Adding Art Therapy to a Nursing Background

This question was posted with Stephanie’s permission:

“Hi Liz,

I stumbled upon your blog today because I was surfing the web about art therapy. I am currently a pediatric registered nurse in the process of changing my career. I’ve been looking into a MFT program with specialization in clinical art therapy at Loyola Marymount University. I have a passion for therapy in the family setting and children and never knew this degree or career existed! I did have a few questions as to how to start this journey. How do I find therapists that I can shadow? I’m also a little worried about the time and money (more so the money) involved that I would have to invest in so I want to make sure there are jobs out there for art therapists and MFTs. Could you please email me with some advice or resources that I can use to research more about this field? Thank you for your time and patience :)


Hi Stephanie!

Are you on LinkedIn? The Art Therapy Alliance has a bunch of sub-groups on LinkedIn with very active message boards. You may want to join one or more of these groups and ask if there are any art therapists in your area looking for a volunteer.

You also can look around for an art therapy oriented studio around LA. For example, in the Bay Area we have Creativity Explored, which is an art studio for developmentally disabled individuals. It’s not art psychotherapy, but volunteering at in a similar space will give you a good idea of what art-as-therapy is (also valid approach to art therapy).

At this point in California, getting licensed as an MFT is a must. After you’re done school and you’re doing your job search, you will most likely find jobs that are looking for MFT interns (they may not say they’re interested in art therapy), but during your interview, you can describe the added bonus that you’d bring to the job with your art therapy skills. That being said, there are some jobs out there specifically asking for art therapists, but the MFT portion will give you more range and choice in the jobs that you are qualified for.

Also, the fact that you’re a pediatric nurse is fantastic! There are many art therapists who work with medically compromised populations—in hospitals, in eating disorder clinics, etc…and your nursing background may prove to be very powerful in landing a job or even forging your way into new places that art therapy is not currently available.

Now for the money aspect…I can understand your concern with this. School is expensive, and then once you’re done your earning potential as an MFT will take a long while to match your current earnings as an RN. In California, while you’re working towards getting licensed you will most likely be in the 30-45K/year range. After you get your MFT, your salary will go up, and if you land a job working for the city or the state, the salaries are very inflated at this point, meaning that your earning potential will be at least double than the private sector…at least for now (we’ll see what kinds of cuts are in store). In your case, however, I suspect that your RN license will change your earning potential for the better, even before you obtain your MFT. Maybe you will find an art therapist with a similar background to guide you more in this matter on one of the Art Therapy Alliance’s message boards?

In terms of student loan repayment, there are jobs your can take once you’re licensed that will lead to student loan forgiveness. Check out this post for more information.

Also be sure to read Cathy Malchiodi’s 6 blog posts on art therapy education, job prospects and licensing issues.

Thank you for writing! I hope this helps clarify things for you.

Warm Regards,
– Liz

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