Art Therapy Degree & Certification Programs Online

What is a Graduate Art Therapy Program?

Earning a graduate art therapy degree online may bring counseling together with visual arts practices. The overall objective of art therapy is to help people manage behavior, anxiety, stress, and conflict through making art. Online graduate programs aim to build the skills and knowledge one might need to achieve this goal.

Art therapy courses online may discuss the different ways art and other creative skills could be used in therapeutic intervention, and how a therapist may guide patients through a creative process. They may also examine how the often nonverbal process of creating artwork could be used to assess patients and develop a treatment plan.

Online art therapy graduate programs may offer masters, doctorate, and graduate certificate programs, and may allow students to focus on specific types of creative expression.

Art Therapy Grad Degrees Online

What to Expect in Graduate Art Therapy Online Programs

Earning your Graduate Art Therapy Degree online could bring a valuable element of convenience to your education. Online art therapy programs deliver courses, library services, advisement, and other resources online, often with flexible daily or weekly scheduling, making it possible for you to fit your education into your life—or into the demands of your professional therapy practice, if you’re already working in the field.

Online Art Therapy programs that are approved by the AATA may take anywhere from 18 months to 3 and a half years to complete, depending on the degree level and individual program requirements. This generally translates to about 48 to 60 semester credits.

Some of the experiences you might find in online art therapy graduate programs are described in the sections below.


76% of Art Psychotherapists and Art Therapist/LPC have a masters degree, while 24% report they earned a post masters certificate.i

Example Online Art Therapy Courses

While pursuing a graduate art therapy degree online, students may be able to attend up to 100% of their courses digitally. Often, courses materials are accessible through the internet browser on the student’s own computer or internet-enabled device. In many cases, the schedule is also flexible, meaning students could log in when and where it is convenient for them to complete their coursework every week.

Program standards are usually established by the Educational Program Approval Board (EPAB) of the American Art Therapy Association.

The list below is a sample of course topics you may find in many online art therapy graduate programs.ii

  • Art therapy history and theories
  • Counseling methods
  • Psychotherapy
  • Ethics, standards of professional practice
  • Assessment, evaluation
  • Treatment methods
  • Individual, group, and family art therapy techniques
  • Human and creative development
  • Multicultural issues
  • Research methods in art therapy

Aside from courses and a masters project or thesis, students may have to take comprehensive examinations. It is best to check with a future school to see what their procedure is for online students. That said, you may have access to plenty of online resources such as libraries with databases, an academic advisor, and a tutor.

Earning an Art Therapy Degree Online: Potential In-Person Requirements

Even if you’re attending a fully online art therapy graduate program, you still may be expected to complete some of the requirements in person.

For example, many online programs include for-credit internship experiences to be completed in clinical, community, and private practice settings. One reason online art therapy graduate programs include field experience is that it often helps to satisfy some licensure prerequisites. Because an internship might require about 600 hours of on-site experience, students should check with prospective schools to see how to meet those requirements ahead of time.

Some programs may choose to evaluate student progress for important therapy skills in person. As a result, you may be required to visit campus for brief periods each semester or year to complete these evaluations.

You may also be able to attend on-campus group art workshops or professional seminars as an online student. In addition to honing important skills, this could be a valuable chance to interact with faculty and peers face to face.

Online Art Therapy Degree Requirements

While different online colleges for art therapy may have unique graduate admission requirements, several basic elements are common. For example, most programs ask students to provide their official bachelors or masters transcripts, usually from a regionally accredited institution of higher education. Some programs may even specify that students must hold a certain degree or have completed specific coursework. Graduate programs may also specify a minimum GPA required for consideration. Other common application elements include:

  • Reference letters
  • A writing sample – for instance, why applicant chose to earn an art therapy counseling degree
  • A link to an online portfolio of the applicant’s art work
  • Psychology credits at the graduate or undergraduate level (e.g. Introduction to Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Personality Theories, and Developmental Psychology)
  • Studio arts credits at the graduate or undergraduate level
  • Personal interview

Types of Online Art Therapy Programs

If you’re interested in studying art therapy online, you may consider online art therapy masters, doctorate, and post-masters certificate programs. Each program may offer a range of options for specialization, or may focus on different aspects of the art therapy profession. As with any choice related to your education, it helps to have a clear sense of what you hope to do with your degree. Furthermore, state boards and license requirements do vary, so keep abreast of these issues to make sure you are prepared.

Online Masters in Art Therapy Programs

Several different types of online art therapy masters degrees may be offered. Each degree type may focus on building different types of skills, on different therapy models, or even supporting different career paths. Below are two example paths of study you might consider.

  • An online Master of Arts in Counseling in Art Therapy may help students to satisfy the education requirements to sit for licensure exams to qualify as an art therapist or licensed professional counselor. This type of program combine elements of counseling, art therapy education, and research with clinical and community service. As a result, students may develop clinical assessment and treatment skills as they take courses in visual arts practices.
  • The online Master of Arts in Counseling – Clinical Mental Health with a Post Masters Certificate in Art Therapy may prepare students to work as clinical mental health counselors with an emphasis on art therapy practices. Graduates of this type of program may meet the educational requisites for registration as art therapists and may also be eligible for state licensure as a professional counselor.

Online Post Masters Certificate in Art Therapy

An Online Post Masters Certificate in Art Therapy may provide current mental health counselors specific art therapy techniques to help them apply for their Registered Art Therapy (ATR) status. This type of program may have fewer courses than a full degree but may still target art therapy practice, theory, assessment, ethics, and professional functions.

Online PhD in Art Therapy

Online PhD in Art Therapy programs provide art therapists the chance to contribute to their field through quality research. Some PhD Art Therapy programs may entail about 48 credits, a practicum, and a dissertation. The requirements may include interdisciplinary courses, research methods, artistic knowledge, and practical application.

Where Are Art Therapists Employed?

Art therapists may be employed in a variety of settings. These could include hospitals, psychiatric and rehabilitation facilities, wellness centers, forensic institutions, schools, crisis centers, senior communities, private practices, and other environments.ii

In addition, many mental health counselors are employed by state and local government. Per the BLS, the May 2015 median annual salary for mental health counselors in state and local government (excluding hospitals and education) was $51,380.iii

Top States for Employment: Recreational Therapists
StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
New York1,350$50,480

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Salary Metro Areas in the United States: Recreational Therapists
Metro AreaAnnual Mean SalaryEmployment
Stockton-Lodi, CA$79,72060
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA$75,08080
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA$75,04070
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA$72,670150
Napa, CA$72,61090

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Accredited Art Therapy Programs Online

Approved and accredited art therapy programs may be offered by regionally accredited institutions. Also, an online art therapy program itself may have either approval by the AATA (American Art Therapy Association) at the program level as well.

Several programmatic accreditors for art therapy degree online programs are the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASSAD) Commission on Accreditation, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), and, as of 2017, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

[i] | [ii] | [iii]

Top 7 Online Graduate Schools with Art Therapy Graduate Programs

  • Offering two quality, competency-based online learning formats: FlexPath & GuidedPath
  • Online degrees in business, counseling, education, health administration, human services, information technology, nursing, public health, psychology and social work.
  • 97% of alumni agree FlexPath provided the flexibility they needed to pursue their degree (Alumni Outcomes Survey 2017)
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