Want To Become An Art Therapist? Here’s How

Not sure how to become an art therapist? We share all you need to know about art therapy, from the art therapist salary to the art therapy jobs available.


Do you find yourself at art shows analyzing what the artist was thinking when they made their work? Are you deeply sensitive to the concerns of others? Do you want to use your artistic talents to help people? You might just make a great art therapist! What is an art therapist, you ask? Art therapists help everyone from children to people with PTSD, using art to guide the therapy process.

We’ve put together a guide on how to get started in art therapy, which will cover how to become an art therapist, what’s involved in an art therapy career, and how to put together a stellar online portfolio website that will help you net more art therapy clients. Let’s get started!

What is Art Therapy? What Does an Art Therapist Do?

Art therapy is a form of therapy that involves using various art forms to help people explore their emotions, improve their social skills, cultivate resilience, reduce anxiety, and develop insight into their mental state.

Art therapists use techniques like drawing, sculpting, painting, collage-making, and coloring to encourage their clients to express themselves artistically. They ask questions about their client’s creative thought process to understand the underlying messages being communicated in their art, and then employ psychotherapeutic counselling practices to help the client understand their own mental challenges and build coping skills.

Do I Need to Get an Art Therapy Degree? What Sorts of Art Therapy Courses are Available?

In order to get an entry-level art therapy job, you have to have a master’s in art therapy. Several colleges and universities in the United States and Canada and offer art therapy programs, which teach students about visual arts, the healing power of engaging with the creative process, and psychological theory.

Some colleges offer undergraduate pre-professional art therapy programs, but those are not enough to allow you to begin working in the field.

How Do I get Into Art Therapy School?

Students looking to enter an arts therapy master’s program should first take an undergraduate degree in fine arts, psychology, social work, or counselling. If you took a different undergraduate program, you can undergo a learning assessment so the admissions officers can determine if have an equivalency. Because art therapy involves two disciplines, it is strongly recommended that you at least take some art and psychology courses first.

You’ll also need to be able to demonstrate during the admissions process that you understand and have an interest in visual arts and the creative process; this is to ensure you have the potential to use art as a therapeutic method. Usually that will involve an interview with someone from the art therapy program, or showing off your art portfolio—so you’ll want to make sure you have a strong one!

Don’t have an online portfolio yet? Check out some advice from professors and grads on creating an art portfolio for school.

What Should I Look for in an Art Therapy College?

It’s important to make sure the art therapy college you’re looking at meets the educational standards of your country’s professional art therapy association. If it doesn’t, you won’t be able to become a registered art therapist and establish your practice. Both the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) and the Canadian Art Therapy Association (CATA) have databases online of schools with appropriate art therapy programs.

Is it Possible to Get an Art Therapy Degree Online?

Some art therapy colleges do offer distance or online learning options, but they are considerably less of them than in-person art therapy courses. For example, in Canada, only three of the nine art therapy training programs offer distance learning. Be leery of any online-only institution claiming to offer art therapy degrees; they most likely are not legit.

Do I Require Art Therapy Certification?

While graduating from an art therapy master’s program is enough to allow you to begin working in an entry-level art therapy job, you need to apply to your professional association to get an art therapy certification, which will make you a registered art therapist. Here’s how to get started in the United States or Canada.

United States

After graduating from an art therapy graduate program that meets the educational standards of the AATA, you need to apply for credentials with the Art Therapy Credentials Board. New graduates will start as a provisional registered art therapist, and then eventually move up to become a registered art therapist. You can even go further and become board-certified, which is the highest art therapy certification you can receive in the States.


Once you complete an art therapy graduate program, you can become a professional member of CATA, which means you agree to abide by the association’s standards of practice and have your professional development supervised by a registered Canadian art therapist.

After being a professional member for six months, completing a set number of face-to-face art therapy sessions hours supervised by a registered art therapist, and submitting paperwork associated with your art therapy master’s program, you can become a registered Canadian art therapist.

What Art Therapy jobs are Available? What Kind of Places Will I Work?

There are many ways to pursue an art therapy career, so your practice can be as unique as you are. Art therapists work with individuals and couples, families, children, and groups, in various settings. Here are some places you might end up working as an art therapist.


Some art therapists work in inpatient care in both children’s and regular hospitals, or in other healthcare settings, such as outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centres, mental health units, disordered eating clinics, and treatment centres.

In these settings, art therapists often deal with people experiencing addiction, developmental challenges, physical health conditions, mental health issues, and depression, as well as trauma or PTSD.

Seniors’ Homes

Art therapists also work with seniors in long-term care homes, hospices, and palliative care facilities. Art therapy can give seniors new energy, improve their cognitive skills, reduce feelings of isolation through social interaction, and help them deal with grief and loss of cognitive and physical functions.


In addition to seeing children in a hospital or private practice setting, some art therapists work directly in schools.

Correctional Institutes

Some art therapists do work with inmates in a prison setting. Art therapy gives inmates a form of catharsis and allows them to express their feelings without discussing them—something they may feel uncomfortable doing (or could even dangerous in an incarceration context). Inmates who participate in art therapy see a decrease in disciplinary reports and reduced recidivism.

What Kind of Art Therapist Salary Should I Expect?

Your art therapist salary will depend on your experience and where you live. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, which classifies art therapists as recreational therapists, the average art therapist salary (as of May 2017) was $49,670. Professionals in the top 10% of that category earned $74,210.

Job search engine Neuvoo estimates that art therapy careers can net salaries of between $56,000 and $85,000 a year, based on previous job postings on its site.

Generally speaking, art therapists working in big cities will likely earn more than those in smaller towns.

What is Involved in Art Therapy for Children? What Kind of Art Therapy Activities Will I Administer?

Art therapy for children involves helping children express and document their experiences and perceptions, and what they feel and imagine, through art. It’s a particularly useful method of therapy for children who struggle to explain what they’re feeling, especially those who have experienced abuse, are on the autism spectrum, or have developmental or learning disabilities. You can let the children you’re working with decide on the art materials they’d like to use, what they want to create, and what they’d like to discuss, in order to encourage their independence and self-regulation.

Art therapy for kids is sometimes confused with play therapy, but they aren’t the same. Play therapy often involves art, but with art therapy, creating a tangible final product is part of the experience.

How Do I Get Art Therapy Clients?

Becoming a registered member of a professional art therapy association often allows you to become part of their online directories. For example, in Canada, registered Canadian art therapists are included in CATA’s online directory for clients looking to find an art therapist.

Don’t Forget to Build an Online Portfolio

Having a killer online portfolio can help you build your art therapy client base. Prospective art therapy clients can get a sense of your artistic bona fides, your practice, and your philosophy. And, once you’re more established, you can use your portfolio to display client testimonials and show off the finished works of some of your clients.

The good news? Putting together an art therapy portfolio can be super-simple. Use a website builder to create an online portfolio within minutes. Make sure you pick one that offers soothing templates and professional-looking fonts, and don’t forget to fill your About Me page with all your art therapist credentials.

Art can be such a healing force in life—here’s to spreading the joy!

Want more tips on how to succeed as an artist?
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