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, and the verbal nature of conventional therapy might not resonate with everyone. Some individuals may have experienced trauma while in group therapy settings, finding the group dynamics or vocalizing their feelings in front of others distressing. For those who find it challenging to express their emotions verbally or who have negative associations with traditional therapeutic environments, art therapy offers a less intimidating and non-verbal avenue for exploration and healing.
Art therapy, while more general than equine therapy or drama therapy, provides a tactile and creative outlet for individuals to express and process their emotions. It's beneficial for those undergoing therapy and can be a fun and rewarding career for therapists. Read on to learn more about art therapy and how to embark on a career as an art therapist.
What does an Art Therapist Do?
Art therapists use art as healing, providing creative expression to those 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 minds.
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 sculptor or the next Picasso to get involved in art therapy. If you are interested in helping people recover through creative expression, you can start 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 to get board-certified in their state. Check with your state for additional credentials and what art therapists will need to get a job in a school, rehab center, or correctional facility setting.
Salary (How Much Does an Art Therapist Make?)
Salaries for art therapists depend on where you work and how much experience you have in your field. Making a six-figure salary is not guaranteed, 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 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 assist treatment of various disorders and experiences, from substance abuse to depression 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 with an Art Therapist
Still not sure if art therapy is the career for you? 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 reached many throughout the US.
Hanna Kwiatkowska was a sculptor and psychologist who 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 various jobs based on your clientele and the organization you work for. From day to day, you might:
- Assist seniors with a weekly painting class.
- In assisted living or senior care facilities, art therapy can boost cognitive function, enhance motor skills, and combat feelings of loneliness or depression. For seniors, the process often focuses on reminiscence, allowing them to express memories and life experiences or reconnect with past hobbies.
- Teach a monthly class on sculpting to inmates in a women’s prison.
- In correctional facilities, art therapy serves as an outlet for inmates to express feelings of remorse, anger, or hope. It can also provide skills that might be useful upon reentry into society. Sculpting, in particular, can be a powerful tactile experience, allowing inmates to reshape clay as a metaphor for reshaping their lives.
- Work with individual clients in recovery at their homes with their preferred medium.
- For clients in recovery, whether from substance abuse or trauma, art therapy at home offers a comfortable environment to confront and process difficult emotions. The choice of medium can be deeply personal, with some clients prefer drawing or painting while others might lean into collage or even digital art to depict their journey.
- Visit various group homes with art supplies to host mixed media classes.
- Group homes cater to various populations, from at-risk youth to adults with disabilities. Mixed media classes can allow residents to explore different forms of expression. These sessions might encourage collaboration or focus on individual projects, depending on the dynamics and needs of the group.
- Assess new clients on their goals, stresses, and preferred art forms.
- Initial assessments are crucial in tailoring the therapeutic approach to each client. Art therapy can be an adjunct or alternative to traditional talk therapy for individuals with mental health disorders. Understanding their goals, stressors, and artistic inclinations allows the therapist to design sessions that resonate best with the client, fostering a therapeutic alliance.
By understanding the unique needs and challenges of each setting, an art therapist can offer tailored interventions and techniques that provide the most therapeutic benefit to their clients.