FAQ: What Degree Does an Art Therapist Need? (Plus Jobs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 16, 2021

An art therapist uses creative projects to provide care, rehabilitation and support to patients. Art therapy patients may engage in activities like painting, craft making, dancing or playing an instrument to heal, improve confidence levels, enhance cognitive and motor functions and foster emotional and social skills. If you're enthusiastic about art and mental health, a role as an art therapist may be perfect for you. In this article, we answer, "What degree does an art therapist need?" and respond to other commonly asked questions about the topic.

What degree does an art therapist need?

Employers hiring for an art therapist role typically require candidates to have a bachelor's and master's degree in art therapy or a related area. A bachelor's degree is a four-year degree at a college or university. During this course of study, students complete general education requirements in math, science, writing and history. They then choose one or more majors in their field of interest, taking high-level courses and completing special projects in these subjects. They can also opt to study one or more minors to gain knowledge of different topics.

Afterward, master's programs can last one to three years at a graduate college or university. In these programs, graduate students gain specific expertise in a field of concentration and conduct extensive research on a topic of their choice. They compile their findings from the research project to form and present a master's thesis. This thesis can then inform their specialty and practical work in the field. Some art therapy candidates pursue a Ph.D. in art therapy to spend more time conducting research and gain an even deeper understanding of the industry.

Read more: What Is an Art Therapist?

What are good undergraduate majors for art therapists?

There are a variety of majors that could be good choices for art therapist candidates. Some educational institutions offer art therapy programs, which can be the best, most relevant courses of study for this job. Even if you major in a subject other than art therapy, try to get some art therapy experience through coursework, work experience and volunteer opportunities. This can make you a more competitive candidate for art therapist roles. Some other common, useful undergraduate paths of study include:

  • Counseling: Students who major in counseling learn how to apply psychological, developmental and mental health principles to help others. Counselors help clients cope with grief or other challenging experiences, manage and improve their behaviors and access useful resources and services that can enhance their life.

  • Psychology: Students who major in psychology learn about the functions and features of the human mind and human behavior. They can apply psychological theories and techniques to understand the thoughts and actions of others and help clients analyze previous experiences, cope with or overcome challenges and process emotions healthily.

  • Social work: Students who major in social work gain a deep understanding of the causes of public and personal health issues and the solutions or methods of treatment available, exploring the history and current structures of social welfare systems and resources. Social workers help individuals and families overcome challenges like homelessness or substance abuse.

  • Visual art: Students who major in visual art gain practical experience in drawing, painting, photography, digital imaging and graphic design, sculpting and other forms of art-making. By combining this line of study with coursework in psychology, counseling or a related field, students can gain the imaginative skills necessary to be art therapists.

  • Education: Students who major in education learn how to convey complex information clearly, plan lessons and teach children or adults about a variety of topics. Those in this field can learn invaluable information about child psychology, child behavior and learning disabilities, gaining essential skills for a job as an art therapist.

Read more: How To Become an Art Therapist (With 7 Steps)

What do art therapists learn during graduate school?

Pursuing a graduate education provides candidates with official, specialized knowledge in the art therapy field. It prepares candidates to practice medical care in an effective and ethical way, adhering to safety, legal and moral regulations. Upon earning a master's degree in art therapy, students tend to have expert knowledge on the process of artistic self-expression. They're ready to help patients use art to reduce stress, resolve conflicts, develop skills, manage behavior and increase self-esteem. Here are some topics that master's level art therapist students may encounter:

  • History and theory of art therapy

  • Techniques and practice in art therapy

  • Ethical and legal issues of art therapy

  • Art therapy assessment

  • Psychology

  • Counseling

  • Multicultural studies

  • Health care and medical conditions

  • Communication

  • Art analysis and techniques

Read more: Art Therapy Types: Definitions and FAQ

How much clinical experience do art therapists need?

Employers hiring for an art therapist job typically seek candidates with a certain amount of clinical experience, but this amount can vary based on the company. It may range from one to five years, but the more experience a candidate has in the field, the more competitive they can be for job opportunities. In addition, different training programs may require students to complete a particular number of hours of training in a real clinical setting. For example, the American Art Therapy Association requires students to complete at least 100 supervised practicum hours and at least 600 clinical internship hours.

How do art therapists earn certification?

Art therapists earn certification and state licensure through completing an official, accredited educational or training program, like the Art Therapy Credentials Board. This is typically at a graduate school or university where students can earn a master's degree in art therapy. It's important to check local, state and federal government requirements and guidelines when planning to join this career field. By participating in formal art therapy studies, candidates can learn how to adhere to industry standards and protocols. This ensures they can do an effective job of treating patients with a range of mental and physical health conditions.

