Art therapists are recreational therapists who use painting, crafts, drawing and other art techniques to help people cope with mental, emotional or physical problems. Art therapists usually enter and stay in the profession because they love their career, as the annual salary for art therapists is not as significant as for other therapists. How much an art therapist makes depends largely on how he has prepared and how much experience he has, but other factors contribute, too.
Art therapists fall into the category of "recreational therapist," according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Recreational therapists pull in an average annual salary of $41,270 based on 2009 BLS data. This translates to an average hourly wage of $19.84. The median salary was $39,440, or $18.96.
The longer you have been an art therapist, the higher salary you can expect to earn in general. As shown by 2009 data from the PayScale website, with only one to four years of experience, you can earn a median of $34,684 to $44,700. With five to nine years of experience, your wages may decrease slightly -- expect $30,252 to $42,353. Those with 10 to 19 years of experience make the most, earning between $40,197 and $54,454.
Wages for art therapists vary widely by employer. Those in private companies earn the least, with the lowest wages at $29,833. Those employed by local, state or government agencies make the most, at $54,074. Art therapists in schools make the next-highest salary, earning up to $53,323.
Art therapists may hold one of four certifications, including art therapist board certified (ART-BC), art therapist registered (ATR), registered art therapist (ATR, same designation as art therapist registered but different title) and licensed professional counselor (LPC). ATR-BCs make the most at $39,391 to $52,981. Registered art therapists make $35,899 to $48,605, while art therapists registered make $34,229 to $49,004. LPCs have the lowest earnings potential, at $35,158 to $44,367.
The art therapy field is overwhelmingly female -- 86 percent of art therapists are women. However, men in the field still make slightly more than their female counterparts. Women make $34,376 to $45,847, while men earn $35,700 to $48,249. This may be because the art therapy field, like other industries, still is experiencing some wage discrimination, but because the difference is slight, it also may reflect the need for more male therapists.
Art therapists take home a bonus of anywhere from $280 to $1,500. The amount of the bonus depends on what certification you hold. Registered art therapists get the lowest bonuses, while art therapists registered get the highest.