Thinking of becoming an Art Therapist?

With the new year comes resolutions…and maybe your resolution is to go back to school. Perhaps you are in the middle of your studies and are trying to figure out the career path for you.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has an extensive overview of the art therapy profession, along with some of the educational requirements for practicing, salary expectation, as well as an interview with Megan Robb ATR-BC, LPC, who works for the NIH.

28 Replies to “Thinking of becoming an Art Therapist?”

  1. Hi Elizabeth:

    What a great, helpful thing to publish! I get many inquiries asking about the specifics of the profession, including salary range so I think this is a great resource that I can refer people to when they contact me. I’m sure those starting out will find it very beneficial. Thank you for posting this.

  2. Thanks Linda!

    I was thinking…maybe I should do a post on the two Linda Chapmans, so that others may not get confused as I did :)

  3. As a sixty year old woman with a 2 year AA degree in Graphic Design, I do not have a degree in Art Therapy but have found as an emotionally abused child myself, I have managed to have a good life, raising two successful productive children, making a nice home. The thing which has made this possible for me was the ability to channel my creativity….sewing, interior decorating, cooking, making collages, jewelry, etc. to see positive outcomes.
    I wish there was a way that someone like me (with firsthand experience in what the people who need help are going through) could share what I have learned (rather than having to undergo expensive time consuming scientific based studies).
    It is sad that our world is structured the way it is…that only the degree matters….life experience is undervalued.

  4. Hi Sandy!

    I’m so happy to hear that you too have discovered the healing power of creativity, and that it has helped you to have a good life.

    The importance of having an Art Therapy degree, then having approximately 2 years of interning to become an ATR (Registered Art Therapist), and on top of it having a board exam, lies more with the attempt to standardize treatment and the protection of the clients we work with rather than a way to undervalue life experience. Indeed, life experience is extremely important, and being a young art therapist I’m sure I could use some of it. However, there are nuances and philosophies that underlie art therapy as a profession, that must be learned through extensive education and cannot be achieved through life experience. I certainly am a big advocate for art as a tool for healing, but I am equally an advocate of contemporary psychological methods as healing, which I incorporate in my practice, and so do other Art Therapists. Also, school has taught me about the ethics and boundaries of the profession. As one may imagine, depending on the situation, the ethics and boundaries that need to be applied seem blurry. Having supervisors (which is mandatory up until one becomes an ATR) is so helpful in this process. There are many more examples of what school has taught me, that I dont think I would have learned from life experience alone. Just thinking about the books and articles I read, along with the research that came with writing a thesis…I never would have been disciplined enough to do that amount of work on my own, nor would I have known where to begin without the guidance of my professors.

    If you don’t see going back to school as an option, there are still ways for you to help others discover art making. I don’t know where you live, but many urban areas and their surrounding neighborhoods have art studios that are developed for specific populations. In Montreal, while I was studying for my undergrad degree I volunteered in an art studio located inside a women’s shelter. Here in the Bay Area, there are numerous studios that work with developmentally disabled individuals, after school art programs for underprivileged youth, and art studios for people who just want to explore the process. You may find work (volunteer or otherwise) at similar places, and although your title will not be “art therapist”, your life experience will be very much valued.

    – Liz

  5. Hello!
    I am going to college next year (2010). I’m planning to go to a UC (university of California – much cheaper). To become get a Master’s degree in Art therapy, should a get a BA in Art (studio art? or art in general? or psychology?). Also, what other classes do you recommend me in taking? Should I also look into recreational therapy as well? What is the job outlook? How much is the average salary? Do you work with teams?
    Please reply back, or email me back at
    I really look forward to your response. Thank you so much for inspiring me. I had such a difficulty choosing a career. To come across art therapy as a potential career is extremely good news. Now, I’m a bit goal-oriented. :D

  6. Hi Liz,

    I am just beginning my search to find out more about the profession of Art Therapy. What I have seen so far really interests me and seems like a good fit! The link you posted here to the The National Institutes of Health (NIH) info on art therapy wasnt working when I clicked on it. Any other suggestions?


