. The problematics governing this program are mani-fold. Let me be clear, this is not about nationality but about intentionality. In a country that is divided on the lines of caste, class, gender, religion and much more, it is really important to be mindful and conscious of integrating these factors within our creative arts therapy training curriculums. However this can only be embedded when one is working and continuing to contribute to the field at the grassroots level and not just through a diasporic lens. Else training will stem out of and perpetuate colonial thinking. In my view this state is called willful blindness...colonial thinking is so internalized that it is difficult to dismantle...it is time we interrupt this dominant narrative. Sometimes it takes a village…and this was evident a few years back in the pan India consensus research study that was conducted on the ground to ascertain the needs of the locale, in order to create a culturally relevant curriculum for training in India. It has taken time but the idea is to create a home-grown program that is ethically sound and sustainable where training can be made inclusive and economically affordable for all.
What we have witnessed through our social media movement here is the power of the collective...beyond borders of any kind, whether cultural or disciplinary...where the truth may be spoken fearlessly, ethically...in Tagore's words..."where the mind is without fear and the head is held high"...where the arts are integrated and represent our consciousness as a whole. It is heartening to see our community rise within this liminal space as a collective force!
Oihika Chakrabarti, Art Psychotherapist


“It should be clear that these are just a few of the disconnected and unethical choices made in programs from the outside (a strange power play to colonize when the country is still trying to set up standards). There is a group of trained and experienced art therapists in India providing much more relevant training (and we’ve openly disbanded from this group due to their harmful choices), hope that anyone applying will research to find better resources! The silver lining here is that our dynamic and passionate community of art/dance/drama/creative arts/expressive arts therapists here in India is coming together openly in an unprecedented way to fight for what matters to relate without harm to our clients, communities, trainees and each other as colleagues. A decade ago, internet was so bad (at least for me) that the isolation and ongoing struggles were a barrier to growing as a collective, finding an identity and articulating ethics as it is happening now. Many of us qualified pioneers in India adapted western practices, humbly learning to stay with the clients and what they need, to drop materials, directives and theories which were just out of place to stay relevant. It gives me hope to see a common force committed to center those we serve, including the students/trainees who are actually quite vulnerable to being misled and manipulated, and to bring therapists new and old together for mutual learning. Gratitude to mentors/allies abroad who could and continue to see the larger cultural landscape, support and connect from the outside without imposing." Krupa Devi, Trauma-Informed Expressive Arts Therapist


“I am a drama therapist with a masters and PhD. I live and work in India. I am not a visual art therapist but, especially in the Indian context, we are part of the same fraternity. I've taught on two exceptional home grown training programs in the expressive arts therapies. Both of these programs have developed standards of training and practice rooted in our context. For example, the FECAT program this year has taken several proactive steps to acknowledge and work through systemic inequalities and mental health in the Indian context and make sure the program is accessible to students from marginalized backgrounds. Xavier’s Mumbai, despite being poised to host a Masters, has decided to operate as a diploma for as long as it takes to develop and test methodologies for teaching and assessment specific to our context. Oihika's research work to develop a decolonized master’s curriculum in the creative arts therapies is one of its kind that so many of us have collaborated on. These are only a few examples of the rigorous, ethical and intentional work occurring in training in our field in India. Through all of this we've collaborated with several senior practitioners from abroad but at no point have any of them attempted to start their own program here. Therefore, I am utterly bewildered by this master’s program. It seems completely out of touch, tone deaf and colonial. I would love to see your curriculum and faculty list to see how this program is ours rather than of a group of US practitioners (well intentionally) attempting to "equip" (i.e. save) us.”
Maitri Gopalakrishna, Drama Therapist

“This is absolutely problematic... I'd like to echo each and every voice here... The importance of understanding culturally relevant layers and having trained therapists who have worked in India for years is so very important for a master’s program... Just because India does not have a regulatory body at present shouldn't be used to one's advantage. Hoping that the university, Sangeeta Prasad and other faculties reconsider this program. Oihika Chakrabarti India is ready for masters level creative arts therapies programs... We need to collectively work towards an umbrella body that will help us represent nationally and internationally... #togetherwecan”
Preetha Ramasubramanian, Dance Movement Therapist

“Thank you for highlighting the critical issues underlying this program. It is shocking how little regard there is for the prerequisites and disheartening that these concerns are being repeatedly ignored and avoided. The Art Therapy profession is still in its infancy in India and the few of us working on the ground are doing all we can to establish ethical practices. One can only hope people interested in pursuing training in Art Therapy find the right resources and maybe awareness should begin with just that: letting people know how to look for a good training program. What's happening with this MFA is only colonizing with no respect for the profession or the country.
The power play and notion of 'handing over' is just preposterous and degrading all the efforts by practitioners who are actively present on the ground. Would they do the same thing in any other country?? No. Because according to them, India is where ethics can go down the drain as long as everything looks good on paper. Learning the hard way that we can't force people to be ethical. If they intend to go ahead with the program despite so many protests and without clarifications or even a basic response to these voices, it just goes to show that yet again they don't care about consequences or implications.”
Sruthi Sriram, Art Therapist

