• Bachelor's Degree
  • $47,680 Per Year
  • 7% Job Growth
Art Therapist

What Is Art Therapy?

Life is full of boundaries, but with art, there are no boundaries. Today, more and more people are finding that they can go beyond their perceived boundaries and gain interesting insights on their lives with art therapy.

Art therapy is a relatively new type of therapy that began sometime around the 1940’s. It is also sometimes referred to as creative or expressive therapy.

This type of therapy can be used alone or in conjunction with traditional therapy. Like traditional therapy, art therapy can be used to treat several different emotional, mental, and physical conditions. For example, art therapy can help those suffering from anxiety, depression, abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, chronic pain, or even just an overload of everyday stress.

Unlike traditional forms of therapy, art therapy requires participant to create works of art as part of their treatment. By expressing themselves through their art, it is believed that patients can improve their mental and emotional wellbeing. Many art therapy experts argue that creating art can help individuals resolve difficult issues and even reduce stress. Creating works of art can also help some improve their self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

In some instance, the act of creating the art itself may be therapy in and of itself. Patients turned artists that participate in these types of therapy programs often find that self-expression through art gives them a great sense of control. Many also find that their artwork is a type of release.

Some patients often find it much easier to communicate their thoughts and feelings through art rather than through words. The art created by art therapy patients might also contain underlying emotions and messages that are trying to break through. Interpreting these hidden aspects of a work of art can help art therapist and his patient gain a better understanding of the inner workings of the mind.

Work Environment

In many ways, an art therapist performs the same basic duties of a traditional therapist. He typically attempts to help his patients explore and better understand their emotional and mental conditions. As with traditional therapy, the goal of art therapy is to help patients feel better about themselves and the world around them.

To do this, an art therapist will work very closely with his patients. Art therapy sessions may be one-on-one sessions with the therapist and patient, or they may be group sessions.

An art therapist’s patients are usually individuals that have some sort of emotional, mental, or even physical problems. Many art therapists will choose to work with a certain type of person. Some art therapists might only work with patients dealing with anxiety or abuse, for instance. Others, however, may choose to work only with children or elderly patients.

The first thing that an art therapist will usually do is assess a patient in order to find out if art therapy is a fitting treatment. During this initial step, an art therapist might also confer with other mental health professionals as well.

An art therapist will then help his patients choose which form of art suits them the best. While any form of creative expression can e used during art therapy, traditional forms of art are typically used. This can include such things as painting, drawing, and sculpting.

During each art therapy session, an art therapist will encourage each of his patients to express themselves through their art. Some art therapists will even help their patients develop and hone their artistic skills. When a patient finishes a piece of art, an art therapist will usually discuss the piece and what it means with the patient.

Education Requirements

In order to start an art therapy career, an individual must first earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Many aspiring art therapists are already artistic by nature, and taking several art classes while earning a psychology degree is usually recommended when chasing after an art therapy career.

A master’s degree in art therapy is also usually a requirement when starting an art therapy career. Prospective art therapy graduate students must usually submit a portfolio along with their application in order to be accepted into these programs.

In many areas, art therapists must also be certified, or licensed, just like traditional therapists. In order to become certified art therapists, art therapy graduates must pass a rigorous examination given by the Art Therapy Credentials Board.  For additional information regarding psychology check out David Webb's psychology site.

Salary and Job Outlook


Art therapists are considered to be part of a larger group of alternative therapists known as recreational therapists. Besides using art as therapy, recreational therapists might use other activities such as games, sports, social events, and performing arts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of recreational therapists in 2017 was $47,680. Professionals of this sort in home healthcare typically earned higher salaries than professionals in other areas.

Job Outlook

An art therapist might work in the same sort of medical facilities that a traditional therapist works in. For instance, hospitals and mental health facilities may consider hiring art therapists from time to time. Alternative medicine facilities, schools, and nursing homes might hire art therapists. Like traditional therapists, art therapists can also choose to open their own practices.

Helpful Resources

  • Interview with Cara Levitt, Art Therapist

    Tammi Edwards
    Tammi EdwardsOct 31, 2012

    Get to know artist Cara Levitt, Art Therapist. Learn more about what inspired her to start practicing, how art allowed her to express herself in ways words couldn’t, and how her career has allowed her to touch and inspire people to live a more purposeful and fulfillin...

  • Interview with Ken Schwab, Art Instructor

    Kathryn Pomroy
    Kathryn PomroyFeb 13, 2015

    Ask any noteworthy professional who inspired them to reach the heights of success and they will undoubtedly say a teacher they had in school. They will immediately tell you the teacher’s name and what made them so special. The Art Career Project would like to introduc...

  • Get Paid to Do What You Love: Seven Strategies to Make Money as an Artist

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 10, 2017

    Doing what you love and making a living from your art is a goal that is within reach. Here, we offer a few tips to help you get your dreams off the ground. Try these seven strategies to make money as an artist.

  • Five Ways to Jumpstart Your Art Career

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 17, 2017

    An art career cannot happen overnight. Becoming an artist takes dedication, hard work, and a plan. Learning early lessons about how to develop your skills, attract clients, and market yourself can help you generate early results.

  • 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Art Career

    Anna Ortiz
    Anna OrtizJul 19, 2017

    The life of an artist is often glamorized, while the real challenges of being an artist tend to be glossed over. Here we provide a few tips on how to deal with early challenges, like facing criticism, dealing with frustration, and meeting the right people.

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