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Obtaining Your Art Therapy Degree

art-therapy-degreeArt Therapy DegreeĀ Art therapy is a combination of art and psychotherapy. It is a form of psychology that involves using art as a medium for therapy or incorporating art into an existing mental health program. People who specialize in this field use art to help their patients resolve a variety of issues such as reconciling emotional conflicts, self-improvement, stress reduction, and managing mental or physical disabilities.

Brief History of Art Therapy

Arising around the mid-20th century, art therapy has its roots in art education and developmental psychology. The first person to use the term “art therapy” in the UK to describe the therapeutic uses of art was Adrian Hill. He personally experienced the benefits of painting and drawing after he was stricken with tuberculosis. Hill began working with other patients recovering from the disease in the tuberculosis sanatorium he was being treated in.

In America around the same time period, the first person to describe this practice was a psychologist named Margaret Naumburg. She applied the term to her work which focused on using art as a means of “releasing the unconscious”. She based the practice on psychoanalytic theory where art becomes a form of symbolic speech that patients use to communicate what they are feeling and thinking to therapists.

Career Entry Requirements

To become an art therapist, you must obtain a master’s degree. In most states you must also be licensed as a mental health professional, art therapist, or creative arts therapist to practice in the field. Other states may require board certification in addition to or in lieu of licensing. In either case, a master’s degree is the minimum accepted education for getting into the field.

Art Degree Information

Obtaining a degree in art therapy begins with undergraduate work. To enter an art therapy master’s degree program, most schools require prospective students to obtain a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as counseling, art education, or psychology. Depending on the school, you may also be required to complete a certain number of hours in an art studio and show proficiency in painting, drawing, sculpting, or other artistic disciplines. Other entry requirements can include:

  • Completion of a certain numbers of hours in a psychology discipline
  • Letters of recommendation from professors
  • A personal mission statement or essay
  • Portfolio of art projects
  • Interview with admissions staff
  • Relevant test scores

Some schools may waive the bachelor’s degree requirement in certain situations. For example, there are some art therapy colleges that combine the bachelor’s and master’s degree into one program, which allows the student to earn both at the same time. Other schools may take a student’s life and work experience into account. If a student has worked in a mental health facility, for instance, that experience may be used in lieu of formal education as long as the student has completed a few courses in psychology or art.

Example Curriculum

An art therapist is a combination of a teacher and a psychiatrist. Not only must you teach patients how to use art to express their innermost thoughts and feelings, you must be able to interpret their artwork and use that knowledge to help them work through their issues. Some of the classes you may take to obtain your degree include:

  • The History and Theory of Art
  • Counseling
  • Studio and Technique
  • Art Therapy with Adolescents
  • Psychopathology, Art and Diagnosis
  • Research Methods
  • Positive Psychology

The exact classes required will depend on the college major. There are specializations within art therapy, such as special education or rehabilitation, which may require you to complete additional coursework. The most important thing about your degree is that you obtain it from a program that has been accredited by the Educational Program Approval Board (EPAB) of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA).

The AATA sets the educational standards for the industry. Employers are more likely to hire people who have graduated from AATA accredited programs because the certification provides some assurance that new employees have obtained the knowledge and skills needed to do the job properly. Accreditation also ensures that you, the student, will receive the education you need to be an effective art therapist and obtain the appropriate licensing and/or credential.

A list of EPAB-approved schools can be found on the AATA website. However, you can also get information about a program’s accreditation by simply visiting the college’s websites or asking the school administration.

Tuition Cost

The cost of an art therapy degree varies greatly depending on the school you attend. In general, private colleges and universities are more expensive than public ones. The size of the school may also affect the price as well as the school’s reputation. For example, Ivy League schools tend to be prohibitively expensive.

You can expect to pay anywhere between $400 and $1,000 per credit and most programs require the student to complete 50 to 60 credits to receive their master’s degree. People who have a permanent residency in the school’s state may pay less versus out-of-state students. Financial aid may be available to help struggling students pay their tuition. Additionally, graduate students may be eligible for scholarships and assistantships. Some employers may pay for tuition if the classes pertain to the student’s line of work. If you are currently employed, it couldn’t hurt to talk to your human resources department about tuition reimbursement.

After Graduation

Most people get jobs in the field after graduation. In fact, an art therapist is typically required to complete up to 1,000 hours of hands-on experience in their chosen specialty as part of their licensing or credential requirements. Luckily, there are a number of places where you can find employment as an art therapist including hospitals, mental health facilities, and private practices. Completing an internship or externship while in school is an excellent way to obtain relevant experience in the field.

Many graduates, however, continue their education by pursuing doctoral degrees. Some careers, such as teaching, require applicants to have these advanced degrees in addition to work experience. Obtaining a doctoral or Ph.D. in art therapy typically requires completing the requisite coursework as well as either getting published in industry journals, completing a real-world project in the area of specialization, working in the community, or a combination of all of the above. However, it is usually worth pursuing the advanced degree because obtaining this level of education often opens doors to better job opportunities and more money.

Art therapy can be a rewarding career option for creative people who love helping others solve their problems. Take a moment to research this line of work to see if it is a good fit for you.