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How to Become an Art Therapist

Some people may not benefit from talk therapy, and communicating needs and emotions can be difficult when relying just on conventional language.

To meet the needs of clients on a personal and interpersonal level, art therapy combines psychotherapy with studio art and the creative process. Being an art therapist is a regulated profession, hence getting a master’s degree and accruing experience hours are prerequisites.

This article describes the duties of an art therapist, how to become an art therapist, and some of the most important abilities needed to be a successful practitioner.

Also Read: What Does a Career Counselor Do?

Who is an Art Therapist?

Art therapists are medical professionals that provide a wide range of services to individuals from diverse backgrounds. They are concerned with people and their values. They assist those seeking emotional, creative, and even spiritual development, as well as those dealing with physical and mental health issues.

As members of a health care team, art therapists collaborate with doctors, nurses, social workers, marriage and family therapists, mental health counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and educators. They assist in establishing and carrying out the therapeutic goals and objectives of a patient.

Art therapy is more than just “drawing your feelings.” Professionals that spend time with individuals via the therapeutic process of creating art are known as art therapists. Just as your physician might advise medicine or behavioral modifications to support your physical recovery, an art therapist provides treatment methods tailored to each client’s needs.

How to Become an Art Therapist

What does an Art Therapist Do?

Art therapists work with individuals and groups to enhance their clients’ mental, emotional, or physical health through art-based activities. In addition to other considerations, art therapists plan and implement treatment sessions or programs based on observations of their clients and interviews with family members.

Art therapists use artistic processes including sculpting, drawing, and painting to analyze the needs of their clients and develop recommendations. An art therapist works with a client to encourage healing from a particular difficulty by guiding them via artistic self-expression after creating a unique therapy plan.

In a variety of environments, such as schools, jails, shelters, hospitals, and nursing homes, art therapists provide care for their patients.

Also Read: How to Become a Grief Counselor

Art Therapist’s Salary

The average annual salary for an art therapist is $49,000, according to Payscale. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average yearly wage for all occupations in the country is 15.9% higher than that of art therapists.

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) published a member demographics study in 2021 that indicated a wide difference in art therapists’ salaries. 33.1% of respondents indicated that the most frequent wage range was $50,000 to $79,999 annually.

How to Become an Art Therapist

1. Get your Bachelor’s Degree.

You should take a lot of studio art—which includes painting, sculpture, sketching, and other creative mediums—and psychology courses for your bachelor’s degree.

The quickest path to admission to a master’s program in art therapy is to earn a bachelor’s degree in the field, but only a few universities grant bachelor’s degrees in art therapy. As an alternative, you could major in one topic and minor in another, such as psychology and art.

2. Get your Master’s Degree.

In the end, becoming an art therapist requires a master’s degree in either art therapy or a mental health field. These courses, which typically take two years to finish, call for advanced art therapy study as well as an internship.

3. Total Experience Hours

You can work toward becoming a Registered Art Therapist (ATR) or a Board-Certified Registered Art Therapist (ATR-BC) after earning your master’s degree in art therapy. The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) oversees the administration of both credentials, which necessitate that candidates complete 1,000–1,500 hours of direct art therapy client interaction.

4. Apply for Licensure and Credentialing

Art therapist certification and assessment are supervised by the ATCB. The most popular certifications for art therapists are the ATR and ATR-BC, with the ATR-BC being the highest level.

Furthermore, under different professional licenses, art therapy is regulated in Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Utah. State-by-state variations exist in licensure regulations, so if you live in a place where art therapists must obtain a license, be sure to review the facts.

Professional Certifications for Artists

The main certification for art therapists is the ATR, which has strict standards for training and work experience. Before becoming an ATR-BC, an art therapist must first become an ATR.

6. Education

The ATCB states that candidates for the ATR must have earned at least 18 semester credits in graduate or undergraduate studio-based art courses. It is possible to earn up to six studio art credits with a valid visual arts portfolio.

Potential A master’s degree or more is required for ATRs, as well as extensive coursework in art therapy and mental health. The following subjects must be covered in mental health coursework:

  • Human growth and development
  • Counseling/psychological theories
    Research
  • Psychopathology/abnormal psychology
  • Psychological assessment

Also, graduate-level training in art therapy ought to include the following topics:

  • Art therapy assessment
  • Ethical and legal issues of art therapy
  • Social and cultural diversity as it pertains to art therapy
  • Standards of good art therapy practice
  • Group art therapy
  • Systems in art therapy
  • History or foundations of art therapy
  • Theory of art therapy
  • Techniques of practice in art therapy
  • Application of art therapy with people in different treatment settings

Candidates may finish the required coursework outside of a degree program if their graduate degrees did not match all requirements.