Upon meeting basic eligibility requirements and earning state licensure, art therapists may also earn extra certifications by passing courses and exams offered by professional organizations in the field. These types of credentials can help candidates develop certain skills, gain specialty knowledge and build their professional networks. Candidates may pursue certification from related fields or areas to build their resumes. For example, they may take courses in leadership or project management. Getting experience in a variety of topics can diversify your skill set and help you approach the duties of an art therapist with confidence.

Related: What Is a Recreational Therapist?

Where do art therapists work?

Art therapists can work in a variety of settings to provide mental health care to patients. Those in this field can serve patients from diverse demographics, across ages and other characteristics. They also treat clients living with different conditions like those healing from injuries, illnesses or addictions. Art therapists may work in the following facilities:

  • Private practices

  • Hospitals

  • Schools

  • Long-term care facilities

  • Psychiatric facilities

  • Rehabilitation facilities

  • Community clinics

  • Wellness centers

  • Veteran's clinics

  • Prisons

  • Group homes

  • Shelters

  • Crisis centers

  • Forensic institutions

  • Art centers

Related: 10 Types of Health Care Facilities

How much do art therapists earn?

The national average salary for a therapist, a similar role to art therapist, is $72,338 per year. The salaries of art therapists may vary based on geographical location, company, years of experience, educational background, certifications and other factors. In general, art therapists who complete more education and earn special credentials or accolades in their field can negotiate for a higher salary. For example, an advanced art therapist may earn more than an entry-level assistant.

Who are the colleagues of art therapists?

As art therapists work in a mental and physical health care area, they may collaborate with many other health care professionals to provide comprehensive treatment to patients. Their colleagues vary based on the organization for which they work. For example, they have different team members at a school, hospital or community center. Here are some professionals who may work with art therapists. For the most up-to-date Indeed salaries, please click on the links below:

1. Teacher

National average salary: $23,896 per year

Primary duties: A teacher is an educational professional who develops and implements lessons to teach students about different topics, like math, science, reading, writing and history. Those in this role plan curriculum, present information through lectures or slides, assign and grade homework, administer exams and answer student questions. As teachers work with students every day, they often have a particular understanding of their students' actions and reactions to situations. They may work with art therapists to help a student gain confidence and improve their behavior.

Read more: Learn About Being a Teacher

2. School counselor

National average salary: $51,929 per year

Primary duties: A school counselor supports the mental and physical health of all students at an educational institution. They provide guidance on a variety of topics, including behavioral matters, academic performance and career plans. Those in this field typically implement programs and initiatives that improve student outcomes. They may work with an art therapist to administer a particular health care plan during school hours.

Read more: Learn About Being a School Counselor

3. Social worker

National average salary: $56,517 per year

Primary duties: A social worker helps people overcome challenges, improve their relationships and reach goals. There are many types of social workers specializing in different areas, like children and family, community, military and veterans, psychiatry, hospice and palliative care and substance abuse. Those in this position typically work to connect a client with services that may be helpful, such as schooling, housing, employment, transportation, mental health care, child care, elder care and foster care.

Read more: Learn About Being a Social Worker

4. Therapist

National average salary: $72,338 per year

Primary duties: A therapist provides treatment, rehabilitation and support to patients. Along with art therapists, there are many other kinds with different specialties, including marriage and family counseling, addiction, behavioral therapy, divorce therapy, child therapy and cognitive therapy. Art therapists may work with clients who are participating in other types of therapy simultaneously. Therapists can work together to gain a better understanding of their patients.

5. Registered nurse

National average salary: $79,533 per year

Primary duties: A registered nurse provides health care to patients, usually assisting a head nurse or physician. They perform tasks like taking vitals, recording patient medical history, performing exams and procedures and delivering at-home care instructions. Nurses often work with patients regularly and build strong relationships with them. Art therapists working at hospitals, physician's offices or other medical facilities may work with nurses to understand and fulfill a patient's needs.

Read more: Learn About Being a Registered Nurse (RN)

6. Psychologist

National average salary: $95,181 per year

Primary duties: A psychologist studies behaviors and mental processes. They typically have extensive backgrounds in research and analysis of a particular specialty or concentration. As specialists, they may treat advanced or rare conditions and mental illnesses. Psychologists can work with art therapists to help clients cope with trauma, develop skills and maintain relationships.

Read more: Learn About Being a Clinical Psychologist

7. Physician

National average salary: $239,528 per year

Primary duties: A physician assesses, diagnoses and treats patients for a variety of medical conditions. There are many types of physicians, including primary care doctors, neurologists, gynecologists and cardiologists. As those in this role complete many years of schooling and training before earning their medical license, they typically have expertise on the specifics of a patient's physical and mental state. They can work with art therapists to ensure a patient gets the proper type and amount of therapy and support.

Read more: Learn About Being a Physician

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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