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What is Art Therapy?
Art therapy is a type of mental health professional that seeks to restore well-being of clients of all ages through the use of art and the creative processes. The methods of art therapy can be beneficial for trauma victims, those stricken with physical ailments, dementia, autism, and depression to name a few. As a means to express oneself and manage conflicts, art therapy can help improve interpersonal skills, reduce anxiety, negate stress, and provide individuals with a sense of accomplishment. Client goals for those engaged in art therapy can include any number of the following desired outcomes in a person:
- A sense of calm
- Behavior management
- Addiction management
- Emotional conflicts
- Enhancing self-awareness
- Reality orientation
- Social skill development
- Anxiety reduction
To become an art therapist, knowledge of sculpture, drawing, creative writing, painting, human development, psychology, pathologies, and counseling theories is a must. Clients benefiting from art therapy can include individuals of all ages, families, couples, small groups, and organizations.
How to Become an Art Therapist?
Prospective art therapists will need to step through the following 4 phases before working in the field. Variations may exist depending on your starting point and state mandates. However, you can use the guide below to help you step closer to your goal of becoming an art therapist.
Step 1 – Research Art Therapy Schools
To begin, you will need to find accredited colleges offering art therapy programs. You can perform this manually or programmatically. Our degree finder tool below will allow you to quickly sort accredited universities offering art therapy degrees. You can further narrow your search by filtering by state, school type, and degree level.
Integrated within your college search, you will need to learn how to navigate the admissions process. To help, we have created two award-winning guides The Complete Guide to the College Admission Process and Crush the Odds by Getting into Your Top College.
Step 2 – Apply to Art Therapy Colleges
With key admissions information in hand, you will next need to apply to colleges or universities offering art therapy programs. Invest time to fully understand the school’s curricular approach, degrees, program requirements, financial aid package, and student services. During your college application process, illuminate all therapy and art related work experience and extracurricular activities to help encapsulate you effectively in an effort to stand out from a crowded pool of college applicants.
Step 3 – Attend School
After deciding on your top college, you will need to complete the orientation process and get registered for classes in the art therapy track. Bachelor degree programs in art therapy are typically 4-year programs while master’s degrees are 2-3 in addition to an approved undergraduate degree and a PhD is an additional 4-6 years of matriculation including a dissertation.
Step 4 – Graduate, Exams, Certification, & Work
Upon graduating from an accredited college or university with your art therapy degree, you will have additional work to perform. In fact, you may be required by your state to obtain licensure to work as an art therapist. Your state will stipulate the licensing required along with clock hours and exams needed. The Art Therapy Credentials Board or ATCB grants professional credentials to art therapists in three levels:
- Registered Art Therapist or ATR – Eligible certificate for those art therapists who have completed a CHEA accredited school with a graduate degree and post-graduate work experience
- Board Certified Art Therapist or ATR- BC – Extended to ATR art therapists passing a standardized examination and maintained via approved continuing education credits
- Certified Supervisor or ATCS – Earned by ATR-BC art therapists with substantive supervisory qualifications in the field.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Art Therapist?
The length of time it takes to become an art therapist depends on the degree program selected by the student and qualifications in your state of residence. Generally speaking, the degree programs available and length of time it takes to complete each are:
Art Therapy Bachelor’s Degree
The bachelor degree online or onsite in art therapy will generally take 4 years to complete. The first two years of the program are heavy on general education courses such as philosophy, sociology, and English while the second half are heavy on core curricula.
Art Therapy Master’s Degree
A master’s degree in art therapy online or in class will take students 2-3 years to complete depending on the number of classes taken at a given time and the program requirements.
Art Therapy PhD
The doctoral degree is conferred as a PhD in most schools taking 4-6 additional years of graduate work that includes a board-approved dissertation.
Educational Requirements in Art Therapy
Art therapy is the process by which art is used to assist individuals. This process can be applied in multiple ways, either through the act of creating art as therapy, the transference of psychological trauma to paper through the creation of art, or a combination of both.
The methods employed vary by the therapist and their specialization. An art therapist must have an understanding of art, psychology, and physiology depending on the style of therapy employed. Typically a minimum of a bachelor's degree is required to begin practicing art therapy, though higher degrees can be pursued.
Art therapy curriculum may include:
- Art Therapy Theories
- Art Therapy Counseling
- Psychotherapy Evaluation
- Human Development
- Research Methods
- Internship Experience
- Expressive Art
- Psychology of Art
- Multi-Modal Art Therapy
- Art Therapy Fundamentals
Employment Opportunities in Art Therapy
An art therapist must have a deep understanding of the arts, compassion and patience. Working with individuals, be they young or old, the art therapist must be able to assist the client without coming off as condescending or demonstrating frustration.
Art therapy is a growing field, and is expected to grow faster over the next decade as the baby boomer generation ages. Art therapy is one of the methods employed in order to maintain motor skills among the aging population.
Where Do Art Therapists Work?
Art therapists can work in a variety of organizations across a number of industries. Examples of where an art therapist can work include private schools, public schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, psychiatric facilities, wellness centers, senior centers, preschools, trauma wards, mental health clinics, community clinics, crisis centers, forensic institutions, and private practices. An art therapist can work with clients of every age and ability in a one-on-one setting, small group, or large group setting.
How Much Money Can Art Therapists Make?
The amount of money you can make as an art therapist will depend on a variety of factors including your geographic location, work setting, population density, work experience, organization type, and hours worked. The annual median income for an art therapist is currently $56,700 with the top 10% making $95,530 and the bottom ten percent making $33,900.
Top Employers of Art Therapists
- Health Practitioners
- Medical and Surgical Hospitals
- Outpatient Care Centers
- Public Schools
- Family Service Clinics
States with the Highest Employment of Art Therapist
- New York
Highest Paying States for Art Therapists
- Nevada $90,720
- Kentucky $85,200
- Washington $71,680
- Arizona $70,120
- Ohio $68,780
Resources for Art Therapists
Individuals interested in art therapy may also be interested in occupational therapy, dance therapy, and music therapy. Students interested in pursing a career in art therapy may find it beneficial to join a regional or national association. The largest and most popular association in this discipline is the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). Organizations such as the AATA provide education opportunities, career insights, and networking with like-minded professionals within the trade.