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How to Become an Art Therapist

Art Therapist

How to Become an Art Therapist

Art therapists are professionals with a master’s level of education, who work in a variety of settings addressing the psychological health and well-being of individuals. Art therapy is a new stream gathering popularity and it uses the creative route to promote mental health of people belonging to all age groups.

Research studies have shown that art therapy reduces stress and increases confidence in people suffering from various psychosomatic disorders, depression, addictions, developmental problems, neurological illnesses, etc. Art materials and processes are used in a therapeutic setting to relieve mental stress.

The Work of Art Therapists

  • Setting up of therapeutic art groups
  • Providing counseling sessions on an individual and group basis
  • Assessment of the mental condition of the patients
  • Treatment planning for patients
  • Planning and executing rehabilitation/workshop sessions

What is an Art Therapist?

The British Association of Art Therapists defines art therapy as neither something you learn from and something you enjoy. Yes, some people enjoy it, but the definition of the expertise for the BAAT is that art therapy is the practice performed by an art therapist to treat mental health illnesses and disorders, and while it could be done with a client, some still require group work.

The American Art Therapy Association, however, defines art therapy as the use of art therapeutically, mostly done to heighten self awareness and sensitivity to others. It is a way to cope with mental health diseases, but is not limited to that definition alone. The physical and the emotional well-being of a client is what a person pursuing an art therapy career wishes to improve.

Most art therapists work in health centers and hospitals in sessions. Her clients would be those who are having difficulties with life and self-identity. It is very crucial for her to learn everything there is to learn about her patients, even before they start their sessions. One of the most common things done by art therapist would be to make someone express their feelings, thoughts, fears and aspirations. Epileptics are also stabilized by art therapy, as it is known to reduce stress and relieve epileptics of too many thoughts, which are known triggers of epileptic attacks.

Educational Requirements to Be An Art Therapist

What future lies ahead for those who are starting their art therapy career? It is always important that one knows everything about something plan to spend a long time with. Art therapy is a hard to learn, because different people have different definitions of it.

While some people believe that art therapy is the process of making art and treating it as a therapy, others think that art
therapy requires the presence of a therapist, explaining to an artist his emotions and deeper thoughts with the things that he draws.

How to Become an Art Therapist

How could you start an art therapy career? A career in art therapy is actually a very well paying career, especially for someone who enjoys having close contact to people and analyzing their psyche. But how do you become an art therapist?

The American Art Therapy Association has a list of all verified programs in art therapy. Also, you could study to be a psychologist and specialize in the field later on. The certification for art therapy would be granted if you have taken the master’s degree and passed the licensure exam. To get a good job, it is almost always required that you get a good internship with a good institution; each state has its own and you might find it easy to look for institutions in need of a good art therapy intern. A good internship would always jumpstart your art therapy career.

To become a professional art therapist one has to undergo required education, specialized and clinical training, and also satisfy continuing education requirements. Qualified art therapists need to complete a undergraduate education and earn a Psychology-related Bachelor’s Degree, then complete a Master’s Degree program in Art Therapy or a related field, like Recreational Therapy.

Most students earn a master’s degree in a span of two or three years. This course should be accredited by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). The association’s educational board approves courses which meet specified standards. The course includes subjects such as techniques of practice in art therapy, cultural and social diversity, ethical and legal issues of art therapy practice, among many others.

On completion of the course, the student has to satisfy other qualifications as well. A documentation of supervised hours and professional references has to be submitted to the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). This will qualify the candidate as Art Therapist Registered (ATR). An ATR is further required to clear the annually conducted Board Certification examination (ATR-BC) to complete the qualification. These examinations are conducted across a number of locations in the United States.

Before the Master’s Degree, the student has to complete preparatory courses at the bachelor’s level with specific requirements that have to be completed no later than a year after entering the program. Some of the programs are:

  • A minimum of 18-semester hour credits in studio/visual art.
  • A minimum 12- semester hour credits in psychology.

Initial degrees in the fields of social work, counseling, psychology, etc., are immensely helpful for furthering career opportunities. People skills, insight into human behavior, and creativity are additional skills that should be cultivated to have a successful career.

Art therapists have to maintain certification by accumulating continuing education credits. The requirements depend on the certification held by the art therapist. License to pursue practice as professional art therapists varies from state to state. It is a good idea to keep oneself informed of the license requirements of the state that she/he has decided to work in.

Loyola Marymount University in California, Naropa University in Colorado, Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut, Florida State University in Florida are some of the premier universities that offer master’s programs in art therapy and related subjects. The Menninger Foundation and Clinic, on the campus of Baylor University, has a clinical training program for art therapists. A complete list of universities and institutions offering related courses can be obtained from the AATA website.

