Art Therapist

A veteran struggling with PTSD creates a collage of military images to try and understand the deep impact his deployment had on his life…A woman diagnosed with a chronic, progressively worsening disease draws her emotions…An anxious child gains confidence and a sense of calm as he molds figurines out of clay…These are examples of activities an art therapist may facilitate when working with their patients.

“Art therapy is an effective treatment for people experiencing developmental, medical, educational, and social or psychological impairment,” states the American Art Therapy Association (AATA), adding that it can benefit “individuals [of all ages] who experience illness, trauma, and mental health problems and those seeking personal growth.”

10 “Cool” Art Therapy Strategies

  1. The “Third Hand”
  2. Active Imagination
  3. Metaphor
  4. Visual Journaling
  5. “Show Me How You Feel”
  6. Mandalas
  7. “Creating Together”
  8. Making Masks
  9. Family Sculpture
  10. Collage

~ from art therapist, Cathy Malchiodi PhD, LPCC, LPAT

To learn more about Dr. Malchiodi’s choices, visit:

Art therapists are proficient in both the areas of psychology or counseling and the arts. If you are passionate about artistic expression and want to help people through encouraging them to tap into their own, natural creativity, keep on reading to learn more about this fascinating and important career choice.

Art Therapists At a Glance

  • Degree Level Requirements: Master’s Degree
  • Licensure Requirements: Some states license art therapists; in any case, state or national credentials are available for qualified individuals to pursue.
  • Median Annual Salaries: $43,180*
    [see the “Art Therapist Salary” section below for more information]
  • Job Outlook: 13% growth from 2012 to 2022**
Art therapy can benefit “individuals who experience illness, trauma, and mental health problems and those seeking personal growth.”

Career & Job Description

“A professional art therapist works in the mental health field,” states the Art Therapy blog.

Art therapists can work with clients, of all ages, who are struggling with a variety of difficulties related to their mental, emotional, social or physical health. Art therapy can prove effective in a variety of situations, from improving self-esteem, stress management or reducing anxiety to coping with a disability or illness, healing from a trauma or abuse, or dealing with an addiction.  “A goal in art therapy is to improve or restore a client’s functioning and his or her sense of personal well-being,” adds the American Art Therapy Association (AATA).

Art therapists may work in a myriad of places, like hospitals, schools, medical clinics, psychiatric or mental health facilities, residential treatment centers, outpatient facilities, shelters, forensic and correctional institutions, mental health organizations, community and non-profit agencies, senior citizen facilities, art studios, private practices, and other settings.

According to the Health Professions Network (HPN), art therapy is increasingly employed to help a variety of clients and patients. “For example, art therapists work with cancer, burn, pain, post-surgery, HIV-positive, asthma, and substance abuse patients, among others, and with pediatric, geriatric, and other medical populations,” states HPN. “In hospitals, art therapists may be part of psychiatric departments, child life programs, arts in hospital programs, or creative arts therapies or activity therapies departments.”

Just some of the roles of an art therapist include:

  • Employing their combined knowledge of counseling or psychology with that of visual or fine arts—such as drawing, painting, sculpture and other media—for both assessment and treatment purposes.
  • Facilitating individual and/or group sessions.
  • Actively listening and observing to gain a real sense of each client’s individuality.
  • Tailoring sessions (i.e. materials used and outcomes) to clients’ circumstances, needs and goals.
  • Encouraging clients to express themselves through tapping into their innate sense of creativity, while emphasizing that the process is more important than the end product. “One does not have to be a da Vinci to benefit from art therapy,” said Stacey Nelson in an article for ADDitude magazine.
  • Recording and maintaining client records and progress reports.
  • Engaging in continuous learning, from reading the latest articles and studies to attending conferences and workshops.
  • Art therapists may work as part of a team. For example, in a school setting or when school-aged students are clients, art therapists may work with parents, teachers and school counselors/psychologists. In a healthcare or medical setting, art therapists may work with psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, physicians, occupational therapists, nurses and other professionals.

