Art Therapy Ph.D. | Program Guide

Art therapy is a rewarding field that encourages physical, emotional, and mental healing through creative expression. Art therapists work in clinics, nursing homes, schools, and correctional facilities, where they often serve marginalized populations. Art therapists typically need a master's degree to practice. Art therapy Ph.D. programs, which are relatively uncommon, can yield additional careers in teaching and research.

Degree Snapshot
Time to Complete Internship/Practicum Component Can I Become an Art Therapist With This Degree?
3-7 Years Dependent on Program Dependent on Program

Why Get a Ph.D. in Art Therapy?

Art therapists must hold an advanced degree in order to practice, which typically means that students must complete a master's degree in art therapy. Obtaining a Ph.D. in art therapy can lead to many benefits, including national licensure as an art therapist.


Enables You to Research and Innovate the Art Therapy Discipline

By pursuing a doctorate in art therapy, students expand on their ability to administer hands-on care while also conducting empirical studies and drawing conclusions that ultimately transform the field.

Equips You With the Skills to Train Clinical Art Therapists

A doctorate in art therapy provides a level of expertise in the field that prepares students for careers as professors who train future art therapists for clinical work. Doctoral students may also have the opportunity to gain teaching experience through assistantships.

Example Courses in an Art Therapy Ph.D. Program

Art therapy Ph.D. programs consist of courses in research, practice, psychological foundations, and art. Students choose electives to bolster their research interests while honing their skills through core requirements. Students are also often required to complete practicum experiences, integrating academic knowledge with hands-on care in clinical settings, teaching, or research.

To complete an art therapy Ph.D., students must typically write a dissertation. Additional courses may be required in statistics, art therapy research, philosophy, and other disciplines related to the student's individual goals.

  • Inquiry and Research

    This course covers approaches to research in art therapy, including traditional methods and innovative, art-based models. Through inquiry, students critically examine the field of art therapy and conduct research to explore what works, ultimately formulating suggestions for positive improvements and innovations in the field.

  • Philosophy of Art

    Students study historical approaches to art from around the globe, including symbolism and metaphor, social justice and inherent biases, feminist aesthetics, and culturally diverse perspectives. Students apply historical knowledge and draw connections to current research interests and practice.

  • Neurodiversity

    Students examine individual neurological differences through a psychological and neuroscientific lens as they take into account cultural differences. Courses may include the study of evolutionary psychology, neuroaesthetics, and art therapy and the brain.

  • Leadership

    Students learn to set professional goals and engage in reflection in order to determine the best course of action for a particular situation. Depending on a student's career goals, leadership courses may focus on clinical practice, art therapy education, systems thinking, professional development, and socially responsible leadership.

  • Professional Ethics

    This class focuses on professional standards for art therapy, as set forth by organizations such as the American Art Therapy Association. While developing leadership skills, students examine hypothetical ethical challenges they may face during the course of their practice as art therapists.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Art Therapy?

With a Ph.D. in art therapy, students can obtain licensure to practice as art therapists in clinical settings like hospitals, nursing homes, violence shelters, and private practice. Graduates may also teach and conduct research as professors in colleges and universities, where they continue to contribute to the field at large, or seek employment in art studios, schools, and children's agencies.

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

Career Advancement in Art Therapy

Get Licensed

A Ph.D. program in art therapy may equip graduates for licensure as art therapists. Typically, licensing requirements fall under the purview of a master's program, since a master's degree is the minimum requirement to practice as an art therapist.

Specific requirements vary by state, but typically art therapists must secure national licensure from the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB). Depending on the level of licensure they seek, students obtain national certification by graduating with a master's degree, completing 1,000 hours of client-based work, and passing an examination. To maintain licensure, art therapists must also pay an annual fee. Students should research the state where they wish to practice to determine whether the state requires additional certification.

ATCB is the administering body for all national art therapy credentials, of which they offer four:

Provisional Registered Art Therapist

Art therapists qualify for ATR-provisional licensure when they have graduated from an approved master's degree program and are practicing under the supervision of an approved clinical practitioner.

Registered Art Therapist

Art therapists qualify for ATR licensure when they have graduated from an approved master's program and completed 1,000 hours of supervised practice working directly with clients.

Board Certified Art Therapist

ATR-BC is the highest national credential for art therapists, granted to those who hold the ATR and pass the ATBC examination, which validates the candidate's knowledge of art therapy theory and clinical knowledge.

Art Therapy Certified Supervisor

ATCS certification allows art therapists to supervise and train those seeking the ATR. In order to qualify for ATCS certification, art therapists must first hold an ATR-BC license for at least two years.

Join a Professional Organization

By joining a professional organization, art therapy students and graduates can access resources such as online and in-person networking, job opportunities, and professional publications.

  • American Art Therapy Association AATA advocates for the expansion of the field of art therapy through further regulation and recognition as a mental health profession. The organization hosts an annual conference and provides online continuing education.
  • Art Therapy Without Borders ATWB promotes therapeutic art through its international network of students and professionals. The organization provides educational opportunities, collaborative research projects, and up-to-date industry news.
  • International Expressive Arts Therapy Association IEATA is an international network that promotes the use of art as therapy. Members have access to an online directory, bulletin boards with job opportunities, and a members-only newsletter.
  • National Coalition of Creative Arts Therapies Associations NCCATA is a collection of membership organizations that meets annually to strategize on advancement for creative therapy fields, including art therapy. NCCATA advises government offices on policy and promotes public awareness of creative therapy.
  • Art Therapy Alliance The Art Therapy Alliance promotes art therapy through online connections, using social media and other internet tools to connect art therapists. The organization provides a collection of online resources and networking connections for art therapists.
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