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What is the Best Way to Become an Art Therapist?

art therapistArt therapists work with children, the elderly, and everywhere in between those age ranges using different forms of art to help clients physically, mentally, and emotionally. The benefits of art therapy range from reducing stress to improving fine motor skills. Therapists use art therapy for counseling, physical rehabilitation, and behavior management to assist clients dealing with abuse, mental illness, social or emotional issues, neurological and cognitive problems, trauma, physical conditions, family issues, anxiety, and addictions. When considering a career in art therapy, those interested should evaluate the best way to become an art therapist.

Required Skills and Traits

The field of art therapy is centered on both the practice of art and various aspects of therapy. Human development, psychology, and interpersonal communication are essential, as is an understanding of how to identify the symbols and messages conveyed through art in order to identify other issues and begin to understand a client. In addition to understanding the clinical, therapeutic, and diagnostic sides of the profession, art therapists must also be educated in the creative arts, which could range from expression through studio art, dance, music, or another form of creative art.

Some of the traits that are helpful for art therapists are empathy, patience, passion, understanding, sensitivity, keen observation, and insightfulness.


Art therapy students take different courses depending on the program, but common coursework includes study of multi-cultural studies, theory and practice, art analysis, studio art for therapy, and various courses in psychology and human development.

The American Art Therapy Association has a full list of the accredited master's degree programs approved and recognized by the Educational Program Approval Board of the association.

After Degree Completion

Different areas have different requirements for education and licensing due to varying regulations. Employers will also have their own set of requirements. In the United States, potential art therapists will need to have a minimum of a master's degree in either art therapy or a master's degree in a counseling-related discipline and a specialization or additional coursework in art therapy.

After receiving the master's degree, professional art therapists will complete a practicum or internship to become a registered art therapist through the Art Therapy Credentials Board. The credentialing programs through the ATCB include designations for registration, board certification, and certification in art therapy supervision. The certifications help to support the professional code of ethics and standards for the art therapy profession.

The American Art Therapy Association has additional helpful information for anyone interested in the art therapy profession. The Art Therapy Certifications Board has information on what additional requirements and certifications are required in the U.S. as well. While certification may not be required in a local area or for a particular employer, certification is typically always a good idea and highly recommended.

Once certified, art therapists can be part of a group clinical practice or work in their own private practice. Additionally, medical institutions, community programs, nursing homes, wellness centers, educational institutions, hospitals, mental health centers, prisons, group homes, and some government agencies utilize art therapy in a variety of ways.

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