Where to Study – US? UK? Canada?

Posted with the permission of the question asker, with some details changed to conceal the person’s identity:

Hi Liz,

I just stumbled upon your blog via my crazy search for details about art therapy. I realize you must be getting a lot of similar questions about grad school for art therapy but hopefully this one won’t add too much of a burden. I just completed my last undergrad exam for my BA in Montreal and have an Masters in Art Therapy offer lined up at a school in the US. While it’s so exciting to actually be a step closer to working with children with special needs, the financial burden as you’ve pointed out is steep. While the school in the US costs 40000/term for me as an international student, a University in the UK costs approx 18000/term (for MSc in Art Psychotherapy). Half the price?!

It’s frustrating enough that the US school is super fast and wants me to respond to the offer by the end of April, the UK school on the other hand has just been working on a different time frame and I’m having my interview tomorrow. Aside from the horrible timing, there’s also the greater problems of financing a masters and like you’ve mentioned to many others the long term consequences from that.

So I guess much of my dilemma stems from the fact that the US school, as an art school, obviously has a lot more resources available. While I cannot guarantee that the education may be worth double the cost, I am fairly confident that the US school is able to provide a certain quality of education. On the other hand, the UK school appears to have less emphasis on art. While I know that the professional credentials in the two countries differ, I was wondering if you knew any information about how art therapy is used in the States vs. Europe. From your experience, have you interacted with any art therapists who work in North America that obtained their degree elsewhere in the world?

Also, from a financial perspective, would it be worth paying double the price to study at well-resourced arts school as compared to a much lesser known university college who may have less updated information for the field of art therapy?

I realize I might have gone too far in depth into the situation and I definitely don’t expect all answers to be answered. But any insight into this situation would be of great help. Essentially I’m trying to leave my options open to the extent that after my masters I’m not limited to working in a certain area in the world but also not limiting myself because of student loans/ financial burdens.



Your question is an interesting one! I’m not sure how much I can help with the specifics, but I have a few questions for you that may help you along with your decision.

  • Where do you want to live after you’re done with Grad School? If it’s anywhere in the US, I can almost guarantee that you will not get a state license if you study outside the US. Getting a state license is not only essential in order for you to accept medical insurance (which is a complicated issue, even if you are licensed), it also opens you up to 10x more jobs than what you would be qualified for sans license. If you want to live in Canada, check-in with the art therapists in the province you want to settle down in. If I’m not mistaken some provinces have regulated art therapy as a profession and others have not. Again, you need to be sure you qualify for any licenses that art therapists in that province usually fall under.
  • Are you aware of the earning potential of an art therapist in the state or province you want to live in? Can you survive on this salary taking into consideration living expenses and paying off your student loan debt? (Please see my post on being a new mom and an art therapist)
  • Have you looked into Concordia University’s art therapy program? From what I hear it’s a high quality education and Concordia has a strong fine arts department. (They also have drama therapy too…) Also, if you’re already living in Quebec, you’d qualify for in-province tuition, which is so much less than anywhere else in Canada (despite what the protesters are saying!) It maybe worth putting off your MA to pursue this option, simply for the cost savings and the fact that Concordia offers a great education too.

I think the main difference between the practice of art therapy in North America vs. Europe is the theories that are used as a foundation for the practice of art therapy. There are some theories/modes of practice that are only popular/taught in Europe and not the US/Canada and vice versa. So, the coursework will be different and so will the length of study. I believe you can get an MA in 1 year and a PhD in 2 in Europe. I also hear that art therapy is very well respected in the UK, whereas you can be doing ok as a North American art therapist or struggling, depending on the region you live in.

Lastly, I don’t think an art school would necessarily be a better place to teach/learn art therapy. I went to Drexel – fine arts was not their strong suit – and I got an excellent education that was very clinically oriented. I preferred that approach more simply because it was more academically rigorous than other schools that seemed more art focused. But, that was my personal preference and doesn’t necessarily mean that one is better than the other…as long as you can hold your own in a clinical meeting once your degree is completed.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed from reading my other posts, I’m not a fan of student loan debt and I advise you not to go into debt to become an art therapist. The reality is that we’re paid so little that it’s very hard to makes ends meet without a student loan payment – never mind with $500-$1000 of student loans to pay off every month for the next 30 years. I’ve also been asking people interested in pursuing art therapy to seriously consider whether there’s another career path that would be just as fulfilling, but allows you to earn more money and have more job prospects after graduating, e.g., occupational therapy. I would hate for you to follow the art therapy dream only to meet the harsh reality that I and so many art therapists have recently.

I hope this helps! Remember – art therapy will always be around. You don’t need to rush into anything simply because you received an acceptance letter.

Thank you for writing,

– Liz

2 Replies to “Where to Study – US? UK? Canada?”

  1. Hi Liz,

    I stumbled upon your blog, and have to say I am so glad that you’re writing about the difficulty of working as an art therapist while trying to pay off student loans (as well as everyday bills).

    I also went to Drexel, and would agree that it was an amazing education. I made the mistake of being perhaps too idealistic (sad that I now consider that to be a “mistake”) about my ability to support myself as an art therapist, especially in a smaller Midwestern city that is not known for being an art therapy hub. I graduated from Drexel in 2010, and since reality has really hit. It’s just….hard.

    Any ideas on how to raise an art therapist’s salary? I’d love to email or talk with you further as this is a very interesting topic to me.


  2. Hi Brittany,

    It is hard to be an art therapist. For me, the idealism came from the idea of being a “pioneer” in an amazing field – as soon as someone tries it, they can’t help but be won over. The thing I discovered is that you may win people over, but organizations aren’t willing to pay very much to retain an art therapist.

    It seems as though it’s not necessarily an art therapy issue as much as a MA in psychology issue. Social workers, marriage and family therapists and counselors all don’t earn very much unless they:

    1) Go into management,
    2) Have a PhD (and even that doesn’t guarantee a good salary), or,
    3) Build a private practice (which can take years),
    4) Give (paid) seminars,
    5) Are a freelance consultant for various agencies.

    Any combinations of these things can help supplement your income.

    I found a niche with technology, and have been working towards that recently. As you may have seen, I supplement my income by doing web design and giving seminars. It’s one of those things that takes a long time to grow and having business skills is not something they teach us in grad school, which is ridiculous! If we’re to be pioneers and grow something from the ground up, we need to have the basic skills to do so. Instead I feel like many of us are expected to stumble around blindly to figure out what to do. Thank goodness for the internet and the ability to easily access good information. Otherwise, I would have had a much harder time.

    My other suggestion to you is to begin learning and embracing new technology. I learned how to code for web design only a few years ago by taking an inexpensive online course. I didn’t think I could do it, since I never did anything like it before. But it was inexpensive enough that I figured if I didn’t like it, I could move onto something else. Turns out I did like it, and I was able to transform a bleak situation into a path of opportunity.

    My point is – try to learn about something you’re interested in that has to do with technology. It may or may not relate to art therapy, but it’ll help your career grow and make you less dependent on art therapy to put food on the table.

    If you’d like to talk more, feel free to email me! liz@lizbeck.net

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