How to Become an Art Therapist


Art therapists use art to help individuals manage their illnesses, traumatic experiences, life challenges and/or other stressors. Art therapists also help individuals improve their self-esteem, self-awareness and self-confidence. As an art therapist, you will teach your client how to express his/her emotions through some type of artwork (painting, sketch, illustration and/or drawing). Once your client has produced the artwork, you will be responsible for helping him/her analyze the artwork and develop solutions to any issues or problems he/she is experiencing. In addition, you may teach your clients coping skills so that they can effectively deal with stressful, challenging and/or traumatic experiences.

Job Duties

As an art therapist, you may work with people of all ages, genders, socio-economic backgrounds, health statuses and sexual orientations. Your clients may include individuals, families, children, couples, the elderly or a combination of all of these groups. You primary goal will be to evaluate and treat a variety of psychological issues such as: depression, anxiety, substance abuse, phobias, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc. You may also help clients who have mental, emotional, physical and/or social impairments (handicaps and disabilities).  If you are interested in becoming an art therapist, you will be responsible for helping your client(s) work through family dysfunction, adjustment issues (bereavement, divorce, blended families, etc.) and/or domestic violence issues.

Moreover, as an art therapist, you main responsibility will be to use the creative art process as a way to improve your client’s quality of life. If you are interested in entering the field of art therapy, you will need to obtain at least a master’s degree in psychology or a related-field and art education or a related field. You will be trained to deliver to rehabilitation facilities, wellness center, educational institution, independent practices, skilled nursing facility and social services.

Educational Requirements

If you wish to enter the art therapy field, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology, art education, art history or a related field. Once you have successfully graduated with a bachelor’s degree, you will need to obtain a master’s degree in art therapy. As part of your master’s art therapy program requirements, you will need to submit a portfolio of your artwork. In addition, you will need to acquire approximately 20 semester hours of art-related courses and approximately 14 semester hours of psychology-related courses. You can expect to be in your art therapy program for approximately two years.

During that time, you will be required to take a variety of courses such as: general psychology, abnormal psychology, ethics, psychotherapy, human development, patient assessment, art history, art education, etc. Once you successfully complete your art therapy program requirements, you will be officially classified as an art therapist. If you are not sure you want a master’s degree in art therapy, you can still be classified as an art therapist if you obtain a master’s degree in psychology with a concentration in art therapy. You may also decide that you want to further your education by obtaining a doctorate (Ph.D.) in art therapy.


Once you have obtained your master’s degree, you will be eligible to seek certification in art therapy. If you are interested in this avenue, you will need to be certified by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). Once you have successfully passed the written certification exam, you will officially be classified as a registered art therapist.

Job Duties

As an art therapist, you primary responsibilities include:

  • Facilitating art group activities and the therapeutic process
  • Encouraging clients to analyze and reflect on their artwork
  • Inspiring your clients to improve their attitudes toward the therapeutic process, themselves and those around them
  • Offering crisis counseling to your clients
  • Evaluating your clients for accuracy and treatment purposes
  • Working with your clients to develop an beneficial treatment plan

Salary Prospects

If you are interested in becoming an art therapist, you can expect to make between $35,000 and $55,000 a year (Pay Scale, 2013). Your average salary will depend on your education, experience, location and industry. In addition, you will more than likely work in an educational intuition, skilled nursing home, prison, clinic, hospital, recreational facility, rehabilitation facility, residential mental health treatment facility or social service agency. You will also be required to collaborate with other medical professionals to create an effective art therapy treatment plan for your clients.

Career Outlook

The career outlook for art therapy is excellent. Employment in the art therapy industry has been steadily increasing for the last five or more years. It is important to note that even though the prospects for art therapy are excellent at this time there was a slight decrease in art therapy jobs in the United States between 2009 and 2010 (Education Portal, 2013). The job market for this industry bounced back around March 2010 and has been climbing ever since.

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