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How to Become an Art Therapist

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Art therapists are mental health practitioners who use art to improve the emotional and mental well-being of patients. Their clients range from children with eating disorders and professionals struggling to cope with workplace stress to patients suffering from terminal illnesses. Aspiring art therapists must have a background in art, an advanced degree in mental health or art therapy and excellent communication skills.

Get the Education

Prospective art therapists must obtain a master’s degree in art therapy or a closely related field. The degree must be accredited by the American Art Therapy Association’s Educational Program Approval Board. Art therapy programs cover a variety of topics, including counseling, art therapy techniques, multicultural issues, ethics and standards of practice. Many students also complete an internship in a community or clinical setting before graduating. To be accepted into these programs, you must hold a bachelor’s degree in fields such as psychology, recreation therapy or counseling, and submit an art portfolio.

Master the Skills

To thrive in the job, art therapists should be good communicators with outstanding analytical and creative abilities. They must assess their clients’ conditions, determine whether art therapy is the most suitable treatment option for them and select the right form of art. Because art therapists often collaborate with other healthcare practitioners – such as physical and occupation therapists – they require good teamwork and coordination skills. Other important qualities include patience, empathy and compassion.

Obtain a License and Certification

Although many states don’t license art therapists, others -- such as New Mexico, Kentucky, Maryland and Mississippi -- issue licenses. Individuals who are looking to become Licensed Professional Art Therapists, or LPATs, must generally have a master’s degree and work experience, and pass a state-specific examination. Creative arts therapists aspiring to practice in New York must also earn the Licensed Creative Arts Therapist, or LCAT, designation. The Art Therapy Credentials Board offers a voluntary board certification, which art therapists can earn to demonstrate their competence to employers. The American Art Therapy Association also provides membership opportunities.

Find a Job

Qualified art therapists can find jobs in a variety of settings, including hospitals, day treatment centers, schools, rehabilitation facilities and disaster relief centers. After gaining vast work experience, some therapists become supervisors while others move into private practice by establishing their own consulting firms. Career advancement opportunities are available to therapists who obtain advanced education. For example, art therapists who earn a doctoral degree in art therapy can qualify for teaching and research jobs in colleges and universities.