Building a Career as an Art Therapist

Senior woman painting in an art class

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Art therapy is a form of health therapy that is an alternative to traditional therapy using verbal communication. Art therapy focuses more on using art and art-creating processes as therapeutic interventions. Art is used as a form of psychotherapy much like verbal psychotherapy. Therapists have clients create art, and then interpret the symbolic expression communicated in the artwork. Art therapy is similar to other mental health therapy approaches including Cognitive Behavioral Health Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Adlerian Therapy, and Person-Centered health therapy. The basic tenets of art therapy rely on creativity, reconciling a client's emotional or psychological conflicts and creating personal growth through increased self-awareness.

Work Environment

As an art therapist, you may work with young children, adults or elderly patients. Art therapists work with clients from many different backgrounds experiencing many different health problems, disabilities or serious illnesses. Some examples of the types of situations where art therapy may be appropriate include:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Autism
  • Alzheimer's and Dementia
  • Learning and physical disabilities
  • Addiction and substance abuse
  • Grief and Bereavement therapy

Art therapy can help patients reconcile feelings of sadness, anger, guilt or self-destructive tendencies. The American Art Therapy Association supports the broad use of art therapy to help clients establish greater degrees of self-nurturance and healing.

Qualities of Art Therapists

Art therapists may have a wide range of abilities and characteristics that make them successful as health therapy specialists. Most art therapists have a combination of skills including:

  • Compassion. The goal of art therapy is to teach clients self-nurturing skills. Art therapists have to be compassionate and empathic toward the clients and patients interested in art therapy.
  • Creativity. Art therapists use many different perspectives and types of art to help patients recover. Therapists must use innovative and creative techniques to realize success in this field.
  • Relationship-Builders. Art therapists work with many community agencies including community health centers, youth centers, and senior centers. To succeed as an art therapist it is critical that you build warm and caring relationships with the patients you treat and the communities that serve them.

Educational Requirements

To practice as an art therapist you will need a master's degree in art therapy. Some states may require licensing and other credentials depending on each state's regulations. The American Art Therapy Association provides more information about credentialing and the Education Committee of the Association. You can find universities and colleges on this website that offer accredited art therapy programs.

Salary Information

An art therapist may work with schools, in nursing homes, in rehabilitative facilities or as part of a private practice. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that art and recreation therapists make an average mean salary of between $32,350 and $44,280 as of May 2012 per year.

Career Outlook

Art therapy is a good career to embark on. The employment outlook for art therapists is expected to grow as fast as average as or faster than average through 2020. New discoveries in art therapy have created outstanding opportunities for art therapists to practice in new environments and treat patients with diverse conditions. As the benefits of art therapy continue to be discovered it is likely more opportunities will about for art therapists to practice and for individuals to explore careers in art therapy as a form of health therapy rehabilitation.