Requirements for Becoming an Art Therapist – Education, Degrees, and Advice

The following article should serve as a rough guideline/checklist for those people wanting to secure a professional art therapy job with proper certification, you are typically required to complete preparatory bachelor’s degree courses before being admitted to a Master’s Degree program, as determined by the AATA. In order to become a professional art therapist, you are required to complete a graduate level Master’s degree in art therapy. Alternatively, you can get a Master’s degree in a counseling-related field with an emphasis in art therapy.

Skip to typical art therapy education & degree requirements for:
United States
United Kingdom
Australia & New Zealand
Additional advice
Please leave a comment at the bottom if you’d like us to add or edit any requirements.

The school offering an art therapy master’s degree program must be an accredited institution, as designated by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The art therapy program must also be approved by meeting the standards set forth from the Education Program Approval Board (EPAB).

Education & Degree Requirements

The following art therapist requirements are typical for the specified location. These are meant to serve as guidelines. However, you should always check with the specific art therapy program to verify exact requirements.

Typical Art Therapy Requirements in the United States

  • A Bachelor’s degree in a related field such as psychology, counseling, art, art education.
  • A designated number of hours in studio art, showing a proficiency in things like drawing, painting and sculpture. Typically, a portfolio is required.
  • A designated number of hours in psychology.
  • Letters of recommendation.
  • A personal statement.
  • Accepted admission.

Depending on your bachelor’s degree, it’s possible to finish any remaining pre-requisite requirements within the first year of being admitted to the master’s program. However, you must have completed some of the required art or psychology courses. You should contact the AATA or the art therapy program for additional details.

Typical Requirements in the United Kingdom

The requirements in the UK are similar to the ones in the U.S. Here’s a sampling of what else is typically required in order to purse an art therapy degree in the United Kingdom.

  • A Bachelor’s degree in a related field such as psychology, counseling, visual arts, occupational therapy, nursing social work, et al.
  • Sufficient life experience and maturity.
  • A portfolio of work.
  • 1 year of relevant work experience.

Typical Requirements in Australia and New Zealand

  • Minimum of a two-year Masters Degree
  • 750 supervised clinical hours of supervised placement

Graduates of approved art therapy programmes are eligible to register with the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association (ANZATA) as a professional AThR (registered arts therapist). A professional member of the Australian and New Zealand Arts Therapy Association (ANZATA) must abide by their code of ethics.

As always, you should check with your specific program of interest for their specific requirements.

A Professional Art Therapist’s Advice

The following was sent by one of our readers, Vivien Beere, and is being promoted to an article. She offers some sound advice for those of you interested in becoming art therapists, planning on going to an art therapy school, and/or pursuing additional art therapy education. Included are some important requirements to consider.

I am an Art Therapist working in Community Mental Health in Perth, Western Australia. I’ve been in the field 30 years or so.

I want to respond to all you wonderful would-be students by saying:

1. Keep doing your creative work and reflect on it using a journal…keep on doing it forever! This is both a joy and a source of insight and will also give you the “substance” to draw on in your future work if you do take up Art Therapy professionally.

2. Try out some of the popular Art Therapy “how to” books…and work out if this or that was useful for you…and if so, how so? Maybe join up with a support group to try out exercises together…don’t be in a hurry…gather a range of skills and experiences. Being 30 plus is a good idea in this work.

3. Do some serious reading of Art Therapy literature. There’s now a lot and it ranges from the exploratory type of books on specific subjects to scholarly books and theses. Have a look at Amazon for titles, especially Jessica Kingsley, then browse the American Journal of Art Therapy for a start.

4. Decide whether you want to do this as a profession or if, for instance, you want to make art and facilitate community creativity/growth groups instead.

5. If you do want to do this as a profession get a professional masters degree in Art Therapy!! (Most current Art Therapists couldn’t afford it either). And no, at this point Art Therapy, although much needed, is not well paid or easy to start a career in, even in the USA.

To young people I often suggest a first degree in Social Work because it’s hugely flexible. After having done this and also done a Masters in Art Therapy, you will always get a job as a Social Worker and open up ways to use your expertise. That’s not to say some agencies don’t want Art Therapists…often they do, but funding bodies have often never heard of the profession, even after 50 plus years.

The other route is to first have a Fine Arts degree and stay connected with the arts world and art making for a part of your professional time and income, in addition to getting the Masters in Art Therapy. To my observation without a counselling/mental health background of some sort you will need a lot of initiative, or need to be willing to stay part time in the field for quite a while, unless there are established institutions in your area that employ Art Therapy grads.

There are now many American, Canadian, British and European Arts Therapy courses, some of them very well respected…and down under, to my knowledge, there’s one Masters course in Singapore at La Salle School of the Arts, one in Melbourne at La Trobe, one in Western Sydney at UWS, one in Brisbane at UQ, and one in Auckland, NZ at Whitecliffes School of Art. Check out the ANZATA website.

If you already have qualifications and experience in Social Work, Counselling, OT, Psychology, Psychotherapy or Mental Health nursing, as well as ongoing interest/practise of some form of art, my opinion (but not that of every Art Therapist) is that you can probably do shorter non degree courses in arts therapies and integrate your learning into your existing knowledge base, especially in pioneering situations. It amy be worth joining ANZATA or another Arts Therapy professional body as an associate member to keep up to date with issues, courses, conferences etc.

