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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, and 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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Since this is a highly specialized profession that only recently has been adopted as a mainstream medical alternative, the Bureau of Labor Statistics places it in the category of “other therapists”. This distinction lumps 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 that the medium salary to be between $30,000 to $80,000 depending on the type of job and location.

Key Responsibilities

An art therapist has a one-of-a-kind task to combine art and psychology to conduct a therapeutic method for students and patients to 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 quality and strategic 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 always takes care and patience, and 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 in order to 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 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 and using art as a psychological metaphor for healing. It also includes research assessment skills, ethics, and 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 achieved 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 can be consuming both mentally and physically, but the dedication comes with satisfying results. Here are a few things to consider before pursuing an art therapist career:


  • A low competition career that is growing
  • Help those in need of specialized care
  • Ability to create your own practice and hours
  • Work with a range of people and personalities
  • Continuously learn 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, students can see if an art therapist career is right for them by volunteering at a clinic or school that practices the discipline. Talking to a career counselor to make sure they possess the stamina and desire to tackle this comprehensive career will save time and money before enrolling in an educational program. Then to prepare for the graduate program, students can enroll in a similar undergraduate art therapist program and even choose a concentration that they hope to focus on in their career. These undergraduate programs are not required or accredited by the AATA, but they provide a head-start to the master’s degree.

Future Outlook

According to, the demand for art therapists has been in a decline since 2004, but it is expected to grow significantly in 2018, adding 5,870 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 for the treatment of autism and other mental and behavioral disorders, giving it legitimacy as a worthy therapeutic method. The National Center for Biotechnology Information show 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 while allowing 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.