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Art Therapy Degree and Career Snapshot

Learn about art therapy programs and career opportunities.
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Is an Art Therapy Education Right for You?

An education in art therapy will prepare you to assess, diagnose and treat patients by engaging them in creative projects.

Whether drawing and painting, making a clay sculpture, or stringing beads into a necklace, not only does making art improve people's physical, mental and emotional states, it also can help them communicate things they may not be willing or able to verbalize.

As an art therapist, you'll use the process of making art to help your patients express themselves, achieve insight, resolve conflicts, gain confidence, and find physical and mental healing.

Who Art Therapists Help

Your art therapy training will allow you to work with diverse populations. You patients might include:

  • People suffering from a range of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.
  • Children with behavioral issues
  • Drug and alcohol addicts
  • People with eating disorders
  • Victims of abuse
  • People who have experienced significant trauma
  • People with psychological issues related to neurological difficulties or physical illness

Where Art Therapists Work

After graduating with a degree specializing in art therapy, you'll be able to work in a wide variety of settings. Here are some employment options:

  • Private practice
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Community agencies
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Shelters for victims of abuse
  • Halfway houses
  • Wellness centers
  • Senior centers and nursing homes

Education Requirements

To become an art therapist, you'll need to earn a master's degree from an accredited art therapy program. Most degrees combine mental health counseling with art therapy.

Art Therapy Program Admissions Requirements

Most master's programs in art therapy will require you to have completed an undergraduate degree that includes four to six classes in studio arts such as drawing, painting and sculpting as well as three or four courses in psychology.

What You'll Study in Art Therapy Programs

According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), course work for a master's degree in art therapy must include:

  • History and theory of art therapy
  • Techniques of practice in art therapy
  • Application of art therapy with people in different treatment settings
  • Group work
  • Art therapy assessment
  • Ethical and legal issues of art therapy practice
  • Standards of practice in art therapy
  • Cultural and social diversity
  • Psychopathology
  • Human growth and development
  • Counseling and psychological theories
  • Research
  • Studio art
  • Thesis or culminating project

In addition to this course work, students must complete a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship.

Next Steps After School: Certification/Licensing

The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) is responsible for certifying art therapists. The two levels of certification offered by the ATCB are:

  • Registration (ATR) – After you graduate from an AATA-approved program and complete 1,000 "client contact" hours, you can apply to become a Registered Art Therapist.
  • Board Certification (ATR-BC) – Registered art therapists can take a voluntary exam offered by the ATCB in order to become "board certified." To maintain board certification, you must take 100 hours of continuing education and pass the exam again every five years.

State Licensure

In addition to being registered and/or certified by the ATCB, some states require art therapists to hold a separate state license in order to practice. Check with your state's chapter of the American Art Therapy Association to learn more about your local licensing requirements.

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