Public Member Spotlight: Thomas Hartsell, Jr., Public Member on the board of the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc.

By Becky LeBuhn

The public member is one who serves as a voting member on the governing body of a certification program, such as an organization’s board of directors. They represent the interests of individuals in the public that interact with the certification program. In this continued series, ICE explores the value of the public member, interviewing individuals and telling their story – their experience in the role, its triumphs and its challenges. In this interview, we feature Thomas Hartsell Jr., who serves as public member for the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc. 

Tom Hartsell is a lawyer and mediator in private practice in Plano, Texas. He teaches graduate level courses in Dispute Resolution and Counseling at Southern Methodist University and serves as associate director of the Center for Dispute Resolution and Conflict Management. Tom has been instructing and working with mental health professionals for over 30 years. He has presented continuing education workshops and lectures to mental health professionals on legal and ethical issues.

Tom is currently serving his second term as the Public Member Director of the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc. (ATCB) and has served on the ATCB’s disciplinary hearing panel.

Tom was introduced to the ATCB by a client who was an art therapist. Being the public member, he says, is something of a “switch” from representing and advocating for mental health professionals in his law practice and as a counselor educator. However, it is a role he understands and feels comfortable with. He characterizes the job as looking out for consumers; making sure the public is well served by the ATCB and receives quality services. He is a believer in the value of high quality art therapy services, having seen its benefits for child victims of trauma.

In his role as a public member, there was one instance that prevented him from serving, when he encountered a conflict of interest for the first time. Tom recused himself from review of a complaint brought before the ATCB involving an art therapist he represents on a state licensing board case.

In terms of onboarding, he received a half-day orientation both the first and second time he was appointed. It covered the bylaws and policies and procedures manual, but nothing related to the distinct role of a public member.

Tom feels the other board members – all credential holders – are respectful of his responsibilities as the public member and he is not shy about expressing what he believes to be the public interest. The board recently completed a revision of it Ethics Code and disciplinary rules. One of the changes Tom advocated for, which was adopted, is a rule that allows the ATCB to publicize sanctions assessed against credential holders after a complaint has been adjudicated by the organization’s disciplinary hearing panel and all appeals have been exhausted. It is easy to see how this change could have been blocked  by the other board members who are credential holders, and Tom views it as a credit to them that they supported the rule.

Asked to describe challenges he has faced, Tom responded that on this board he is the only serving public member and there are several committees on which the public is expected to serve. An illness of a previous public member created a problem for the board in conducting its business. The ATCB has discussed the possibility of adding a second public member.

Tom has served on several non-profit boards and says that this one stands out because it is a true working board composed of dedicated, hardworking people. To its credit, the ATCB usually sends its public member to the ICE Exchange. Tom has attended nearly each Exchange during his service on the ATCB. He has found it very helpful to meet and converse with other public members at the Exchange.

What advice would Tom give to someone considering becoming a public member? Make sure the mission of the organization interests you; view your public member service as a way to give back in pursuit of that mission; and make sure the board has liability insurance. Most of all, Tom emphasizes how interesting and rewarding it is to be a public member.

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