Art therapy graduate programs exist at the intersection of the arts and counseling. Students enrolled in these programs study the best use of visual arts, drama or music as treatment strategies within psychotherapy and mental health support. Graduate art therapy classes may cover top appraisal techniques, as well as creative arts therapies, and media to develop a strong foundation in multiple disciplines. This may allow them combine their passion for the arts with a dedication to helping others.
Many best art therapy programs aim to prepare students to meet prerequisites for licensure as professional counselors or registered or board certified art therapists. However, these prerequisites may vary by state—meaning the degree programs themselves may also vary by location.
Art therapy is an integrative counseling discipline that, as its name implies, focuses on the therapeutic use of art. Art therapists use the creative process to explore how people feel or to help resolve personal conflicts. A patient's artwork may be assessed by the art therapist to determine appropriate ways to help them heal, or may be used as part of the treatment plan itself.
Healing, in this context could mean anything from managing behavior patterns like addiction, 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
Earning an art therapy degree, your coursework may touch on everything from creative skills to psychology research and therapy modalities. The goal is to paint a broad, effective picture of how to use visual arts (think drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms) and other
studio art creative processes to help people heal. Expressive arts therapy programs, for example, may instead focus on things like music, performance, and dance.
Overall, art therapy graduate programs focus on art as it applies to mental health therapy. Courses may address how to assess people's work by applying theories and techniques of human development, psychology, and counseling. Classes may also touch on topics such as the science of imagery and the therapeutic aspects of color. Consequently, creative arts therapy graduate schools encourage students to hone a diverse set of knowledge and skills such as listening, thinking critically, and helping others.i
DID YOU KNOW?
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
Most accredited art therapy degree programs at colleges and universities require applicants to submit both a portfolio of artwork and a transcripts reflecting successfully completed courses in relevant areas like studio art and psychology.iv
An undergraduate psychology major, or courses like 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.
Contact individual art therapy graduate programs to learn about specific requirements.
To earn a graduate art therapy degree, students typically must complete a set of core courses alongside electives to support individual interests or an area of specialization. Most accredited graduate art therapy programs devote their curriculum 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, such as the ones listed below.iii
Graduate art therapy degree programs usually include a practicum requirement. This means that you’d need to complete both observation and practice in a role like an art therapist might take on, for course credit. Art therapy students may also need to complete an internship, in which they would 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. For more details about how this works in your selected programs, contact your school.
If you choose to enroll in an art therapy graduate school, you may pursue degrees and certificates at several levels from masters through doctorate. Each degree level may incorporate one or several degree types, approaches to the material, and requirements, including on campus or online art therapy graduate degree programs. Below, we’ve broken down the essentials of what you might find.
Art Therapy Masters Programs are typically designed to help students prepare to earn their Licensed Practicing Counselor and Registered Art Therapy credentials. The most common types of Masters in Art Therapy degrees offered include the Master of Science, and 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.
Earning Masters in Art Therapy degree often requires around 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 may be a requirement for licensure. Individual programs vary, as do licensing requirements, so conduct your own research to ensure you complete all requirements.
PhD in Art Therapy Programs are usually terminal research degrees. They are often designed for current art therapists who are drawn to scholarly pursuits and academic leadership. Earning a doctorate in art therapy may require about 48 credits of required courses, in addition to self-directed studio art work, a dissertation, and a practicum. The practicum may involve 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. Some programs may offer a more clinically-focused program conferring a PsyD or another doctorate degree types. The specific degrees offered and the requirements of each may vary. Contact art therapy schools for details.
Students who already hold a masters degree in art therapy or a related field or higher, but are not currently seeking a doctorate, may instead be interested in art therapy post-masters certificate programs. Typically short, requiring only a few classes to complete, these programs tend to focus on one specific skill, therapy method, or area of research. This may enable current professionals to expand their practice and skill set in a shorter curriculum. Some programs may also offer masters certificates, which are non-degree programs open to those holding applicable bachelors degrees.
The current educational standards for AATA-approved art therapy masters programs were established in 2007, 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.
Students may be able to complete their Masters in Art Therapy degree, the entry level education for registered art therapists, in about two years of full time study. The amount of time required for an art therapy PhD program may vary based on the goals of the program, the prerequisites, and other requirements.
In addition to academics, students may be required to complete about 2000 to 4000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience (internship or residency) in order to qualify for licensure. Also, counselors and therapists must pass a state-recognized exam. However, these requirements vary by state so it may be a good idea to review the requirements that apply to you.ii
A registered Art Therapist (ATR) is a mental health professional who has earned at least:
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 therapists work in a variety of clinical experiences and 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.
Each of these careers may have different educational and licensing requirements. Check with state boards to learn more.
[i] onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1125.01 |[ii] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm | bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/recreational-therapists.htm [iii] arttherapy.org/upload/Overview%20of%20Educational%20Standards.pdf |[iv] bls.gov/careeroutlook/2015/youre-a-what/art-therapist.htm |[v] bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/recreational-therapists.htm