Job Profile: Art Therapist

An art therapist is a mental health professional who works with people who need help with expressing themselves, with healing from past trauma and with self-knowledge. They provide instruction and guidance through the use of interactive art and through subsequent discussion of what the art produced by the patient reveals. Art therapy is field that can help people who have issues expressing themselves through verbal or written means, and it is often used to great effect with traumatized children, teens and veterans. The visual nature of this kind of therapy is often immediately appealing, and an art therapist can capitalize on a patient’s interest and intrigue with the use of color and medium. It is an art therapist’s job to guide a person towards the conclusions they need to make through the use of various art media. This profession requires a fair amount of work and certification, but after they are acquired, there are many places where an art therapist can take their skills.


According to the American Art Therapy Association, the upper range of the profession can be around 80,000 and 149,000 dollars per year, though salaries around 60,000 and 70,000 dollars are much more common.

Beginning Salary

The starting salary for an art therapist was around 39,000 dollars, though this varies from place to place. Government careers tend to pay more at the outset, but they do not have the kind of growth potential associated with private practice.

Key Responsibilities

An art therapist begins work with a client by consulting with a patient and thoroughly understanding their case history and their goals for therapy. After the assessment process, schedules are established and the patient is introduced to various forms media, including but not limited to sculpture, painting, and drawing. The art therapist must also keep good records of what has transpired in each session, latest developments and their client’s progress. An art therapist must also stay up to date on the research and developments related to his or her field.

Necessary Skills

To be an art therapist, an individual must first be possessed of empathy. Many of an art therapist’s clients are referred to them, and as a result they are seeing people who could not be helped by conventional means. An art therapist must be someone who can clearly and rationally explain and artistic process, and they often need to interpret art that may be disturbing or upsetting. An art therapist should also be a very organized person who can keep track of clients’ requirements and schedules.

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Degree and Education Requirements

There are several degrees that might be used to begin a career in art therapy. One very direct path to art therapy is to earn a Master’s degree in art therapy. Alternately, it is possible to come to the field through a Master’s degree in counseling which has focus work based on art therapy. These courses often have very intensive focuses on studio art. When it comes to getting a bachelor’s degree, the chance for acceptance into a program is often improved through the completion of a program in art or psychology. There are also some schools that offer Bachelor’s degrees in Art Therapy while others only offer it as a minor. In institutions where neither is available, it is often a good idea to take relevant classes independently. After the completion of a bachelor’s degree, a candidate for an art therapy program is also required to take the GRE as well.

Pros and Cons

Like any other profession, art therapy has both its ups and downs. Before deciding if this is a career that you want to pursue, it is important to consider both. Art therapy is work where you get to help people, and it can be very fulfilling work to aid people in overcoming past damage. The pay is fairly good, and the work is consistent, especially if you decide to pursue a government job. This type of work rewards people who are empathic, and it allows the use of art talents that might otherwise be wasted. On the other hand, this is also a job that is quite emotionally demanding as you become invested in your patients. It is also a position that requires a great deal of bookkeeping and note-taking, and it requires you to be very organized. Be aware of the fact that you will be working under very stringent guidelines regarding disclosure and appropriateness.

Getting Started

When you are interested in a career in art therapy, there are several steps that you should consider beyond the educational aspect of it. For example, consider expanding your interest into different forms of art. If you are only a sculptor at the moment, think about trying other mediums, like pen and paper, watercolors and charcoal. You should also learn about your tolerance for working with people. Art therapy is a highly social field, and you need to be able to empathize with a wide variety of people. Remember that this is a profession that requires a great deal of personal energy, and it can be hard to leave all of that at the door when you come home. Figure out if this is something that you can deal with. If you are interested in private practice rather than signing on with an institution, you may consider some courses that teach you how to run your own business.

Future Outlook

In some ways, it is hard to predict the growth of art therapy as it is a relatively young field. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does report an estimated 37% job growth rate from 2010 to 2020 for mental health counselors, and art therapy is included in this growth. Some of the settings that are actively looking to incorporate art therapy into their curriculum include places that service special needs children, prison counseling offices, palliative care facilities and facilities that work with veterans. Overall, the future of the profession looks very bright, and if you are someone who has the ability and the inclination to pursue this work, this may very well be the right time to do it!

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When you are considering a career in the mental health field, art therapy might be something that suits you. Though the field is demanding, with unique challenges that are not found anywhere else, this can be a very fulfilling type of work for the right person.

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