Art therapy combines the self-healing elements of psychology with the self-discovery impact of creative nonverbal expression. Using a variety of techniques, such as painting, sculpting or coloring, art therapists guide patients to help understand the underlying messages, metaphors, and symbols of their art. To succeed in this role, art therapists must undergo both traditional and specialized psychology training, which can vary based on state requirements.
See our ranking of The Best Undergraduate Degrees in Art Therapy Ranked by Affordability.
Art Therapy Education Requirements
As with many medical careers, an advanced-level master's degree is required. The American Art Therapy Association outlines the core concepts of this graduate program. Coursework, such as psychodiagnostics and psychological development, offers a standardized method for guiding and decoding artistic expressions. This specialized graduate program is offered at higher learning institutions throughout the country who offer mental health training.
The majority of accredited master's degree programs are five semesters, or two years, of full-time study. However, before undertaking a graduate degree, aspiring art therapists must earn an undergraduate degree. Many art therapists major in psychology with a minor in art, but this isn't a universal requirement. In general, a bachelor's program lasts four years, but accelerated programs may shorten this duration by one to two years.
Because art therapy is a specialized form of medical care, entrance into this profession requires a set number of hands-on experience, or more commonly known as clinical practicums. While specific requirements may vary based on school program, the AATA reports art therapy students must complete at least 100 supervised practicum hours and a minimum of 600 clinical internship hours. It's important to note, training programs may feature longer practicum and internship requirements. The aforementioned are minimums to graduate from an accredited program.
Choosing an Accredited Art Therapy Program
To work in the United States, art therapists must undergo training in an accredited program. Similarly to most licensed professions, only students who graduate from an approved institution are qualified to become board certified. For this specialization, students must confirm their school holds valid accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Art Therapy Education, which is governed by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Check with your state licensing board or reviewing the current CAAHEP list of approved institutions.
The Final Stage: Credentials and License
Upon graduating from an art therapy program, you've undergone several years of classroom training and hands-on experience. The final step in this multiphase educational journey is securing both credentials and state licensure. In the United States, art therapists must become board certified by the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc., which is the national organization responsible for overseeing this dynamic profession. In addition, certain states require art therapists to earn a state license. Check with your state licensing department to learn if licensure is required. If so, be prepared to pass a state-sponsored proctored examination.
This specialty is more than tapping into creativity with the expectation of mental healing. This unique approach to psychology offers an outlet for patients to speak what they're unable to say. While becoming an art therapist takes an average four years for the undergraduate degree, two years for the master's program and an undefined timeframe for exam preparation, its time commitment is minimal compared to the help offered by art therapy.