California Art Therapy Masters Degrees

Art Therapy Masters Programs teach students how to combine art and psychology in counseling sessions in order to improve their clients’ physical, mental or emotional well-being. A rather recent field (circa 1940’s), art therapy is considered a mental health profession and requires some specialized counseling techniques along with knowledge of art media.[i]  Art therapists generally use their creativity,  have a desire to help others, strong listening and communication skills as well as a patient disposition and interest in human cognitive behavior. If this sounds like a fit for you, you will need to earn a Master’s in Art Therapy as this is the standard for entry-level professional practice.[ii]

Art Therapy Masters

Art Therapy Masters Programs: Basics

Art Therapy Masters Programs typically involve 2 or 3 years of study beyond the undergraduate degree. The program may build upon a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology or Fine Arts, and prospective students may be asked to submit a portfolio of their artwork along with a transcript of course credits in studio art or psychology. As counseling programs, a Masters in Art Therapy may involve classroom learning and a supervised practicum which involves observation and practice for course credits and an internship which is also supervised and gives students experience working with clients in real time settings[iii].

DID YOU KNOW? According to the American Art Therapy Association, a master’s degree is required for entry level practice in art therapy. The master’s degree is earned at an institution of higher education recognized by regional accreditation bodies approved by the U. S. Department of Education[iv]

Types of Masters Degrees in Art Therapy

Masters in Art Therapy degrees are offered as Master of Arts and Master of Science tracks. Often students continue with their undergraduate degree path (Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science) and admissions to one graduate program over the other may have specific arts or science pre-requisites. Master of Arts in Art Therapy programs may be more research-focused and have a thesis option, whereas Master of Science in Art Therapy programs tend to be oriented towards clinical practice. In choosing a degree, you might also be able to choose between a specifically art therapy degree as opposed to a counseling degree with an art therapy specialization.

FACT: 76% of Art Therapists have a Master’s degree, 24% a Post-Masters Certificate[v]

Inside an Art Therapy Master’s Program

Art Therapy Masters Degrees vary, but at heart their goal is to help the aspiring art therapist work with various clientele and using different creative processes and counseling strategies to facilitate and foster self-awareness, manage anxiety, cope with stress, behavior problems, addictions, and increase self-esteem. To do this, an accredited Art Therapy Master’s program has some educational requirements as set out by the American Art Therapy Association that may include some of the following course topics:[vi]

  • Knowledge & skills in visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpture)
  • Application of theories & techniques of human & creative development
  • Theories of art therapy
  • Counseling and psychotherapy
  • Ethics & standards of practice
  • Assessment & evaluation
  • Individual, group and family art therapy techniques
  • Multicultural issues
  • Research methods
  • Internship experiences in clinical, community and/or other settings

Campus or Online Art Therapy Degree?

In your search to find a graduate school with an accredited Art Therapy Masters program, another thing to start thinking about is whether to attend classes on college campus or look into earning your Masters in Art Therapy Online. The campus is a social learning environment and may offer you the opportunity to meet new people, participate and get hands-on instruction. Not to mention access to onsite facilities (gym, libraries, student services, art studio). If this sounds like your preferred learning format, think about where you would like to attend school and initiate a location search to see what comes up in your designated city, state or country. On the other hand, if you are currently working and want to keep your job while you earn your degree, an online Master’s degree in Art Therapy warrants consideration.

Master’s Degree in Art Therapy: Door to Licensing & Credentials

Essentially, as a regulated field, earning an Art Therapy Master’s degree is one of the prerequisites for professional practice. In some cases, art therapists may be licensed in professional counseling which also requires a Master’s degree in psychology, clinical mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy or a related mental health field, plus post-degree supervised clinical practice and an internship or residency.[vii] In other cases, graduates may pursue various credentials through The Art Therapy Credentials Board Inc. which is the credentialing body for art therapy practitioners; these credentials hinge on getting a solid education from an accredited Art Therapy Master’s Program:

Registered Art Therapist

After completing their Master’s degree in art therapy, some graduates may seek state licensure, which varies by state. In some states, one may need to become Registered Art Therapists (ATR), which involves earning a qualifying master’s education (art therapy core curriculum, supervised practicum and internship experiences) and post-education supervised clinical experience[viii].

Board Certification

Once you are a Registered Art Therapist, you may then apply to become Board Certified (ATR-BC) which is the highest credential that you can earn as an art therapist. This credential not only assures future employers that you have met the challenges of your Art Therapy Master’s degree, but it is also portable from state to state is accredited by the National Commission on Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

Art Therapy Certified Supervisor

A compelling reason to use Art Therapy Masters degree as a platform for continued education, the Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS) is a credential offered to Board Certified Art Therapists who have substantial supervision qualifications and re-certify every 5 years[ix].


Art Therapy Programs may be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Other counseling graduate programs may be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Accreditation is important as it assesses the quality of institutions, their programs and services, and measures them against industry-approved standards.

Take the Next Step

If you enjoy interacting with others, are looking for an occupation that allows you to utilize your artistic talents, powers of analysis and observation, leverage your strengths by looking for Art Therapy Masters Programs and graduate schools. Some of the sponsored program listings could include Master of Science in Art Therapy Counseling, Art Therapy MFT, Master of Arts in Counseling with Mental Health Counseling/Art Therapy Specialization. Several graduate schools may have the same types of degrees, but as each university has unique features, reaching out to them for more information could be useful in finding a match for your ambitions.

sources: [i] org/aata-educational-programs/ |[ii] org/aata-educational-programs/ |[iii] |[iv] org/aata-educational-programs/ |[v][vi] org/aata-educational-programs/ |[vii] org/New_Applicants/Apply_ATCS |[viii] |[ix] |

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