Art Therapy Decision Time

Posted with Leia’s permission:

Hi Liz,

I have been following your blog for awhile and have found it incredibly helpful this past year. I’ve wanted to become an Art Therapist for years but have stayed in my current career (film industry) because of the convenience. I’m at a crossroads here and was wondering if I could get your advice.

I’ve been accepted into a program here in California (PGI) and am due to begin in the Fall but I recently have began to have some major doubts due to articles I’ve read and wondering if you could lend your insight and opinion here.

I’ve been reading on several blogs and articles about the discontent within the Art Therapist community about finding jobs that one can actually practice the “art therapy” rather than just being an MFT. I wouldn’t want to go through all that schooling to find that I am not actually practicing art therapy. The other complaint is the low pay (after spending 60K on grad school) not making the money back. Do you have any personal insight on this or through other Art Therapists you may know out there? I saw on one of your posts you put the salary at 45-65K…

My next question involves the family aspect. Do you know of any who have gone back to school while trying to start a family and how that has affected their path to practice? My partner and I want to start a family soon and I’m concerned how this will prolong getting through my internship and the lack of income for following years because of the delay it may cause in having the kids. Any insight on others who have managed this? And what to expect?

Lastly, I have been searching online for other routes (shorter and less costly) that would lead me to working with children and using art. Do you know if I can obtain an Art Therapy Credential along with a teaching credential? To teach art in california? I’m really open to any options or ideas at this point that involve children and art :)

I’m sorry to overwhelm with the long list of questions- you just seem to know quite a bit about all this. Any guidance, insight or ideas on any of the above would be greatly appreciated!


Hi Leia,

I’ve been thinking about your questions, and they’re difficult ones to answer in many ways.

The reality about being an art therapist is that in order to be marketable and have a wide range of job options, you definitely want to have an state license along with an ATR. You may have been picking up on some frustration art therapists express about the ATR not being able to stand on it’s own, and that it’s not a viable path towards obtaining a state license in many states.

The MFT is currently one state licensing option in California for mental health professionals. The ATR is a national license and is not recognized by insurance companies for reimbursement, meaning that if you were in private practice, you could take cash only. If you wanted a job in a hospital or another institution they would not hire you (at least not for the positions you’d want to qualify for) because they need you to have a state license in order for them to get paid, so they can then pay you. Also, once the LPCC license finally gets going in California, it’s my understanding that having only an ATR and being in private practice will not longer be legal, since all practitioners practicing counseling or providing therapeutic service will need to have a state license.

Most of the time, you can find a job that is asking for an MFT and integrate your art therapy skills into the job. When you’re doing a job interview, for example, you can talk about how the art therapy aspect is very important to you as a clinician and that it will be the primary orientation that you use in group and individual practice. Also, you can check to make sure they’d be willing to offer you some kind of an art supply budget, as well as a space where it’s ok to get messy and make art work. Many times art therapists have to be creative about budgeting and spacing issues. In my previous job, I didn’t have an art room, but I was able to get a cart that I used to store art supplies, which I wheeled into whatever group room that was available.

Salaries are a difficult thing to give an accurate picture of. It really depends on whether you’re working towards licensure or currently have a license and whether you’re working for a private or public institution, or in private practice. To start, in CA, I would expect to be making between $30-45K a year while you’re working towards licensure. But, that’s simply my experience, and others may have had a different salary range to start. I’ve seen job postings through the City of San Francisco for recreation therapists (art therapists sometimes find jobs under this title as well) making $75K to start…but those government jobs are highly competitive and few and far between. Plus, with the budget issues facing CA at the moment, I don’t think the inflated public sector salaries can last. But, who knows?

Your question about starting a family is something that resonates with me at the moment. I’m currently pregnant with twins, and I’m staring the earnings/work/life balance issue in the face. One of the major realities I had to come to terms with was the cost of childcare if I was to work outside of the home. Do you have family nearby? Would they be willing to care for your child while you’re working? If not, take a look at how much infant daycare or a nanny costs. Since I’m having two at once, it quickly became clear that I needed to find a way to work from home (hence the development of Liz Beck Designs) because otherwise I’d be spending my whole salary on childcare.

So, it’s very probable that starting a family will delay your ability to intern and get the hours needed to become licensed. It’s also possible that you can find part time intern positions to work towards your hours, which could delay licensure by a few years depending on how many hours you actually work. But don’t be discouraged—if you start planning today, saving and setting up your life so that family or friends can help, you should be able to make things work. Many women go back to school with young families and they make it work—so can you! You may want to post this question on one of the Art Therapy Alliance groups on LinkedIn and see what ideas others have.

I don’t think there’s any way to become an ATR without an MA in the psychology, counseling or art therapy field. Art therapy is rooted in psychology, and the restrictions for credentialing reflects this. The only fast track to getting an ATR is if you already have an MA or PhD in the field of psychology. Then you’d qualify for a certificate program. Pratt’s MPS in Art Therapy/Special Education program seems to integrate education and an art therapy degree, but again, this is a master’s degree and it’s based out of Brooklyn. Saint Mary of the Woods College offers an online degree, which maybe helpful for you? Check out the American Art Therapy Website for more information about educational requirements.

Unfortunately I have no clue about the requirements to becoming an art teacher in CA. Sorry! Try looking on craigslist for art teacher jobs and see if you’re asked to have a specific educational or credentialing requirements.

I hope this helps! Good luck!

– Liz

2 Replies to “Art Therapy Decision Time”

  1. Just a clarification about the ATR credential; it is not a national license at all. It is merely a designation that indicates that you have completed coursework, internship and post-grad hours in art therapy. It places your name on a national Registry in the US via the Art Therapy Credentials Board. According the ATCB earlier this year, about 4300 people hold either the ATR or the ATR-BC.

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