Find Your Degree is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.

Can you Practice Art Therapy without a License?

Art therapy uses art to relieve stress. It allows people to be unique, to find their own way of expressing themselves. For some people, being an art therapist does not seem challenging if one is a decent artist and good with people. This leads one to the question: can you practice art therapy without a license?

Art Therapist Basics

Before exploring the requirements of an art therapist, one should first understand what it is. An art therapist is a professional who helps others reach treatment goals in personal and relational functioning through art. According to the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), it can be used to enhance self-esteem, facilitate insight and emotional resilience, and resolve distress experienced by an individual or community.

See our ranking of The Best Undergraduate Degrees in Art Therapy Ranked by Affordability.

Art Therapist Education Requirements

An art therapist is required to obtain a Master's degree in art therapy or counseling psychology with a concentration in art therapy. In either case, an individual would need to complete coursework focusing on visual art, the creative process, developmental psychology, research methods, psychological assessment, art therapy assessment, cultural diversity, as well as knowledge of core psychology areas. These students are required to complete 100 hours of supervised practicum as well as 600 hours of art therapy internship, according to the AATA.

Certification Requirements

After completing the graduate requirements, the aspiring art therapist would need to become certified through the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). To apply to become a registered art therapist (ATR), the individual must complete a total of 1,000 hours of direct client contact (don't worry, the internship hours count). The certification process involves completing and submitting the application to become an ATR, according to ATCB. Most states require at least the registered Art Therapist (ATR) title before one can begin practicing. Other areas may prefer full board certification (ATR-BC), which can be obtained through a written test after the ATR has been obtained. It should be noted that a state-issued art therapy license additionally needs to be obtained in a select few states (New Mexico, Maryland, Kentucky, and Mississippi. The full license is not required in most areas, however.

Necessity of Credentialing

Art therapists require a specific set of skills to practice effectively and safely. It is first important to note that an art therapist is still a therapist, and may, therefore, be working with individuals with a variety of psychological issues (such as trauma, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, etc.). Therefore, a solid understanding of psychology and how to interact in a therapeutic way with the client is important. In addition, understanding the importance of client confidentiality and behaving ethically to meet the needs of the client is crucial. Beyond knowledge of therapy, the professional should a strong understanding of the types of art they intend to utilize in order to be effective. This combination of skills makes the requirement for certification necessary for an art therapist.

In order to consider oneself an art therapist, numerous qualifications need to be met to ensure one is competent. A master's degree, knowledge of psychology and art, supervised hours, and an AATA recognized registered art therapist title are necessary for one to practice art therapy ethically.