“Let me start by saying that I am glad that someone apart from a few of us has finally noticed the unethical aspects of this "art therapy" course. I resonate with everything that has been addressed over here and we all took an informed decision by leaving the IATDFG forum after our voices about ethics fell on deaf ears. We have time and again stressed on the need for Indian art therapists working on the ground to set up this program. Again, this has apparently fallen on deaf ears. My main and most important goal here is to reiterate that there is a certain process to gaining an art therapy master’s degree and there is a reason why these processes have been put into place. As a country we are just about growing and gaining recognition in the field of art therapy and we need to do it in the RIGHT way! The founders and faculty of this program know exactly what they are doing and probably need to question themselves and reflect on whether this is the right thing to do.”
Disha Dutt, Art Therapist

“While co-creating a program with 10 creative arts therapists who all have been working in India and know the educational standards for a master's program, I can very clearly say that masters programs in the country range from 75-100 credits (over two years). I can say with factual information that the current practitioners are all aware that a master's training is intensive and need so much experiential to unpack in training. The idea of homegrown courses is to make them affordable but all based in the Indian mental health system and address systemic oppression in these spaces (1600+hours of training at a master's level minimum).
The opportunities to take the easy way and start the masters has been around for the last 3 years but all the therapists in ground echoed the need to learn more and create that which is ethical, culturally relevant, addresses the complexity of Indian mental health services and infrastructure especially in the face of multiple short programs emerging. The end service user of a program is a student but as therapists and trainers our duty is to the larger community they will go into as therapists. To do no harm is the first thing I learnt as a therapist. It is time to bring these conversations out, to not work in silos anymore and more importantly to understand the value of training as a safeguard for larger community.
The simplest question is, will this amount of training qualify anyone in the world to practice as therapist especially in America. If not then why do that to our own community here. A community that you intend to benefit as per your own words.”
Devika Mehta, Dance Movement Therapist

“I am so glad this conversation is no longer in factions but is echoed throughout the comments here. It’s heartening to see this collective and disheartening to see programs that are not considerate of such things. After all it’s not about us alone, it’s about taking accountability for the field and future professionals who work with vulnerable clients and ultimately it’s about client safety. This is not the only program with such a lack of considerations. At the same time I don’t want this to appear like cancel culture and be dismissed. I wish all of us collecting here and voicing these very relevant concerns be taken seriously by those involved because decolonizing is not simply about replacing some aspects of the curriculum with “Indian psychology” (a term rife with its own issues of inequity) but is a much deeper conversation about power, privilege and oppression. This is an opportunity for dialogue and discussion which is much needed and I do hope that all the points brought up by my colleagues Oihika Chakrabarti Krupa Devi Sruthi Sriram Disha Dutt Devika Mehta Charithra Ballal Maitri Gopalakrishna Neha Bhat Preetha Ramasubramanian are taken and given their due. Like Oihika and Devika pointed out, even as we have had opportunity to convert our program (750 hours plus) into masters for the last 3 years, in order to create considered programs that are ethical and long term we have chosen to hold back until we feel we can meet all the requirements set by the UGC and deliver a sound and substantial curriculum. It is in fact endlessly frustrating because doing what is ethical can sometimes feel like we are digging an endless foundation but these are the choices one makes when trying to do what one can stand by. It won’t still be perfect but we try. Educating, supervising, working on ground are all separate but equally important skill sets and one cannot just go by any one of these while designing pedagogy for such trainings. Takes a village!!!!”
Anshuma Kshetrapal, Drama & Dance Movement Therapist


“If your counseling program doesn't teach students to understand the roots of mental illness, the colonization of India, how people's mental frameworks are shaped by caste and religion here, how each therapy practitioner here needs to speak mental health language suited to the many moving layers on which this country exists, then your education program is self-indulgent. Especially if programs call themselves "first" without the support of an existing network of established art therapists in this country. If your art & wellness studies program teaches yoga and ayurveda, natural colors and mandalas as Indian art practice, but doesn't need the faculty to take classes on caste and its relationship to Indian art practices, doesn't have non-urban therapy practitioners, doesn't include literature on Bahujan labor studies (who manufacture and produce this art material), or the many ways in which art therapy has been painted as a psuedospritual, elite practice in a complicated, nuanced country, your teaching and your programs are self-indulgent. Self-indulgence is pleasurable and self-congratulatory, but it isn't relational. Therapy is a relational practice. Education needs to have a relationship to the people and the place it is situated in. Please relate.”
Neha Bhatt, Art Therapist

“I'm truly worried and concerned for the students who would find this so alluring on paper and have no idea on what's really imperative for a program of this scale to have in the first place and blindly invest their time energy and years of training if this were to take off…anyone who's done this training knows how much commitment and painstakingly so the experimental process and practicum adds to one's growth as a responsible and safe practitioner holding space for thousands of people who would look for therapy..we are all striving towards making this safe, accessible but in a responsible and credible way.. I really hope people can share this and help everyone see what's necessary…and do the needful.”
Charithra Ballal, Clinical Psychologist & Arts in Health Practitioner

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