  7. Hi Kelly,

    Thanks for letting me know the link isn’t working. I think they changed the address, and I’ve now updated the links so you can access the info.

    Take care,
    – Liz

  8. Hi Brittany,

    Well, I suppose that depends on your definition of “doing art therapy”. Without an MA in Art Therapy or a certificate, which is available to those who already have an masters degree or PhD in a related field, you cannot call yourself an Art Therapist in the US. Other places around the world have different rules, so check in with your local/national art therapy agencies. If you got a job in the (mental) health field, where a part of your job was to run a group or two, and you made those groups into art groups, then perhaps you would consider yourself to be “doing art therapy”. However, in the eyes of the American Art Therapy Association your groups would not be considered art therapy sessions because you’re not a trained art therapist.

    Certainly, there is overlap between many counseling practices and art therapy—for example, psychologists and counselors have been known to incorporate art making in the treatment of trauma. Are they “doing art therapy”? Not in my opinion. They’re mental health professionals who acknowledge the benefit of art making but who are not trained art therapists.

    In sum, you cannot be hired as an art therapist in the US without the educational credentials and there is a difference between an art session and an art therapy session. The difference lies in the knowledge of the person conducting the art session: developmental art theory, counseling theories, art therapy assessment, group art therapy, group psychotherapy, multicultural art therapy, and so on.

    I cannot stress enough how important being educated in the profession of art therapy is. I’ve volunteered with an artist (before I went to school to become an art therapist), who happened to have a knack for working with the mentally ill. In retrospect, I realize how much both the artist and the clients would have benefited from the artist being educated in art therapy theories, techniques and ethics. Just because art therapy looks on the surface to be similar to other professions, like being an art teacher for example, it does not mean that the dynamics of art therapy sessions are not complex, requiring training and a solid educational background.

  9. Hi Liz,

    I am currently pursuing my BFA, but I am still early on and haven’t even completed my associates. I was wondering what the best bachelors program is, if I plan on working towards a Masters in Art Therapy. Is a BFA heading in the right direction?


  10. Hi Danielle,

    A BFA is a good place to start, but you also need to be aware of the prerequisites of MA art therapy programs. My advise is to take a look at Art Therapy programs that interest you and see what their requirements are. Once you know what prereqs you need, you can make an appointment with a course counselor at your school to see whether you can enroll in the classes you need.

    It’s great that you’re thinking of this question now (before you graduate). That way, you’ll have all your ducks in a row when it’s time to apply to grad school.

    Good Luck!
    – Liz

  11. Hey Elizabeth
    I am currently a sophomore in college. I am currently a BA in Art but plan to apply for a BFA in art next year, planning to graduate in two years. (that is if you recommend getting a BFA). I have always heard of art therapy and thought it would be something i was interested in, and recently i have found that Art Therapy is my calling. There is nothing else that i would rather do. I know that after graduating here, i am going to have to get my masters in art therapy (Which i was planning on getting a masters in art anyways so it’s perfect). But anyways I am here to ask you some questions about what is the best things to do. First, What would be the best schools to go for grad school? Second, I personally do not know any art therapist but i would really love to shadow one, or do an internship, or really do anything to start getting a feel about art therapy. Do you have any suggestions? like people i could talk to, meet with, or anything? i have so many questions and so much to talk about. I would love to share my personal feelings about it. It’s always nice to talk to people who are doing what you want to do to get a better understanding. Also if you knew of things i could do now to prepare for my future, like start a volunteer art class for places such as girls inc or other children homes. Or go over seas for mission trips and use art to help underprivileged people. I am a very motivated person, and i want to use my artistic talent and nurturing soul to help as soon as i can. Helping people is my calling and Art is my passion. Any advice or comments you have would be wonderful!