Art Therapist Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) “O*NET-SOC to Occupational Outlook Handbook Crosswalk”, the job title “art therapist” corresponds to “recreational therapist” in the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

In May 2013, the median annual salary for recreational therapists was $43,180, according to the BLS; the top 10 percent made more than $68,950 and the lowest 10 percent earned under $27,120 per year.

Other Sources citing artist therapy salary information:

According to the Health Professions Network (HPN), “The average entry-level income is approximately $32,000, median income is between $38,000 and $48,000, and top earning potential for salaried administrators is between $50,000 and $80,000.” The HPN adds, those qualified to practice privately can earn between $85 and $120 per hour on average.

For 2009, the American Medical Association stated an art therapist’s starting salary was $39,000, the average overall salary fell between $30,000 and $50,000, and the top earners made anywhere between $80,000 and $149,000.

The Art Therapy blog conducted its own survey and found in 2010, the average art therapist salary in the United States was $42,000, “with most salaries falling between the $30k and $70k range.”

Sources: ; ; ; ;



According to art therapist and professor, Stacey Nelson, ATR-BC:

“Creative activity increases brain levels of serotonin, the lack of which can lead to depression.”

“Manipulating clay for five minutes can reduce stress hormones more than squeezing a stress ball.”

Source: ADDitude magazine,



Explore Your Career Path

The Educational Journey

Art therapists must possess a minimum of a Master’s degree. If you are thinking of pursuing education and experiences towards becoming an art therapist, your path may look something like this.

Bachelor’s Degree:If you are planning on pursuing a Master’s degree in Art Therapy, or are interested in a related career, it’s a good idea to take a Bachelor degree in psychology, fine arts or visual arts, counseling, art education or another related subject area. Some universities also offer dual Bachelor/Master programs for those interested in art therapy.

  • Note if you will be applying for a Master’s art therapy degree, you generally will need to have completed a specified number of pre-requisite courses in studio art and psychology. You may be able to take some of these courses after starting your Master’s program. It is important to contact each university for specific admission requirements.

Relevant Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree: You may decide to pursue employment after your Bachelor’s degree before completing your Master’s. As follows are some relevant positions you can acquire with a Bachelor’s, although some may require previous experience or particular coursework: behavior therapy assistant, public art coordinator, psychiatric technician, family or youth shelter case manager, teaching artist, early childhood behavioral specialist, workshop presenter, teacher assistant, social worker assistant, after-school coordinator, residential counselor, community studio facilitator, and more!

Master’s Degree: A number of institutions offer graduate degrees for aspiring art therapists, like a Master’s in Psychology with a concentration in Art Therapy or an MA in Art Therapy, etc. The American Art Therapy Association (AATP) lists the university graduate programs it approves on its website. “Educational requirements include theories of art therapy, counseling, and psychotherapy; ethics and standards of practice; assessment and evaluation; individual, group, and family art therapy techniques; human and creative development; multicultural issues; research methods; and internship experiences in clinical, community, and/or other settings,” states the AATP.

Certification and/or Licensing Requirements

The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) administers credentials specifically for art therapists across the United States and abroad. There are generally three levels of designations: Registered Art Therapist (ATR)—which requires a Master’s degree and supervised clinical experience after completing the degree; Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC)—which requires passing a national exam; and Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS).

Note: Some states specifically license or require art therapists to be licensed. The ATCB’s “State Licensure” page discusses the states that require candidates to take the ATCB exam in order to become licensed.

Numerous art therapists hold other counseling credentials/certifications/licenses like the LPC, LPCC, LMHC or LMFT.

  • Reference & Data Information Provided by the Following:
  • *May 2013 (for Recreational Therapists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • **2012-2022 (for Recreational Therapists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • †Salary data from US BLS
  • ‡Job Outlook data from US BLS
  • Other Sources/References