Not every person responds well to “traditional” forms of talk therapy, even if they have some healing to do. Sitting in a therapist’s office can be intimidating. People may have experienced trauma while in group therapy settings. Maybe a person simply does not have the ability to express how they are feeling through words.
In addition to talk therapy, therapists and psychologists may offer alternative forms of therapy. Music therapy, dance therapy, and even equine therapy (aka therapy with horses) have all been useful in different recovery journeys.
One form of alternative therapy is art therapy. Art therapy, while more general than equine therapy or drama therapy, can be a fun and rewarding experience for people going through many different experiences and disorders. It can also be a fun and rewarding career! Read on to learn more about art therapy and how you can get started as an art therapist.
What does an Art Therapist Do?
Art therapists use art as healing, providing outlets for creative expression to those who are suffering from mental disorders and distress. Through different media (painting, crafting, sculpting, etc.) art therapists give patients in many settings the chance to try something new, relieve stress, and use their mind.
Art therapists may work with patients including:
- Inmates in a prison or jail setting
- Recovering addicts in a rehabilitation facility
- Seniors in assisted living
- Children in hospitals
- Individuals with mental health disorders
You don’t have to be a master sculpter or the next Picasso in order to get involved in art therapy. If you have any interest in helping people recover through creative expression, you can get started on a journey toward becoming an art therapist.
Some art therapists go right to school for a Master’s degree in art therapy from an accredited college. Others get a Master’s in various forms of clinical psychology or even social work. If this route is chosen, you may want to choose a degree that has a concentration in art therapy or additional art therapy courses that can give you the tools you need to succeed as an art therapist.
Once you have received this education, it’s time to work toward your board certification. The Art Therapy Credentials Board offers an examination to anyone who has completed a Master’s degree in art therapy in order to get board certified in their state. Check with your state for additional credentials and what art therapists will need in order to get a job in a school, rehab center, or correctional facility setting.
Salaries for art therapists depend on where you work and how much experience you have in your field. It’s not guaranteed to make a six-figure salary, but most art therapists are in their positions for the non-monetary rewards.
Art Therapist Reported Salary
Schools for Art Therapy Degrees
The program you attend may also make a difference in the job opportunities available to you and the salary you end up with. These are some of the top schools for art therapy across the United States:
- Georgia College & State University (Milledgeville, GA)
- Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (Edwardsville, IL)
- Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
- Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (Mary-of-the-Woods, IL)
- Southwestern College & New Earth Institute (Santa Fe, NM)
- Ottawa University (Ottawa, KS)
- University of Indianapolis (Indianapolis, IN)
- Notre Dame of Maryland University (Baltimore, MD)
- Emporia State University (Emporia, KS)
- Seton Hill University (Greensburg, PA)
Companies That Hire Art Therapists
Art therapy can be used to assist treatment for a variety of disorders and experiences, from substance abuse to anxiety to generalized emotional difficulties. For this reason, many different organizations may be looking for art therapists in your area. Art therapists work at:
- Educational institutions
- Assisted living and senior care facilities
- Rehabilitation facilities
- Correctional facilities
- Women’s and community shelters
- Healthcare organizations
- State and local governments
- Nonprofit organizations
Interviews from an Art Therapist
Still not sure if art therapy is the career for you? Take a listen to art therapists talk about their careers and what a day in their life looks like. There are plenty of places to find these interviews:
- Read an interview with an art therapist on The Art Career Project
- Listen to a conversation about the rewards of an art therapy career on the Art Therapy podcast
- Weigh the pros and cons of being an art therapist by watching this YouTube video
- Watch a TedTalk from an art therapist about Art as Empowerment
- Read questions and conversations among art therapists on the Art Therapy subreddit
Famous Art Therapists
Art has been a form of therapy since the dawn of time, but it hasn’t always been recognized as such. It wasn’t until pioneers like Edith Kramer and Margaret Naumburg made connections between psychology and art therapy that the field really started to reach many throughout the US.
Hanna Kwiatkowska was a sculptor and psychologist that pioneered the field of family art therapy.
Adrian Hill wrote Art Versus Illness after discovering the healing benefits of art in his own life. He is considered the founder of art therapy in the United Kingdom.
A more modern philosopher, Alain de Botton, wrote Art as Therapy in 2013 and brought the idea of art therapy to a much wider audience in recent years.
Art Therapy Examples
As an art therapist, you might have a variety of jobs based on your clientele and the organization you work for. From day to day, you might:
- Assist seniors with a weekly painting class
- Teach a monthly class on sculpting to inmates in a women’s prison
- Work with individual clients in recovery at their homes with their preferred medium
- Visit various group homes with art supplies to host mixed media classes
- Assess a new client on their goals, stresses, and preferred forms of art