California Art Therapy Graduate Programs

Art therapy degrees exist at the intersection of the arts and counseling. Students enrolled in art therapy graduate programs may develop an understanding of the use of visual arts, drama or music in psychotherapy and mental health support. They often take classes in appraisal techniques, as well as creative media to develop a strong foundation in mulitple disciplines.

Many art therapy programs prepare students to meet licensed professional counselor or registered or board certified art therapist requisites. This may allow them to pursue careers which combine their passion for art with helping others.

Art Therapy Degrees

Art Therapy Degrees

When earning an art therapy degree, students will study how to use multiple visual arts (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms) and other creative processes to help people heal. Art therapy graduate programs help students learn to assess people's work through the application of theories and techniques of human development, psychology, and counseling. Classes may touch on topics such as the science of imagery and the therapeutic aspects of color. Consequently, learning the practice of art therapy requires a mix of knowledge and skills such as how to listen, how to have an orientation to help others, and how to think critically.i

What Is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is an integrative counseling discipline that focuses on the therapeutic use of art. The creative process is used to explore how people feel or resolve personal conflicts. A patient's artwork  is assessed by the art therapist so they can determine appropriate ways to help them heal. Healing could mean anything from managing (addictive) behavior patterns, reducing anxiety, increasing self-esteem, and developing interpersonal skills or insight. Per the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), a Masters degree in Art Therapy is required for entry-level practice in art therapy.i


Art and art making are inherently perceptually and sensory based and involve the brain and the body in ways that verbal language does not.iii

Applying to Art Therapy Graduate Programs

Most accredited art therapy degree programs at colleges and universities require applicants to submit a portfolio of artwork and a transcript of graduate or undergraduate course credits in studio art and psychology.iv To that end, courses such as Introduction to Psychology, Abnormal Psychology Personality Theories, and Developmental Psychology may be preferred. Other material that art therapy graduate programs may ask for could include the items below.

  • Undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution (a bachelors in Psychology or in a specified fine art may be required)
  • Masters degree, post masters clinical experience, research (PhD in Art Therapy)
  • Letters of reference
  • Written statement of purpose or essay
  • Minimum GPA determined by school
  • Personal interview

Contact individual art therapy graduate programs to learn about specific requirements. 

Art Therapy Degree Requirements

To earn an art therapy degree, students typically must complete a set of core courses. They may then be able to select a few electives to support individual interests. Most accredited graduate art therapy programs devote their course of study to theories of art therapy, counseling, and psychotherapy. While each art therapy school may have a distinct point of view, some common themes stand out.iii

  • Ethics and standards of practice
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Individual, group, and family art therapy techniques
  • Human and creative development
  • Multicultural counseling
  • Research methods

Art Therapy Practicum

Graduate art therapy degree programs usually include a practicum. This means observation and practice for course credit. Art therapy students may also need to complete an internship, in which they gain supervised experience under a current art therapist as they work with clients or patients. ii These experiences may take place in clinical, community, and/or other settings.

Art Therapy Masters Programs

Art Therapy Masters programs are typically designed to help students prepare to earn their Licensed Practicing Counselor and Registered Art Therapy credentials. Masters in Art Therapy degrees may be offered as a Master of Science or Master of Arts in Counseling with a concentration in Art Therapy. This may mean that core courses focus on counseling, while student pursue an art therapy concentration through designated courses for that track.

To earn a Masters in Art Therapy degree, students may need to complete about 60 credits, although this varies. Credits may be allotted to a sequence of core topics in mental health counseling theories along with biopsychology, interview techniques, psychopathology, and ethics. Students earning their Masters in Art Therapy may then take more focused courses such as art-based assessment and art therapy counseling methods. Some graduate programs in art therapy might also spotlight the student’s own personal growth and may offer more courses in the use of visual arts and artistic processes.

Practicums and internships are often important components of Art Therapy Masters programs, as clinical experience be required to prepare for licensure. Programs vary, as do licensing requirements, so conduct your own research to ensure you complete all requirements.

Art Therapy PhD Programs

PhD in Art Therapy programs are terminal, research degrees. They are often designed for current art therapists who are drawn to scholarly pursuits and academic leadership. Students may be required to complete about 48 credits of required courses, self-directed studio art work, a dissertation, and a practicum. This practicum may be in either teaching, research, clinical supervision, or advanced clinical practice.

Most PhD Art Therapy programs require applicants to hold a masters degree, though not always in Art Therapy. Experience in psychology, counseling, social work or art may also be required. Contact art therapy schools for details.

Find Accredited Art Therapy Graduate Programs

The current educational standards for AATA approved art therapy masters programs were established in 2007 and were overseen by the Educational Programs Approval Board (EPAB). This is in transition although the course of study requisites is still in place. In 2017, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accreditation Council for Art Therapy Education (ACATE)  began cooperating with the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) to establish, maintain and promote appropriate standards of quality for Art Therapy degrees and programs. Also, some programs may be accredited by the Council for Accreditation and Related Educational Program (CACREP). Since state laws vary, it is good practice to check with a state license board to see whether your program meets their approval for licensure.

How Long to Earn an Art Therapy Degree?

Full time students may take about two years to complete their Masters in Art Therapy degree, the entry level education for registered art therapists. In addition, while licensure requirements vary by state, students may be required to complete about 2000 to 4000 hours of post degree supervised clinical experience (internship or residency). Also, counselors and therapists must pass a state-recognized exam.ii

What Is an Art Therapist?

A registered Art Therapist (ATR) is a mental health professional who has earned at least a Masters in Art Therapy degree from an accredited program. And, has completed post-graduate clinical hours under the direct supervision of a credentialed art-therapist. Masters in art therapy graduates might then work toward Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC) stature. This is the highest credential in art therapy, and may be awarded after a successful completion of the national examination.

Art Therapy Career Outlook

Art therapists work in a variety of locations – hospitals, rehab facilities, wellness centers, forensic institutions, schools, crisis centers, and private practice are among them.iii Per the BLS, there are two categories that art therapists might belong to. The first is ‘recreational therapists’ and the second is ‘mental health counselors’.

  • On both fronts, employment is projected to grow from 2014 to 2024: 12 percent for Recreational Therapistsv and 20 percent for Mental Health Counselors ii
  • In May 2015, the median annual wage for Recreational Therapists was $45,890 and for Mental Health Counselors was $41,880 ii

Each of these careers may have different educational and licensinig requirements. Check with state boards to learn more.

Search Art Therapy Degrees

Combine your creativity with solid counselor skills. Look through programs to find an Art Therapy degree that aligns with your goals. You can use the menus to search for Masters in Art Therapy or PhD Art Therapy Degrees. You can also refine your search results to find art therapy graduate programs in a specific city, state or country. Or, earn your Art Therapy degree online to help you juggle study with work and lifestyle.

When you find a program you like, follow the link. All you do is send a form with the on-page button to reach the schools on your list – it is easy and efficient! Take that next step now.

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