What does a Art Therapist do?

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An art therapist uses art and psychology to help their clients cope with life circumstances. According to the Art Therapy Credentials Board, “Art therapy uses art media, the creative process and the resulting artwork as a therapeutic and healing process.” Using art in sessions can help clients communicate difficult topics, release emotion through an artistic medium, and open a space for personal growth.

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How to Become an Art Therapist

how to become an art therapist

Art therapists must train in art and therapy. A master’s degree with graduate level courses in art therapy is required and you must practice under an approved supervisor in order to qualify as an Provisional Registered Art Therapist, or ART-Provisional. Educational standards are set by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). According to O*NET OnLine, almost 25% also continued their education and earned a certification after attaining their master’s degree.

The AATA also lists accredited, master’s degree programs in art therapy. Visit their Becoming an Art Therapist webpage (link opens in a new window) for more information.

Job Description of an Art Therapist

An art therapist will consider their client and then design a unique art project tailored for them that can assist in their recovery. This could be as simple as making a collage of what the client would like their future to look like, to more challenging projects that have them express their feelings through art. They use psychology along with the client’s art project to discuss the art and reflect on it’s meaning. This can help clients communicate in a new way and open a dialog into subjects that are difficult to express.

Art therapists also keep documentation, do assessments, and write treatment plans for clients. Depending on the work setting, they may work with a team of people that assist in the client’s care. In these cases they may also discuss their client’s progress with other colleagues. Art therapists that have their own practice may spend time doing additional documentation, such as billing and the day-to-day tasks of running a business. Art therapists work with a variety of age groups and in a variety of settings to include schools, mental health hospitals, clinics, and some have their own practice.

Free Teacher and Student Resources

The Smithsonian Institution offers a free Teaching Critical Thinking through Art with the National Gallery of Art course on EdX.org (link opens in a new tab) with the option to pay a small fee receive a verified certificate upon completion of the course.

By taking this course, you’ll learn:

  • How to use Artful Thinking Routines to strengthen thinking.
  • How to facilitate meaningful conversations in your classroom using art for artful learning and artful teaching.
  • How to help learners of all levels develop more discerning descriptions, evidence-based reasoning, and meaningful questioning habits.
  • Key strategies for using content information to push original thinking deeper.
  • Exciting, immersive activities for any type of classroom.
  • How to use learning resources from the National Gallery of Art, including downloadable artful thinking lesson plans.

The AATA also has educational videos on their website that cover a wide range of topics you may be interested. Visit their Art Therapy in Action page (link opens in a new window) for more information.

Art Therapist Career Video Transcript

When words alone fail to help a client address difficult emotions and memories, art therapists use the creative process to help them break through. Art therapy combines psychotherapy with the visual and physical experience of creating art to express and process personal issues. Art therapists plan and conduct art therapy sessions or programs to improve clients’ physical, mental, or emotional well-being. They design projects to support each client’s needs, such as drawing or creating a collage about an experience, or creating a clay sculpture describing a hope for his or her future.

Art therapists invite their clients to reflect on their art and explore its meaning. Art therapists administer assessments, document clients’ progress, and discuss client cases with colleagues. They typically work in schools, hospitals, mental health clinics, and in private practice. Self-employed art therapists usually have duties such as billing clients and promoting their business. A master’s degree in art therapy and licensure are required to enter the field. Some states specifically license art therapists, while others license counselors and therapists, who may include art therapy in their practice. Art therapists bring the tools and materials that can help individuals give voice to their inner experience… even when they lack words to describe it.

Article Citations

Elka Torpey, “Art therapist,” Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2015.

National Center for O*NET Development. 29-1125.01. O*NET OnLine.

Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). What is Art Therapy.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.