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What Education Is Needed To Become An Art Therapist

Art therapy is a fascinating field that combines the power of creativity with the healing process. If you have a passion for art and a desire to help others, becoming an art therapist might be the perfect career path for you. However, you may be wondering what education is required to pursue this rewarding profession. In this article, we will explore the various educational requirements and steps you need to take to become an art therapist.

Art therapy is a specialized field that requires a solid foundation in both art and psychology. While there are different paths you can take to become an art therapist, most professionals in this field hold a master’s degree in art therapy or a related field. This advanced degree not only provides you with the necessary knowledge and skills but also allows you to gain hands-on experience through internships and supervised clinical work.

Art Therapy

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Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology or Art

Prior to pursuing a master’s degree in art therapy, it is generally recommended to obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology, art, or a related field. This undergraduate education will provide you with a solid foundation in the fundamental principles of psychology and art, which are essential for understanding the therapeutic aspects of art therapy.


A bachelor’s degree in psychology provides a comprehensive understanding of human behavior, mental processes, and the various theories and approaches used in counseling and therapy. This coursework will help you develop a strong foundation in the psychological principles that underpin art therapy. You will study topics such as developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, counseling techniques, and the ethics of therapeutic practice.


A bachelor’s degree in art allows you to develop your artistic skills and gain a deep understanding of different art forms, techniques, and styles. This knowledge is essential as an art therapist, as you will be using various art materials and techniques to facilitate self-expression and promote healing. You will study courses such as drawing, painting, sculpture, art history, and art theory, which will provide you with a solid foundation in both traditional and contemporary art practices.

Bachelor'S Degree

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Graduate Degree in Art Therapy

After completing your bachelor’s degree, the next step is to pursue a graduate degree in art therapy. This advanced degree provides you with specialized training in therapeutic techniques, ethical practices, and research methodologies specific to the field of art therapy. Many universities offer master’s programs in art therapy, which typically require a combination of coursework, practical experience, and a thesis or capstone project.

Master’s Degree Programs

Master’s degree programs in art therapy are designed to provide you with in-depth knowledge and skills necessary to practice as an art therapist. These programs typically span two to three years and include coursework in art therapy theory and practice, human development, psychopathology, assessment and diagnosis, counseling techniques, group therapy, and research methods. You will also have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through internships and supervised clinical work.

Thesis or Capstone Project

As part of your master’s degree program, you will likely be required to complete a thesis or capstone project. This project allows you to conduct research and contribute to the field of art therapy. You will work closely with faculty advisors to develop a research question, conduct a literature review, collect data, and analyze your findings. The thesis or capstone project is a valuable opportunity to deepen your understanding of art therapy and make a meaningful contribution to the field.

Graduate Degree

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Clinical Experience and Internships

In addition to the academic coursework, gaining hands-on clinical experience through internships is a crucial component of becoming an art therapist. These internships provide you with the opportunity to work directly with clients under the supervision of licensed professionals. This practical experience helps you develop the necessary skills and confidence to effectively apply art therapy techniques in a therapeutic setting.

Internship Placement

During your graduate program, you will typically have the opportunity to choose an internship placement that aligns with your career goals and interests. Internship placements can be in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, rehabilitation centers, or community organizations. This hands-on experience allows you to observe and participate in art therapy sessions, develop your counseling and assessment skills, and gain an understanding of the practical considerations involved in working as an art therapist.

Supervision and Mentorship

Throughout your internship, you will work under the supervision of licensed art therapists or other mental health professionals. These supervisors will provide guidance, feedback, and support as you navigate the challenges and complexities of working with clients. They will help you apply theoretical knowledge to real-life situations, ensure ethical practice, and assist you in developing your clinical skills. Supervision and mentorship are invaluable in shaping you into a competent and compassionate art therapist.

Clinical Experience

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Licensure and Certification

Once you have completed your graduate degree and gained the required clinical experience, the next step is to obtain licensure and certification as an art therapist. The specific licensure requirements vary by state, so it is important to research the regulations in the state where you plan to practice. Additionally, becoming a registered art therapist (ATR) through the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) can enhance your professional credibility and open up more career opportunities.

Licensure Requirements

Licensure requirements for art therapists vary by state, but they typically include the completion of a master’s degree in art therapy or a related field, a specified number of supervised clinical hours, and passing a licensure examination. Some states also require applicants to have a certain number of years of post-graduate experience. It is important to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements of the state where you plan to practice and ensure you meet all the criteria before applying for licensure.

Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB)

The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) offers voluntary registration as an art therapist through the Registered Art Therapist (ATR) designation. While registration is not a requirement for practice, it demonstrates your commitment to professional standards and ethics. To become a registered art therapist, you must meet specific educational and clinical experience requirements, pass the ATCB examination, and adhere to the ATCB Code of Professional Practice. Registration as an ATR can enhance your professional credibility and may be preferred by employers and clients.

Art Therapy Certification

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Continuing Education and Professional Development

As with many professions, art therapy requires ongoing learning and professional development to stay current with the latest research, techniques, and ethical standards. Participating in workshops, conferences, and continuing education courses can help you expand your knowledge base and enhance your skills as an art therapist.

Workshops and Conferences

Attending workshops and conferences related to art therapy allows you to learn from experts in the field, gain exposure to new approaches and techniques, and network with other art therapists. These events often feature presentations, hands-on workshops, and panel discussions on a wide range of topics, such as trauma-informed art therapy, multicultural perspectives in art therapy, and the use of technology in therapeutic practice. Staying connected with the art therapy community through these events can inspire you and keep you engaged in your professional growth.

Continuing Education Courses

Continuing education courses provide opportunities for specialized training and skill development in specific areas of art therapy. These courses can be taken online or in-person and cover topics such as art therapy with children, art therapy in substance abuse treatment, art therapy assessment tools, and advanced therapeutic techniques. Engaging in continuing education allows you to deepen your knowledge in areas of interest and stay current with the evolving field of art therapy.

Professional Development

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Specializations in Art Therapy

Art therapy

Specializations in Art Therapy

Art therapy encompasses a wide range of specializations, allowing you to focus on specific populations or treatment approaches. Some common specializations in art therapy include working with children, adolescents, veterans, individuals with mental health disorders, and those experiencing trauma. Depending on your interests, you may choose to pursue additional certifications or specialized training in these areas.

Working with Children and Adolescents

Specializing in art therapy for children and adolescents involves understanding the unique developmental needs and challenges faced by this population. You will learn techniques to engage children in the therapeutic process, create a safe and nurturing environment, and adapt art interventions to their developmental stages. This specialization can be applied in schools, pediatric hospitals, and mental health clinics, helping children and adolescents express themselves, cope with emotions, and develop healthy coping strategies through art.

Art Therapy in Trauma Recovery

Art therapy can be a powerful tool in supporting individuals who have experienced trauma. Specializing in trauma recovery involves understanding the neurobiology of trauma, creating a safe space for clients to explore their experiences, and utilizing art interventions to facilitate healing and resilience. This specialization can be applied in settings such as domestic violence shelters, refugee centers, and trauma-focused therapy programs, helping individuals process their trauma, reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and regain a sense of empowerment and control.

Art Therapy with Veterans

Working with veterans requires an understanding of the unique challenges faced by those who have served in the military. Specializing in art therapy for veterans involves addressing issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and the adjustment to civilian life. Art therapy can provide a nonverbal and creative outlet for veterans to express their experiences, manage symptoms, and reconnect with their sense of identity and purpose. This specialization can be applied in veterans’ hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and community-based programs.