How to Become an Art Therapist | Full Guide

I’m pretty sure you have often heard people say “this picture is worth a thousand words”. This shows the power art can have on the mind. Art therapy is one of the most common forms of therapy. It is basically an expressive group therapy that helps people to express themselves in other ways than words.

It teaches artistic expression and allows you to use new mediums to explore your inner emotions.

In using art therapy, you can try things like drawing, sculpting, painting, tie, and dye, batik; amongst others. In a world with increasing incidents of mental health challenges, art therapy has never been more relevant. 

According to Cathy Malchiodi, one of the famous and most influential art therapists, he says art therapy emphasizes developing and expressing images that come from inside a person, rather than those he or she sees in the outside world. Keep reading to learn more about art therapy and all you need to know about becoming an art therapist.

Who is an Art Therapist?

Art therapists are clinicians who work with people from all walks of life, across a broad spectrum of practice. They care about individuals and beliefs. They work with people who have challenges with medical and mental health problems, as well as individuals seeking emotional, creative, and even spiritual growth.

Art therapists work as part of a health care team that includes physicians, nurses, mental health counsellors, marriage and family therapists, rehabilitation counsellors, social workers, and teachers. They help to determine and implement a patient’s therapeutic goals and objectives.

There’s more to art therapy than simply “drawing your feelings.” Art therapists are professionals who take time towards people through the creative process of art in a therapeutic way. Just as your doctor may prescribe medication or behavioral change to aid your physical healing, an art therapist offers therapy interventions that address the needs of clients.

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Why become an Art Therapist?

Art therapy administered by a professional therapist effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns.

As an art therapist, you will learn to make art on your own in a therapeutic way. This would naturally help you grow as a person, understanding more about yourself and others. You would get to learn more about people’s psychologies, emotions, how the mind works, and how relationships between persons work.

Due to the fact that this branch of therapy is still a very new and unexplored field, as an art therapist, you can create your own programs, become a director, or create new types of services that combine art therapy. You can also go as far as becoming a leader and a spokesperson called upon to explain what art therapy is, whenever the situation pops up.

Art making is fun and enjoyable. This would make your work fun. This would be really good for you if you are someone who enjoys art and your work as a whole.

What do Art Therapists do?

According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association, less than an hour of creative activity can reduce your stress and have a positive effect on your mental health, regardless of artistic experience or talent.

Art therapists are trained to pick up the non-verbal symbols and metaphors which are often expressed through art and creative processes.

As an art therapist, you will pay attention to detail in order to pick out those concepts your client has put down which are usually difficult to express with words.

In addition, you will also enact various roles on a day-to-basis. You will work with children who have experienced trauma, write treatment plans for patients that have received diagnoses, or administer assessments to potential clients.

Again, an art therapist may use a variety of art methods, including drawing, painting, sculpture, and collage with clients ranging from young children to older adults.

Is there a demand for Art Therapists?

The overall job demand for art therapists has been very low since 2004. However, recent research has shown that demand for art therapists is expected to go up with an expected rate of 5870 new jobs to be filled by 2020.

In recent years, art therapists have had one of the fastest growth rates. In 2021, art therapists are going to be more in demand than ever before.

What is the job outlook for career therapists?

The job outlook for art therapists is expected to grow as fast as average or faster than average through 2020. A career as an art therapist can be both mentally stimulating and financially rewarding.

To widen your job outlook as an art therapist and increase your job prospects in the competitive field of therapy, consider obtaining earn a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in the field of art therapy, or a close field like psychology or counselling with an emphasis in art therapy.

Do art therapists get paid well? How much do art therapists earn?

Art therapists earn an average yearly salary of $48,220. As an art therapist, your wages can start from $30,880, and as your rank increases, could get up to $75,297.

Keep in mind that this depends on your state, level of experience, skill, education, and market worth. For instance, an entry-level art therapist with less than 1-year experience can expect to earn an average total compensation of $42,365 while a therapist with 10-19 years of experience can earn up to $53,985.

How long does it take to be an Art Therapist?

The time it takes to become an art therapist is substantial. You would spend around 4 years on your undergraduate studies; 2 years in your graduate studies; and at least 1-3 years to get your license. This however depends on you as an individual

What qualifications do you need to be an Art Therapist?

In order for you to pursue licensure and practice as an art therapist, it is important that you have a master’s degree. You must have also completed an internship. You can earn an undergraduate degree program specializing in mental health, art appreciation, or counselling. This will help you in pursuing your graduate program when you are ready.

A degree in art therapy would promote you to pursue a career in a rewarding field offering counselling services to people diagnosed with mental illness, suffering from trauma, or struggling with substance abuse.

To be an art therapist, you would need-

  • A bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Art, Art History or Social work.
  • A master’s degree in Art therapy
  • Licensure exam to enable you practice in a public health capacity.
  • Register with the Health and Care Professions Council(HCPC)
  • Pay your annual retention fee

How long does it take to get an Art Therapy degree online?

An art therapy degree takes about 2 to 4 years. This depends on the program you want to run and the university you want to run it in.

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How do I start a career in Art Therapy?

