How to Become an Art Therapist: Qualifications and Degree Needed

An interest in art and psychology may lead you to a potential career in art therapy. Keep reading to learn what degree and qualifications are needed for this career path, as well as salary information. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses creative expression to aid with diagnosis and treatment of patients. Art therapists need to have their master's degree in art therapy and may also find it useful to receive professional credentials from the Art Therapy Credentials Board. The following table presents basic information on the basic educational requirements for an art therapist as well as job statistics.

Degree Required Master's Degree
Education Field of Study Art Therapy
Key Skills Patience, communication, compassion, insightfulness
Licensure Licensure varies by state. Professional credentials available from Art Therapy Credentials Board
Job Growth (2018-2028) 7% (for all recreational therapists)*
Median Salary (2019) $44,402**

Sources: *U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

What Do Art Therapists Do?

Art therapists use their background in art and psychology to provide patients with ways to manage anger, stress, and anxiety and help with any other physical, mental or emotional struggles. Art therapists may assign projects or allow their patients to freely create and express themselves through their artwork. This process allows the therapist to assess, evaluate and gain further insight into treatments that will improve their patient's way of life and lead the patient to further self-awareness.

What Degree Do I Need?

If you want to become an art therapist, you'll need to earn your bachelor's degree in something art or psychology related, and then get your master's degree in art therapy. Admittance to an art therapy program typically involves submitting an art portfolio and transcript. While in your graduate program, you will take courses in group therapy, psychodiagnostics, additional studio art classes, and complete a practicum and internship, both of which will help you gain hands on experience with patients.

What License and Credentials Are Necessary?

Licensure for art therapists varies depending on state. However, upon completion of your degree, you can pursue professional credentials from the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). The ATCB provides four credentials to art therapy practitioners and a database of credentialed art therapists is on their website. While these credentials are not required, those with them will have better overall job prospects.

What Skills and Qualities Do Art Therapists Need?

Two skills and qualities someone pursuing a career as an art therapist will likely need to have are patience and compassion. Depending on where you work, you could have clients that range from children to seniors and may work with patients recovering from trauma or other serious health issues. Because of this, communication skills and the ability to communicate with a wide range of people will also be beneficial. Insight and an ability to understand your patients and their needs is necessary, along with an ability to work in multiple art forms.

What Will My Salary Be?

The median reported salary for art therapists according to was $$44,402 in 2019. According to the BLS, recreational therapists (including art therapists) with the top 10% highest salaries earned over $77,050 in 2018, while those earning the lowest 10% made around $29,590. Your salary is also dependent on where you work. Those who work in hospitals earned more than those in nursing care facilities, for example.

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