Master's in Art Therapy Program Guide

Art therapy involves painting, coloring, collage, sculpting, and other creative techniques to facilitate patient expression and psychological evaluation. Art therapy can help individuals cope with stress, conflict, or trauma. It can also ameliorate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other personal struggles. Credentialed art therapists know how to analyze symbols and images to understand an individual's emotions and behavior to help them resolve deeper issues. Continue reading for an overview of educational requirements and other resources for those considering a career in art therapy.

Degree Snapshot
Time to Complete Internship/Practicum Component Can I Become an Art Therapist With This Degree?
2-3 Years

Why Get a Master's Degree in Art Therapy?

A master's degree is typically required for entry-level positions in the art therapy field. Master's programs train students in areas of psychological development, art therapy assessment, diagnosis, research methods, and cultural competence while also emphasizing supervised or hands-on experience.

Allows You To Become a Licensed Art Therapist

Obtaining a master's degree fulfills the educational requirements as delineated by the national Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc. (ATCB) to become a board-certified art therapist. Some states may require additional licensure.

Increases Your Salary Potential

From an employer's perspective, a master's degree in art therapy signifies a level of expertise and training above those with a bachelor's or a graduate degree in another field. Individuals with a specialized degree stand out from other applicants and position themselves for higher salaries.

Develops Your Artistic Skills

In addition to providing training in psychological theory and therapeutic techniques, art therapy master's programs also impart knowledge of artistic techniques. Individuals with a passion for art can still develop their craft through studio or practicum components.

Example Courses in an Art Therapy Master's Program

Art therapy master's programs cover mental health and counseling theory in combination with practice in artistic techniques and diagnosis. Most curricula involve a set of core classes emphasizing psychology and studio art, including painting, drawing, and sculpting. Curricula also involve 100 hours of supervised practicum, 600 hours of supervised clinical internship, and a thesis or capstone project. Students may select electives according to their own specific interests within counseling, such as trauma or substance abuse. Students complete these internships in a variety of social services and healthcare settings, including residential care facilities, hospitals, psychiatric facilities, drug treatment centers, and correctional facilities. The thesis consists of a long essay on a relevant field topic.

  • Theory and Practice of Group Art Therapy

    This course introduces students to topics of group development and dynamics, therapeutic factors, the integration of art materials, and leadership skills. Students learn how to facilitate group art therapy sessions with different populations and navigate interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics. They explore the distinct nature of conducting art therapy in groups rather than individually.

  • Introduction to Addictive Disorders

    Students in this course examine the principles of addiction counseling and various addictive disorders. Students explore current research on substance abuse and consider how an individual's social context can affect addiction and recovery. Degree-seekers learn about the pharmacological, physiological, and psychological effects of drug abuse and the treatment methods specific to addictions counseling.

  • Research Methods in Art Therapy

    This course covers approaches to research design, data collection, and data analysis relevant to the art therapy field. Students learn the essentials of quantitative methods, qualitative methods, and mixed methods approaches. The course also explores ethical concerns in research, research protocols, and cultural and community considerations.

  • Art-Based Assessment

    In this course, students gain the skills to identify emotional or psychological issues through artistic expression, holistic assessment, and metaphor analysis. Students learn diagnosis techniques and research concerning the connection between non-verbal communication and psychosocial issues.

  • Art Therapy Intervention in Grief, Loss, and Bereavement

    This course covers intervention models for crisis and loss and trains students on how to address mental health needs that arise from traumatic events. Students learn to design intervention and treatment goals using art-making directives and help those experiencing loss.

Internship Component

Many art therapy master's programs incorporate internship, practicum, or clinical requirements. Through this type of experiential learning, students gain hands-on experience in art therapy practice and interact with patients under the supervision of a licensed art therapist and counselor. Most programs require at least 700 hours of clinical work in settings such as mental health facilities, community-oriented nonprofits, schools, or correctional facilities. In addition to obtaining professional experience in the field before graduation, students also receive mentorship and guidance from an experienced practitioner in the field. This prepares students for their licensing exam and future jobs.

