Home » Art Therapy » Graduate Programs for Art Therapy

Graduate Programs for Art Therapy

People who pursue an art therapy degree receive the best of both worlds. In addition to training in various forms of art, students are taught a variety of counseling skills they can use to help other people utilize art to resolve psychological issues. There are two ways to obtain training as an art therapist. You can pursue an art therapy graduate degree as many people do. Another option is to obtain a degree in psychology or psychiatry and take additional coursework in art therapy. In either case, the minimum education required to obtain employment as an art therapist is a master’s degree.

Types of Programs

Some colleges offer certificates in art therapy. These are typically for students who already possess a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related field and want to take these classes so they can advance to the next level of education or earn their necessary credentials. For example, someone who gets a master’s degree in psychology may go this route to earn the education required to obtain a license or credential.

There are a handful of schools that offer bachelor’s degrees in art therapy. As noted before, however, you must have a master’s degree to practice in the field. This level of education, therefore, should be looked at as only a stepping stone to the next one which is the art therapy master’s degree.

Depending on the school, you’ll be awarded either a Master of Science or Master of Arts after completing the program. The difference is often negligible as the programs are typically designed so that students are well prepared to obtain licensing or credentialing for entering the field. However Master of Arts programs typically provide a general liberal arts education while Master of Science programs focus more on scientific or technical proficiency.

Those who are interested in pursuing additional education in the field can continue on to earn a Ph.D. or doctorate in art therapy. This level of education is often required for people who want to teach in the field. However, this advanced degree may be required for career advancement. For instance, a person wanting to become a director of a department or institution may need to complete this level of education to become eligible for the job.

All of these programs can be found at public and private colleges and universities. Additionally, a select few offer online courses that can assist students in their pursuit of an art therapy degree.

Admission Requirements

Each school is different, so the entry requirements will vary. However, one thing that will be the same amongst all of them is that you will be required to have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Most schools prefer that your undergraduate degree be in a related field such as counseling, art, or psychology. However, some will make an exception as long as you have taken a few courses in art or psychology.

Other things that may be required for admission includes:

  • Minimum GPA (usually 2.0 or higher)
  • Portfolio of artwork
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Mission statement or personal essay
  • Interview with school administrators
  • TOEFL scores for students whose native language is not English
  • Transcripts of undergraduate coursework
  • Standardized test scores (typically the GRE)

Most graduate schools want well-rounded students who have proven through their schoolwork, grades, and extracurricular activities that they will be an asset to the college and the community. It is best to consult with an academic advisor as early as possible in your studies to make sure you are on the right track.

Credits and Classes

The average art therapy graduate program requires students to complete 50 to 60 credits. A sample of classes you may be required to complete includes:

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

In addition to psychology and counseling courses, students will be required to complete art courses that assist them with improving their own skills. The exact classes, of course, will depend on the school and program you enter.

Accreditation and Art Therapy

No matter which graduate program you enroll in, it is critical that the degree is accredited by the Educational Program Approval Board (EPAB) of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). As the organization that sets the educational standards for the industry, it goes without saying that employers will only employ students who have graduated from programs with the AATA’s seal of approval. An art therapist can have a significant impact (positive or negative) on a patient’s mental health. Employers want to make sure they get people who know what they are doing and adhere to industry standards.

A list of accredited programs can be found on the AATA’s website. Alternatively, you can contact schools directly for information about their programs’ accreditation.


For reasons largely related to budget cuts, there aren’t many public schools that offer art therapy graduate degrees. This means you are more likely to go to a private school, and private colleges and universities are generally more expensive than public ones. Graduate tuition for an art therapy degree ranges between $400 and $1,000 per credit depending on the student’s residency. This means you can expect to pay anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 for your graduate degree.

Don’t be discouraged if those figures seem too high. There are a number of resources available that can help you pay for tuition, books, and other related expenses. These resources include grants, scholarships, student loans, and assistantships. Many employers also have tuition reimbursement programs. The Internet is an excellent tool for exploring financing options for your education.

A career as an art therapist can be immensely rewarding. However, it can also be very challenging, particularly when it comes to dealing with severely mentally ill patients. A well-rounded education can provide a sturdy foundation for dealing with the issues you’ll run into. Take time to select a good school that will provide the skills and experience you need to succeed.