Art Therapist

A Career in Art Therapy

An art therapist can provide a creative outlet and developmental access to children and adults, particularly with Autism. Art is used similar to music and play therapies as a mental health practice to:

  • relieve depression
  • stimulate the senses
  • spark imagination
  • manage behavioral issues

A career in art therapy can be a challenging yet rewarding experience as you see improvements in patients’ lives with each session. This profession is on the rise as alternatives to treat an increasing number of learning challenges persists. It has also become more popular since new studies are showing a large spectrum of developmental disabilities that require individual and unique treatments.

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This is a highly specialized profession that only recently has been adopted as a mainstream medical alternative, so the Bureau of Labor Statistics places it in the category of “other therapists”. This distinction has lumped art therapists with 11, 770 other therapists since 2014, which projects an average wage of $55,900. The American Art Therapy Association has over 5,000 members and estimates the salary to be between $30,000 to $80,000 depending on the type of job and location.

Key Responsibilities

An art therapist has the unique task of combining art and psychology to conduct a therapeutic method for students and patients. The goal is to help them express themselves while improving permanent mental disorders or healing temporary traumas. They can work with individuals in private settings or in small groups in a classroom. Monitoring, assessing, and providing feedback to their client or student is a large part of an art therapist’s responsibilities. This involves providing art projects that help people articulate themselves in ways they cannot verbally. In this way, an art therapist acts as an encouraging guide and teacher, not just a psychoanalyst.

Necessary Skills

Teaching takes care and patience. When this involves a range of intellectual and behavioral challenges, an art therapist must possess these qualities even more so. Also, understanding human behavior and a vast knowledge of medical conditions like autism helps an art therapist development lesson plans and analyze the results. This understanding should be coupled with a creative and empathetic mind to help gain the attention of their students and patients. Projects should also take into account behaviors that could trigger emotional stress. Therefore, observation, communication, and listening skills are needed to judge their students reactions.

Degree and Education Requirements

A minimum of a Master’s Degree in Art Therapy is needed for an entry-level position; however, PhD’s programs are also available. To apply for a master’s degree, undergraduates must study art and psychology as prerequisites. The AATA has approved 35 master’s programs that include coursework in art therapy techniques such:

  • as creative symbolism
  • using art as a psychological metaphor for healing

It also includes:

  • research assessment skills
  • ethics
  • human development topics

Students can choose specialized concentrations like autism art therapy. After graduating, there are two certifications that can be acquired: ATR (Registered Art Therapist) and ATR-BC (Board Certified Art Therapist). These certificates can be earned through clinical field experience at any accredited institution. A state license may also be required to practice art therapy.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Art therapy can be a demanding job that that’s consuming both mentally and physically. The reward comes with satisfying results. Here are a few things to consider before pursuing an art therapist career:


  • A low competition career that is growing
  • Helping those in need of specialized care
  • Ability to create your own practice and hours
  • Working with a range of people and personalities
  • Continuously learning about human growth through clients and personal experiences


  • Can be emotionally draining
  • Extensive skill and background knowledge is needed to be successful
  • Salary is low compared to the work involved
  • A graduate degree is required to practice
  • Continuous study is needed to stay informed about new treatments

Getting Started

To begin, you can see if an art therapist career is right for you by volunteering at a clinic or school that practices the discipline. Talking to a career counselor to make sure you have the stamina and desire to tackle this comprehensive career will save time and money before enrolling in a program. Then to prepare for the graduate program, you can enroll in a similar undergraduate art therapist program. You can even choose a concentration that you hope to focus on in your career. These undergraduate programs are not required or accredited by the AATA, but they provide a head-start to the master’s degree.

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Future Outlook

According to, the demand for art therapists has been in a decline since 2004, but it is expected to grow significantly, adding nearly 6,000 jobs to the market. This is due to the 15% rise of autism in 2018, according to the Center for Disease Control. Research in art therapy has shown significant results in the treatment of autism and other mental and behavioral disorders. This gives it legitimacy as a worthy therapeutic method. The National Center for Biotechnology Information shows these results in a study for reducing depression, anxiety, mood disorders, and trauma, making it a universal remedy for a large spectrum of health issues. Art therapy can be used in many settings from mental health clinics to the classroom.

The combination of psychology and art has and will continue to transform the mental health industry as it has the potential to treat patients holistically. It gives people life-changing strategies to adjust and cope with many disorders. It also enables art therapists to easily assess the disorder and the progress of improvements. With the rise of awareness of the importance of mental health, a career in art therapy has the potential to be a lucrative and rewarding experience.