Art Therapy Certification and Training Programs

Art therapists receive training in the visual arts and counseling to use the creative process for psychological healing. Professional art therapists are typically certified, and some states require licensure. Read on to learn about master's degree programs in this field and certification requirements for art therapists. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Training Do Art Therapists Need?

Guidelines for and accreditation of art therapy graduate programs are provided by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), the official professional organization for present and aspiring art therapists (http://arttherapy.org). According to AATA guidelines, accredited art therapy master's degree programs are required to provide an art therapy core curriculum and training specific to mental health counseling. Graduates from accredited programs are eligible for board certification as art therapists in addition to licensure as mental health counselors.

An approved master's degree program in art therapy includes coursework in art therapy theories, psychopathology, counseling techniques, assessment, research methods and multicultural issues. Practicum experiences or internships are also incorporated into AATA-accredited programs. For professional certification, graduates are required to complete a minimum of 700 hours of supervised clinical or community-based experience in art therapy.

Common Course TopicsResearch methods, multicultural issues, art therapy theories, psychopathology, counseling techniques
Work EnvironmentMedical clinics, psychiatric clinics, geriatric facilities, hospitals, domestic violence shelters
Licensure RequirementsAll states require mental health professionals to be certified; some states have specific requirements for art therapists
CertificationThe Art Therapy Credentialing Board grants the ATR and ATR-BC certification

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a form of creative arts or expressive therapy that uses the visual arts as a medium for resolving conflicts, enhancing self-esteem and providing insight. People of all ages who benefit from this complementary therapy are found in a wide variety of medical populations, including those with emotional disorders, substance abuse issues, chronic pain and life-threatening illnesses. Art therapists work in many environments. Often as part of a professional team, they are active in psychiatric and medical clinics, domestic violence shelters, geriatric facilities and hospitals. Some also work in private practice and art studios.

According to the International Art Therapy Organization, art therapists may belong to one of two camps. Some believe in the primacy of the creative process to heal individuals over time. This approach is often referred to as 'art as therapy.' Other art therapists focus on the symbolic content of art production from targeted exercises to provide clues to the nature of conflicts and emotions. In practice, art therapists blend these approaches (www.internationalarttherapy.org').

Are Certification and Licensure Required?

Master's degree programs in art therapy emerged in the 1970s. This relatively young field is still developing a professional identity. Graduates from art therapy programs will likely find it valuable to seek professional certification to meet the demand for certification by employers. An April 2015 search of job postings on Careerbuilder.com and Monster.com revealed that some employers require art therapist applicants to be certified at specific levels.

According to the AATA, all states require mental health counselors to be licensed. Some states specifically include art therapists in their counselor licensure regulations. About five other states require art and creative therapists to have a license to practice, including New York, New Mexico and Kentucky.

How Do I Become Certified?

The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) grants widely recognized certification at two levels. Graduates from an art therapy master's degree program may apply for the Art Therapist Registered (ATR) designation. In addition to completing a core art therapy curriculum and supervised internship, applicants need to meet post-education experience requirements. Depending on the applicant's background, this means a minimum of 1,000 hours of experience in direct contact with clients in art therapy sessions (www.atcb.org).

The terminal credential offered by the ATCB is Board Certified (ATR-BC). Registered art therapists who pass a written exam are eligible for this professional distinction. Recertification for those with an ATR-BC credential is necessary every five years. A minimum of 100 continuing education credits must be documented for recertification.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • George Mason University

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