7. Experience

Internship or practicum: Credential candidates are required to do an internship or practicum as part of a graduate-level course. A supervised art therapy internship or practicum lasting at least 700 hours is mandated by the ATCB. Of those hours, at least 350 hours must be spent directly providing art therapy services to people or groups.

Less client contact hours are needed for licensing if an ATR-BC or Art Therapy Credentialed Supervisor (ATCS) instructs the candidate’s internship/practicum course.

Client contact hours: Candidates wishing to obtain ATR certification must fulfill client contact hours following the completion of their graduate degree. Applicants must have completed at least 1,000 hours of post-educational work with clients using art therapy after completing their internship or practicum under a current ATR-BC or ATCS. These hours must be supervised for at least 100 of them.

In the event that a candidate does not finish their internship or practicum under the instruction of an ATR-BC or ATCS, the ATCB mandates 1,500 hours of direct art therapy client interaction. A minimum of 150 of these hours need to be overseen.

8. Getting Certified as an ATR-BC

The highest certification that an art therapist may obtain is this one. To become ATR-BCs, currently certified ATRs do not need to fulfill any extra coursework or experience requirements; instead, they only need to pass the Art Therapy Credentials Board Examination (ATCBE). The ATCBE is a nationwide examination designed to assess applicants’ thorough understanding of the theories and practical abilities used in art therapy.

How to Become an Art Therapist

What are the Differences Between Counselors and Art Therapists?

It’s common to use the terms “therapy” and “counseling” interchangeably. Given that both practices involve licensed mental health experts who guide clients through mental health disorders and other issues, this confusion is understandable. But there are some key differences between counseling and art therapy.

Talk-based sessions are the standard method used by counselors to assist their clients in overcoming obstacles and acquiring useful abilities and behaviors. With the creative process that art enables, art therapists assist their clients in expressing themselves visually or symbolically. This method is more integrative.

Furthermore, counselors frequently target specific concerns like substance misuse, behavioral disorders, or mental health and have a more limited scope of practice. Generally speaking, art therapists support their clients in achieving better overall physical, mental, and emotional health.

Essential Skills for Art Therapists

An art therapist should possess a few fundamental soft skills in addition to knowledge of studio art and mental health.

1. Communication

Both verbal and nonverbal communication are crucial components of the therapeutic alliance. Effective communication skills are essential for art therapists when working with clients. In particular, when clients find it difficult to communicate their emotions verbally, this link can support the development of trustworthy connections and the creation of a secure environment for artistic expression.

2. Knowledge of Art

The vast field of art encompasses many different disciplines, such as graphic design, photography, sculpture, and drawing and painting. To address the diverse needs of their clients, art therapists must to possess confidence in a range of artistic techniques. Thankfully, courses on artistic talent and art history are frequently included in the training path to become an art therapist.

3. Active Listening

Unlike passive listening, which permits customers to express their ideas without interference, active listening involves active listening. In order to make sure the therapist is understanding the client correctly, active listening entails being able to rephrase what the client has said and ask important questions for clarification or more facts.

Active listening is especially important for clients who find it difficult to express their thoughts and feelings when facing a variety of difficulties and emotional roadblocks. By actively listening, a therapist can establish rapport with their client, gain insight into the depth of their feelings, and customize a therapy strategy.

4. Patient

Being patient with customers conveys the concern that an art therapist has for their patients’ needs, particularly as some patients may find it difficult to express their feelings. Furthermore, every client has a different timeframe for starting art therapy, so progress might not always be made as quickly or easily as planned. Unfulfilled expectations and impatience frequently lead to the therapist being frustrated or even irritated, which can be harmful to the client’s development.

How to Become an Art Therapist

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I begin working as an art therapist?

A love for helping people is the first step towards pursuing a profession in art therapy. Planning your undergraduate and graduate studies appropriately is essential because mental health and studio art are two of the skill sets needed by an art therapist.

Can someone without a master’s degree work as an art therapist?

No, a master's degree is necessary to obtain certification as an art therapist. While a master's degree in art therapy is not necessary, prospective art therapists must finish the graduate-level prerequisite courses and gain relevant field experience.

What is the duration of training to become an art therapist?

Since a master's degree is required for admission to the field, becoming an art therapist often takes at least six years. A bachelor's degree normally takes four years to complete, full-time. Normally, a master's degree requires two years.

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