  12. Hi Katie,

    Actually, it doesn’t matter if you have a BFA or a psyc BA or a history degree. What matters is that you have the prerequisites required by the grad program you want to attend. Many people have a BFA with some specific psyc classes added to their degree. Some people have a BA in psychology with several fine arts courses. Either way, it’s the prerequisites that count—not your specific degree. Each grad school may have different prereq requirements, so please be sure to check those carefully.

    From my experience, not all art therapy programs are the same. Some are very clinically oriented. Others are more art oriented. I only have the experience of going to Drexel, and cannot say what other schools are like. (BTW- I really liked the Drexel program). I think it’s best to think about which approach resinates most with you. Go onto websites like AATA website to find a directory of accredited schools, and then read on the school’s websites, where you can get to know the programs and their approach. When you have a list of schools you maybe interested in, definitely attend the info sessions that are offered, so you can take a look at the school and meet some professors and the director of programs. Once you’ve done that, you should have a better idea of what schools are your best fit.

    My suggestion for networking is to become friends with the Art Therapy Alliance on Facebook. They put out tons of interesting posts about art therapy and other interesting topics. Next, if you’re on LinkedIn, I suggest you become a part of the Art Therapy Alliance group. There are tons of subgroups, one of which is a student networking group. It’s a great forum to ask questions and network with others. There are also various Facebook groups that are open to anyone interested in art therapy. Do a search for “art therapy groups” and see which ones look helpful to you.

    Starting an art class is a great idea. Another option is volunteering with an art therapist. You may need to do some internet research to find art therapists in your area and then email them, asking if they’d be willing to have a volunteer. You might also want to try finding your local AATA chapter, (for example in the Philadelphia area it’s the Delaware Valley Art Therapy Association, in the Bay Area it’s the Northern California Art Therapy Association), and email someone on the board of directors to see if they know of any volunteer opportunities. Also, ask if it’s possible to send a mass email to the local members asking if anyone is interested in accepting volunteers.

    I hope this helps!

    Good luck in your pursuits,
    – Liz

  13. Hi Liz, Im in my final year of a BA Photography course and would really like to pursue art therapy. I have a lot of life experience but was wondering whether a previous diagnosis of depression/ptsd would be held against me while applying for the Art Therapy postgrad course? I’ve recovered now but Im just wary of the stigma that could jepordise my chances. Its quite ironic that the reason I know Art Therapy works (because it worked for me when I wasn’t well) is also the reason why I may not be eligible to practice. Any thoughts on the matter would be very much appreciated. Kindest Regards, Vicky.

  14. Hi Vicky,

    A previous DSM diagnosis will not exclude you from being accepted into a grad school program. In the history of analysis and training, people who are becoming therapists are strongly recommended, if not required, to undergo therapy of their own. Having insight into the work that our clients are doing is very important, and every therapist also to be aware of potential blind spots and transference/countertransference issues. Experience on the receiving end of art therapy may prove invaluable to you through out your studies and career.

    Certainly, psyc programs are rather intense, which some people are not prepared for. If you feel you have resolved these issues (or are in command of them…even if you decide to revisit things again with a therapist of your own), you should find no problem being accepted into the academic study of art therapy.

    Good luck and definitely pursue this goal!
    – Liz

  15. Hi,
    I am 54 and currently in my first semester of my Masters in Counseling. I live in Dallas, TX. Do you know of any school close to Dallas that has a program for art therapy? If not, where should I look for a program. Please consider that at this time is it not advantageous for me to move. Your help is greatly appreciated.

  16. Hi this website has been helpful to me. I’m interested in art therapy. I have a bachelor of arts. I work full time but want to take a class 1-2 x a week. I don’t know where to begin, I just want to learn more about art therapy. Any suggestions ? I live in bay area, CA


  17. Hi Ashley!

    The only art therapy MA program that I know of in the Bay Area is Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont. They may offer a part time option? Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College offers online courses, however I’m not sure if they’re “approved” by AATA (meaning that if you study there, that you’d qualify for your art therapy license- ATR).

