Art Therapist: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for art therapists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, and salary potential to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Art Therapist Do?

Art therapists use artistic and creative means to promote emotional discovery and healing in clients. After assessing the emotional needs of patients through one-on-one discussion, art therapists provide patients with a wide range of art supplies to allow for emotional expression through creativity. They may allow their patients to use anything from paints and crayons to clays to express themselves. Art therapists will use this expression to help counsel the patient through various emotions and experiences, such as depression and anxiety. They record a patient's progress and may adjust activities as necessary. These professionals may consult with a patient's physician, social worker, nurse or other healthcare professional to discuss treatments and progress. See the table below for information about education requirements, expected salary, and job outlook for art therapists.

Education Required Master's degree
Education Field of Study Art therapy or related mental health field
Certification Required Art Therapist Registered (ATR) credential must be issued by the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB)
Job Growth (2014-2024) 12%* (for all recreational therapists)
Median Salary (2017) $42,161**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

What is Art Therapy?

According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy uses the power of creating art to treat any number of mental and physical problems (www.arttherapy.org). Conditions that can commonly be treated by art therapy include stress, depression, anxiety, abuse, trauma, substance abuse, chronic pain and even cognitive and neurological impairments. As an art therapist, you might work in a variety of settings including schools, hospitals, hospices, community health care centers, mental health facilities and even cancer wards.

How Does It Work?

According to art therapists, deeply stored hurt, pain, anger and other feelings can cause people to develop abnormal reactions to events of daily life. These feelings can also cause stress, affect relationships and inhibit healthy interpersonal communication. Further, negative memories stored within body tissue can create physical pain that is capable of escalating into serious health problems.

By using art to encourage relaxation and release creativity, you can help patients unlock repressed feelings and memories. Using art therapy techniques, you can learn to use symbols and art to help patients communicate or release negative feelings. Art therapy can also improve interpersonal communication and relationships by increasing self-awareness and self-esteem, and promoting non-threatening dialogue.

What Would I Do?

As an art therapist, you discuss a patient's therapy goals, and then assist him or her in relaxation techniques. The patient is then offered a free range of art supplies and given time to create an art piece. The patient does not need to possess artistic ability for this process to succeed. If you work with physically impaired patients, you can even create art under their direction. After the art is created, you use extensive psychological training to assist the patient in interpreting the meaning and feelings behind the artwork.

What Education Do I Need?

Educational standards and other requirements to practice as a professional art therapist in the U.S. are set by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB), which is the credentialing agency of the AATA, certifies practitioners (www.atcb.org).

To qualify for the ATCB's Art Therapist Registered (ATR) credential, you'll need a master's degree in either art therapy or a related area of mental health. Related areas include counseling, marriage and family therapy, social work, psychology, addictions counseling, psychiatric nursing and psychiatry. In addition to a master's degree, you'll also need to complete a period of work experience under the supervision of an Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS).

You may increase your credentials by taking the ATCB Examination to become an Art Therapist-Board Certified (ATR-BC). ATRs must pay an annual fee to keep their license, and ATR-BCs must undergo recertification every five years.

How Much Would I Make?

In January 2017, PayScale.com reported that the salary for art therapists ranges from $31,908-$62,932. In its May 2015 statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the highest paid recreation therapists were those working in the federal executive branch, making an average of $66,050. Recreation therapists employed by employment services were also among the highest earners with a mean income of $54,480.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A few related careers that require a master's degree are speech-language pathologists, rehabilitation counselors and occupational therapists. Speech-language pathologists help their patients treat and/or manage an array of communication and swallowing disorders. They aim to improve swallowing and speaking abilities. Rehabilitation counselors aim to help their patients live independently. Their patients may be dealing with different mental, emotional or physical disabilities. These professionals try to give them the necessary skills they need to work and live alone. Occupational therapists also work with patients trying to re-learn or gain the necessary skills to work or perform everyday activities. Their patients may be recovering from various illnesses or injuries.

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