Steps Needed To Become an Art Therapist

  1. Get an Undergraduate and Graduate Degree. First, you need to deeply examine yourself if you have the will and capability to fulfill the job as an art therapist. You need to have a passion for listening to people and helping them through emotional and mental healing. After deciding, the next step you need to take is to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Find a reputable college or university and finish all your undergraduate courses. After earning a bachelor’s degree, you should then earn a master’s degree in art therapy. Find an accredited university or college that offers post-graduate programs in art therapy. Complete this degree program and if you wish you can do another post graduate program.
  2. Get Certified. After gaining all education requirements, you need to be certified, although not all countries requires certification to legally practice art therapy. Getting certified will however give you the edge in getting a job. You can get certified through the art therapy credentials board. A complete supervised internship is also usually needed for art therapists.
  3. Search for Job. The final step before you become an art therapist is to search for jobs. There are two options you can use to search for jobs: through online and by sending your resume and cover letters to medical institutions and psychiatric wings. It is worth noting that, when searching for art therapist job, location matters. Some locations, especially in the cities, have higher competition than in remote towns. It is also more likely that some places will have less opportunities than others, so you will definitely have to broaden your job search area. With the increase in appreciation of art therapies, there has been an increase in the demand of art therapy in a variety of patient groups. So, as an art therapist you can expect your job description to revolve around helping cancer, post-surgery, HIV positive, burn, asthma and substance abuse patients among others. In hospitals an art therapist can be posted in child life programs, psychiatric department, creative art therapy department or activity therapy department. There are also many art therapists who are situated in mental health counseling facilities, or marriage and family therapy according to their specialty training and experience.
  4. Learn Necessary Skills. Some tips on skills needed in this field include: technical and creative skills of the fundamental theories and concepts in fine arts field, knowledge of human behavior, understanding individual differences in ability, personality, and interests, concepts that relate to motivation and the assessment and treatment of behavioral disorders. Some of the personal traits you need include: empathic, patience and extroverted. In conclusion, this field is new and there are a lot of potential opportunities for new discoveries and methods. There is so much to do to become a reputable art therapist. This is just the foundation on how to become an art therapist, so be prepared.

Art Therapist Salary

The basic salary of an art therapist has a wide range, the lowest of which is more than $27,000, and the highest of which is more than $52,000. The hourly pay, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is around $20 per hour. Bonus pays range from around $100 to more than $20,000 every year.

The basic salary plus the bonus pay would give an art therapist around $30,000 and $61,000 to enjoy and spend annually.

Specialty hospitals and agencies of the federal government usually pay more than general hospitals, nursing facilities, and facilities for the elderly. New York and North Carolina are the best places for art therapist wanting to earn more.

Rookies in art therapy usually earn $35,000 or less during their early career but once they reach up to four years of experience, they can even get an income as high as $60,000. True enough, you will be able to gain the advantages of being an art therapist once you become an expert in this field. For professionals who have been engaged in this work for five to nine years, they are expecting an average salary of $40,000. You can even earn more depending on the geographic location of the facility where you work.

Additional Benefits

As to vacation incentives, you can have the regular two weeks paid vacation aside from the yearly bonuses which your employer will provide. Most employers base their employees’ bonus on performance and if you are the type of therapist who is being sought-after by clients because of your remarkable record, then you can expect to earn a higher incentive than the other therapists.

The thing about this profession is that there are a lot of vacancies and if you could only give yourself a chance to further your studies in psychology, a lot of good clinics are waiting to hire you and give you the salary that you want. As a therapist, it is very important that you have the dedication and perseverance to unearth whatever hidden problems your clients might be keeping inside so you can provide the remedy to his troubles.

Being an art therapist is a very challenging job because you have to understand what your patient is trying to express beneath his drawings. The drawback when it comes to this particular profession is that most employers are after those who have finished an extensive training in psychology and human behavior. Of course, there are also those medical clinics who are hiring therapists based on their years of experience and other credentials.

The Pros of Being an Art Therapist

One of the advantages to being an art therapist is the fun you can have with your patients. In fact, it is extremely exciting to help others through something they never even thought would help them. The looks on their eyes are definitely wonderful when you see them filled with joy because of the art they created.

The income of an art therapist is also one reason why most people choose this path as their career. In fact, the average income they make when they start is $30,000 a year, but as they become more experienced, they have the potential in making $38,000 to $48,000 per year.

For those therapists who actually become administrators, they earn anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 per year. If you’d like instant income once you become an art therapist, you can even earn anywhere from $85 to $125 per hour from private sessions. However, you must possess a doctorate degree or a license, along with certification from your state before you can conduct private sessions.

The Cons of Being an Art Therapist

There are not as many cons as other careers, but there is still a few. For example, the materials to buy the art are expensive and you must make sure you have a good amount with you whenever you are teaching or counseling several people. You will also have to deal with a variety of mental illnesses, so it could be pretty creepy at times for you to see little children drawing weird things. So, if you do not feel comfortable with these aspects, then it’s highly recommended that you do not choose this path.

Art therapy has been a way for many psychologists to counsel young children and adults with mental issues. Art therapists have been around for many years and have always needed to help others. If you feel like this is for you, this is definitely the career you should take. However, with the high chances of you talking to mental people, it can be hard to deal with throughout your career. The career pays well and is a wonderful way to help others, so it’s really your decision if this is the career for you.