Accreditation

Accreditation ensures that the education students receive meets a certain quality standard as designated by regional and national accreditation agencies. Regional accreditation is typically considered more rigorous and widely accepted. Students can more easily transfer credits from regionally accredited institutions. National accrediting bodies also hold institutions to a minimum standard and often specialize in vocational or professional degrees. The main accreditation bodies for art therapy programs include the American Art Therapy Association and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Art Therapy?

A master's degree in art therapy prepares students to work as licensed art therapists. Most accredited art therapy programs fulfill the education requirements necessary for students to seek board certification. A credentialed art therapist may find work in multiple industries since mental health practices can benefit all types of institutions. Art therapists work with many different clients, including students, cancer patients, and individuals with physical and mental disabilities.

Learn More About What You Can Do With an Art Therapy Degree

Career Advancement in Art Therapy

Get Licensed

To become a licensed art therapist, individuals must obtain a graduate degree in art therapy, complete postgraduate supervised hours, and pass a national exam administered by the ATCB. In addition to national credentials, some states also regulate professional art therapy practice with specific licenses. Students should determine if they must obtain state licensure as well. The ATCB offers four types of national professional credentials to art therapy practitioners. See the table below for more information on each.

To maintain one's status as a board-certified art therapist, professionals must adhere to the ATCB code of ethics and disciplinary procedures, pay the annual maintenance fee, complete an annual renewal process, and apply for recertification every five years. Individuals can get recertified by either re-taking the ATCB exam or completing continuing education credits.

Professional Credentials for Art Therapists
Credential Description Requirements
Provisional Registered Art Therapist (ATR-Provisional) This temporary licensure exists for individuals who have recently completed their degree and are currently engaged in a supervised internship experience.
  • Complete educational requirements as specified by the ATCB
  • Have a qualified supervisor for postgraduate art therapy experience
Registered Art Therapist (ATR) This designation is for those who have completed a graduate-level program in art therapy and postgraduate supervised experience.
  • Complete at least a master's program in art therapy
  • Complete supervised postgraduate art therapy experience as specified by the ATCB
Board-Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC) The ATR-BC is one of the highest credentials an art therapist can hold. In addition to completing all requirements for the ATR, board certification includes passing a national exam.
  • Pass a national examination on the theories and clinical skills used in art therapy
Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS) This designation is for experienced board-certified art therapists who have the training to work as a clinical supervisor in art therapy.
  • Receive clinical supervision training through continuing education or sufficient work experience

Source: ATCB

Pursue a Doctorate Program in Art Therapy

After graduating from a master's in art therapy program, students may consider continuing their education and pursuing a doctorate in the same field. Through a Ph.D. program, students conduct their own advanced research projects and write a dissertation. Art therapists with a Ph.D. are qualified for careers in academia, clinical counseling and supervision, research positions, and managerial or executive positions at various organizations.

Join a Professional Organization

Professional organizations provide budding art therapists with career services, national conferences, workshops and seminars, continuing education and certification, cutting-edge research publications, and a network of other professionals in the same field.

  • American Art Therapy Association The AATA is a nonprofit professional organization dedicated to the growth and advancement of the art therapy profession. The organization offers an advocacy center, publishes a peer-reviewed research journal, hosts an annual conference, and provides continuing education opportunities.
  • International Expressive Arts Therapy Association The IEATA is a nonprofit professional organization for art therapists, educators, artists, consultants, and other professionals leveraging art-directed processes for personal growth and communication.
  • National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations, Inc. The NCCATA consists of an alliance of professional associations related to the creative arts therapies. The association provides conferences, research, and resources for jobs and grants.
  • Art Therapy Alliance This online community connects art therapy professionals, promotes their work, and garners publicity for the profession.
  • Art Therapy Without Borders, Inc. This nonprofit professional organization promotes and develops international art therapy initiatives. The group offers a variety of ongoing projects and organizational partners.
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