  • A bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Art, Art History or Social work- By getting a bachelor’s degree, you are one step forward in starting a career in art therapy. You would however need a master’s degree to go further.
  • A master’s degree in Art therapy- In order for you to pursue licensure and practice as an art therapist, it is important that you have a master’s degree.
  • A licensure exam to enable you practice in a public health capacity- After you have gotten your master’s degree, to jumpstart your career, you have to write a licensure exam. This would give you a more professional look and boost you in all of your future endeavors.
  • Register with the Health and Care Professions Council(HCPC). You will needregister with the health and care professions council. This will ensure your name is put in the register as a health art therapy practitioner.
  • Pay your annual retention fee-The Annual Retention Fee (ARF) is the fee all registered art therapy professionals pay each year to remain on the therapy register. If you have not yet registered, you will pay a pro rata fee. For your license to remain valid, you have to pay your annual retention fee every year.
  • Find a gainful employment- All of these would not be valid if you have not found gainful employment. You can work in a hospital, schools, veteran’s clinics, private practice, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, community clinics, crisis centers, forensic institutions, senior communities.

Which schools offer the best art therapy programs?

The Art Therapy Credentials Board mostly recognizes only master-level degree programs. There are however several schools where an online Art Therapy Degree is available. You must determine what program fits you based on the availability and the type you want.

These are the best 10 universities where you can study Art Therapy.

1. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania-

With a tuition rate of $9,288, this university offers two online art therapy graduate programs- a master of arts in counselling in art therapy and a post-masters certificate in art therapy.

The university is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education program.

The master’s degree consists of 63 credits and the certificate program includes 31 credit hours.

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2. International University of Professional Studies-

This university provides students with a mentor-based, individualized, nonresident and self-paced alternative learning system, with a primary goal to produce competent professional art therapists.

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3. Prescott College-

This online program is designed to work with your schedule as a student and lifestyle, offering many courses online in-person courses and experiences as available to help enhance your learning.

The program usually lasts for two and a half years depending on the state.

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4. San Diego University for Integrative Studies-

This university is ranked #12 in best-run colleges. It is one of the world’s leading colleges and one of the best colleges to study art therapy in.

They merge disciplines that surpass expectations, empowering you to think creatively across boundaries, resulting in unimagined discoveries.

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5. University of Mississippi-

This is a public research university that has since taken measures to improve its image. It is one of the best universities to study art therapy.

The teachers pay attention to details and do all in their power to ensure you are impacted.

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6. Lesley University-

In Lesley university, growth meets process, choice, and discovery. Students are encouraged to explore their voices beyond white default in art therapy. Nearly half of all students and faculty are engaged in arts.

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7. Capella University Graduate Program-

This university offers two qualities, competency-based online learning formats: FlexPath and GuidedPath. It offers an online degree in art therapy.

Research has shown that 97% of alumni agree FlexPath provided the flexibility they needed to pursue this degree.

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8. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College-

There are a lot of unique opportunities offered at this university. It does not only have to do with the size and beauty of the school, but in the way, it always dares students to do more.

It is ranked #7 in the schools where you should study art therapy.

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9. Grand Canyon University-

Though it is a Christian university, it welcomes students from all backgrounds and denominations. It ensures that you as a student reach your greatest potential. It is one of the best universities to study art therapy.

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10. Southern New Hampshire University-

This school is one of the best, especially where you have an interest in studying online. They have a supportive online community of faculty, advisors, and academic resources.

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Where do art therapists work?

As an art therapist, there are a lot of places you can work. You can specialize in a particular type of client such as children, the elderly, or offenders. Or, become a specialist in a particular issue such as dementia, mental health, or palliative care.

You can decide to become self-employed and build up a private practice. Or do this alongside employed work.

You can become a senior or consultant art therapist, managing the work of a team of therapists.

Also, become the head of an art therapy department, coordinating the work of therapists from other disciplines such as music or drama therapists. You can also train other art therapists.

You can work with individuals personally, couples, families as a whole, and groups in diverse settings.

In a formal setting, you can get gainful employment in places like-

  • Hospital
  • Schools
  • Veterans clinics
  • Private practice
  • Psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities
  • Community clinics
  • Crisis centers
  • Forensic institutions
  • Senior Communities

Frequently Asked Questions

Art therapy can help you explore your feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. It improves your functioning and sense of personal well-being.

Mostly from 9a.m to 5p.m. If you work in private practice, your hours may be varied to fit around your clients and can involve some weekends and evenings. 

In an art therapy session, you could be asked to paint, draw, carve or even sculpt. What emerges out of your artwork would be an unfiltered response of the individual. If well understood can help promote your mental health and well-being.

People who have experienced trauma, individuals with significant challenges, people with certain conditions such as depression, autism or dementia; people who want to reduce stress and anxiety or just want to take their mind off things for a while can benefit from art therapy.

Absolutely not. Even though it may seem different and unnatural at first, this would be because you are not used to it.

Where an art class is focused on teaching techniques or creating a specific finished product, art therapy is more about letting you focus on your inner experience.


If you are considering this career, keep in mind that an art therapist needs certain personal qualities- such as sensitivity, empathy, emotional stability, patience, interpersonal skills, insight to human behavior and understanding of artistic media. An art therapist must be an attentive listener and keen observer. Flexibility and a sense of humor are also invaluable.



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