    I hope this helps! Good luck!
    – Liz

  18. Hi!
    I am a psych major entering my senior year in college. I recently started to obtain an interest in art therapy, I have been painting and drawing my whole life yet I never took studio art classes in college. I did take one drawing class but I was turned off by how controlling my professor was and I let him bring me down. But i continue to draw for myself on my own time. I was wondering what would you recommend me to do to gain more studio art experience? take up some in my last year? go back to school to get more art studio credits after graduation? or is there a program that i can do for a year or something that would help prepare me for a possible masters in art therapy?

  19. Hi Samantha!

    You most likely will need several college level credits in studio art to satisfy the prerequisites of the Art Therapy MA program you plan to attend. In other words, you’ll need these credits before applying…although some schools maybe open to you taking these credits while you’re in your MA. I don’t think any would be okay with you taking them afterwards.

    My recommendation is that you take the credits before entering grad school, as opposed to taking them in tandem with your MA. You’ll be busy enough during grad school between the art therapy classes and the internships, that taking a studio course may feel overwhelming.

    Also, you can contact the school(s) you’re interested in attending for your MA, and ask if they can recommend any studio courses.

    Hope this helps!
    – Liz

  20. Hi Liz,

    I earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts and now I am realizing I want to try to pursue art therapy– is there ANY way one can be an art therapist without having to go back to Undergrad again? Or in other words, what is the quickest possible way to go about this? Is it possible to just earn a certificate and not go through more years of school ($$$)? Thank you so much if you do get the time to read this! Thanks, take care

  21. Hi Jane!

    You don’t need to do another undergrad :) You’ll simply need to take a few psychology courses on the undergrad level to meet the pre-requisites of art therapy grad school.

    There is no certificate in art therapy except for those who already have a Masters Degree in a mental health field :(

    Before you spend the $$ on pursuing art therapy, definitely volunteer with an art therapist first. Grad school is really expensive and art therapists salaries are low considering the level of education we have. You may also want to take a look at similar career paths that offer a wider range of job prospects, such as Occupational Therapy or perhaps getting a Counseling MA (or something mental health related) and then pursuing the certificate in art therapy.

    Also, please read Cathy Malchiodi’s 7-part series “So You Want To Be An Art Therapist”…here’s the link to #1…but definitely read all 7 when you have a chance:

    Thanks for stopping by!

  22. Hello Liz,
    Im Nadia and Im getting my bachelors in art therapy. I know that I cannot be a licensed art therapist without my masters, but what job offers are there with just my bachelors in art therapy?

  23. Hey Nadia!

    I think the jobs available for people with BAs in art therapy would be different city to city and region to region. The best thing to do is check places like craigslist and simplyhired to see if there is anything. You’ll probably find that most therapy jobs require more than a BA, but there are lots of positions that have to do with begin on the front lines in a hospital or helping people with their ADLs and doing activities.

    Also, I was surprised to see that working for the city (i.e.: San Francisco) as a therapist or social worker only requires a BA. So, check your local government jobs websites for therapy, social work, recreation therapists etc… Every region seems to have a different name for things, so you will need to be creative with your search terms or hunt through the list of possible jobs manually.

    Hope this helps!
    – Liz

  24. Hi, I’ve been looking into becoming an art therapist and I was wondering what the next step would be for me. I have a BFA in illustration with electives in physiology. Do I apply to a masters program for art therapy?

  25. Hi Lindsay,

    Before applying to an art therapy program, check what the prerequisites are for the program of your choice. Most likely you’ll need psychology credits to get in.

    I would also visit a few schools to see what they’re like, and do a little volunteering with an art therapist to see if you enjoy the career. When looking for a school, make sure they’re accredited and that if you graduate you will be able to get a State license (not just an art therapy license).

    I hope this helps! Thank you for stopping by!
    – Liz

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