Considering Art Therapy in California

Here’s a question that was emailed to me by Nicole A. and was posted with her permission;

I have been considering Art Therapy as a career path. I love both art and psychology and thought that it would be a great way to combine my passions. I work full-time, have two kids and a mortgage, so I’m only able to take a few classes at a time. Once I finish my AA, and both of my kids are in school, I will be able to transfer to SJSU and be a full-time student. I have read that to be a registered art therapist, you must have your master’s. I just wanted to know if I will be able to find work in the feild after I earn my BA, while working on my master’s. I want to set my goals high, but because of my responsibilities I want to be realistic. I’m also curious what kind of salary an art theraptist with a private practice in California might earn on average?

Hey Nicole,

You definitely need a masters degree to be an art therapist. In California, most art therapy masters programs offer the option of being on a license track for an MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist). Having a state license is absolutely essential for both your job and earning prospects, so getting a dual MFT and art therapy degree is a very good option.

A new law passed in ’09 making LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor) an option for CA licensure too. The LPCC isn’t available until next year, so I doubt any schools will be advertising this at the moment, but by the time you finnish your BA, I’m sure an LPCC track will be available as well.

Also, you don’t nessesarily need a masters in art therapy to ultimately become an art therapist. For example, you can have a masters degree in Nursing or Social Work and then go for a bit more schooling, pursuing an Art Therapy certificate. For example, NDNU has a Post Masters Advanced Standing option, where you take an extra 30 credits after you complete a masters degree in a related field. Nursing or social work are good options; A nurse’s earning potentials in California is quite high—especially if you have an RN (registered nurse) license and work as a supervisor or in administration. Social Workers have a lot of respect in the California mental health community and job opportunity, although many positions are looking for either an MFT or LCSW (Licensed Social Worker).

I dont work in private practice so I couldn’t tell you accurately about salary expectations. What I do know is that if you’re interested in serving underprivileged populations, meaning that you’ll be accepting medicare or medical as payment, you will earn very very little money. I attended a seminar once where the art therapist in private practice joked that she envies the Starbucks worker, because they probably make more money than she does—and with less stress. That being said, if you decide not to accept insurance, and only out of pocket pay, I think your earning potential can be rather high…but one must consider how long it takes to develop the clientele. For this reason, many people work part time in a “regular” job while developing their private practice.

In California, as an unlicensed art therapist (for example, while you’re completing your post masters training hours to become licensed, which takes about 2 years) you can expect to make about $30-40,000. As an art therapist with an MFT license, you can expect around $45,000-65,000 depending on where you work…maybe more. Working for the government (the VA or for the county) is much more lucrative than a non-profit. RNs can make between 65-80k easy. I’m not sure if having an art therapy credential would raise your earning potential as an RN, but it would certainly open some interesting doors!

Good luck with your pursuits and much respect for going back to school with 2 kids. My mom got her BA in nursing and then her MA in education while I was growing up. It was tough for her, but it was certainly worth it!

– Liz

8 Replies to “Considering Art Therapy in California”

  1. Liz,
    I am pursing grad school in New York for Art Therapy as a future career and am interested at some point in moving to California after I have finished. I have heard that every state varies with licensing requirements, and was wondering if you could give me any feedback on how much difference there will be between New York and California. Will I have to take extra courses in California to become certified there?

  2. Hi Erin,

    Off hand I dont know the difference in the requirements of NY vs. CA. I suggest you take a look at the licensing requirements of NY (whatever body offers the license) and compare that with the requirements listed on the California Coalition for Counselor Licensure (

    My guess, however, is that yes, you will require extra courses to be certified in California…and exams too.

    Good luck!

  3. Hi Erin,
    I happened to come across your comment as I was researching state licensing requirements in NY and CA. I am trying to decide whether to attend grad school in NY for art therapy (and have a week to choose!), but know in the future I will be moving back to CA. Did you ever find an answer to your question? It has been hard to come across information and I would love advice about whether an LCAT/ATR in NY would transfer to CA. Thanks,

  4. Hi Leandra,
    I just came across this website again and forgot I had even posted something on here over a year ago. I decided to put grad school on hold last year for the program I was set to attend in NY, so I didn’t look further into it all that info. I was kinda in the same boat as you with little time to decide..maybe a few weeks. So I’m sorry I can’t help you with your questions, but I hope you were able to find the answers you were looking for! I’m actually starting to pursue grad school once again and may just apply to schools out in California. Let me know if you ever found what you were looking for.


  5. Dear Liz,

    I have been a licensed mft in CA since 2006. I am now wanting to become an art therapist. Would I be able to take all art therapy classes at a graduate level and satisfy the educational requirements to become an ATR-BC. I since I have a masters in counseling psychology?

    I know you used to be able to but I think they changed the requirements so you have to pursue both at the same time. If so this is a shame b/c I bet it keeps many out of the field and limits the growth of Art Therapy.

    Carolyn Wheeler, LMFT

  6. Hi Carolyn,

    Sorry for the delayed response, and thank you for writing.

    I know there are some Art Therapy programs that offer a post-graduate certificate in Art Therapy, for example, Drexel:

    If you decide to take Graduate level courses without completing a certificate program, you will need to check with the ATCB to see exactly what courses you need:

    Note: apparently Lesley University’s Art Therapy Program will be no more as of next year. Instead, it’s new title is “Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Art Therapy” – the focus here being on the Counseling side (for credentialing purposes). In this case, Lesley University, may be a great place for you to take additional graduate level courses since they are changing their program to be similar to what you want to have, a counseling MA with additional specialization in Art Therapy.

    I hope this helps!

  7. Hi Liz,
    I am a former art teacher with 15 years in the classroom teaching K-12, and I have a MA in Art Education. I am done with the public schools and would really like to be a certified or licensed Art Therapist. What education route would you recommend? I am in San Diego (619)847-2819.
    Thank you.

  8. Hi Tony! If I had to do it all over again, I think I would go for a regular counseling psychology program and then supplement my work with an art therapy post graduate certificate. More and more art therapy programs are aligning themselves with general counseling degrees, and I don’t know how much value an MA in Art Therapy will hold in the next 10 to 15 years. But, if you want to have an art therapy degree, I recommend looking into programs that offer a licensure track towards MFT or LPCC.

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