One of the key points is that during training and as you practise, you will need Supervision or as the Americans call it Case Consultation or Case Control. One of the biggest reasons for this is that art therapy is truly powerful! It’s usually recommended you do your own therapy as well. And that means with an Art Therapist as well as in your studio!

With art therapy you can land up unconsciously and subtly directing your clients to work out your own unlived issues, or you can find yourself drawn into their stories or unable to sleep because of the images that you have seen. Your clients’ issues will constantly bring up your own. Just as your clients will need you as a witness to help them observe, contain and reflect on what they are doing so you too will need that same support. And then there’s support with practical and theoretical development of your personal style as an art therapist…the good news is that eventually you will be able to consult internationally via skype.

Best wishes to you all,
Vivien Beere

Comments

  1. Aleyda Caraballo says

    Hello!! I’m interested in becoming an Art Therapist, in making a Master Degree online, because I live in the Dominican Republic. Is there any chance? thanks.

  2. Connie Robbins-Brady says

    I’ve been a licensed professional counselor with an extensive background in visual arts (I work both as a school counselor and an art coordinator for a large school district) I’ve been bringing art-making into my therapeutic sessions for years, and am interested in taking a class or two to round out my experience. Is there somewhere that we ‘practicing counselors using art as a means of communication’ can do this? I am in Colorado.

  3. says

    I also suggest that if you are interested in obtaining your Masters degree in Art Therapy in the US, contact a program. Contact information can be found on the American Art Therapy Association website. Faculty (like myself) are usually more than happy to discuss the field, requirements for application, and the nature of their respective training programs.

    Also, in response to Ms. Caraballo, there is a hybrid training program (some residency, some online) at St. Mary of the Woods in Indiana. You will find contact information at http://www.arttherapy.org.

  4. Claudia Denton says

    I have both an MFA and an MSW. I am a licensed clinical social worker with an MFA in fine arts. Years ago I took the advice of art therapists (at two separate art therapy programs) and went into social work when I was looking to make a career change. The social work school I attended had an art therapist on staff who taught a very popular course and opened up the minds of many to the power of art therapy. These days I work full time in a mental health clinic. I take courses in art therapy whenever I can. I am a visual thinker and that’s a big part of how I work. It’s just me. But I find I am very afraid of posting on art therapy sites for fear of being “flamed” by art therapists for not having exactly the correct letters behind my name. I feel like I’m sticking my neck out just to post this. I wish I didn’t feel this way.

  5. Sandy says

    Silly question, but how important are art skills when it comes to art therapy? My oldest has always wanted to be an art therapists. She is a very good artist. However, she isn’t Rembrandt! If there was an American Idol version for artists, she wouldn’t make it to the top because there are certainly people that are better. This isn’t knocking her ability but it is being honest. Her passion is psychology and she sees art as a great way for one to express themselves and heal. She takes art classes and produces some nice pieces and others that are just so-so. She is currently pursuing an BS in psychology and hopes to get into an art therapy program for her MA. She is taking art classes at her college and has a job at an art studio. She loves art! Does she sound like a good candidate for an art therapists? I’m just afraid there are going to be all of these truly gifted artists applying and she won’t stand a chance.

  6. Karen says

    What a great article, thank you for posting this. A friend of mine suggested my becoming an art therapist as a career change. With my medical background and my passion for art, it’s a perfect combination. I am in the process of finishing my art degree.

    I would love to start and charity program in my area in local hospitals where artists, art therapists, counselors join forces and visit children in hospitals and in communities to help express their emotional and physical pain. So often there are kids who don’t have access to such healing tools. Art is just as vital to healing as medication and following doctors orders.

    Any suggestions how I can start to form such a group? I am new in my area and fortunate enough to have a lot of free time.

    Thanks again for the information and your advise.
    – Karen

  7. rasha adel says

    I am very happy to read this article, but I hope you can help me to join this area. I live in Cairo, Egypt but do not know anywhere I can study art therapy. I have a Bachelor of Arts Education and Work Specialist Education with autistic children from 4 years ago. I ask you for a guideline to help get me started on the right path. Thank you.

  8. yifat says

    hello, my name is Yifat. I am a teacher of spacial education for many years. I have a Master degree. Three years ago I started to take Painting classes, Clay and Jewel classes. I am looking to learn Art Therapy and I have hard time to find it. Any help?

  9. Cambria says

    Hello My name is Cambria. I am married and 21 years old, which I know is very young. I feel a real passion to work in this field. Since the forth grade I have wanted to help people, but it wasn’t until high school that I realized that through art I would enjoy it most. Because my husband is in the army I am limited in the schools I can go to, and the one I am currently attending does not have an Art Therapy program. So I had thought that majoring in psychology and minoring in art would be the next best thing; however, after reading the comments am thinking that I might do better with a different major? I don’t have anyone around me that understands this field so I feel lost. Any advice would be greatly appreciated! feel free to email me @ amg21423@gmail.com

  10. Sylva says

    Hi My name is Sylvia. Im a Surgcal Technologist of 31 years with a bachelors degree in Fine Arts. My college years of long ago (1976) was in Nursing. The ultimate was a combination of finding a program in Art Therapy but, at that time wasn’t an easy find or not recognized. Im presently recovering from surgery and not employed and am interested in a career change. Art Therapy is a wonderful find and am curious to know if I’d be a good candidate for this field. Can I enter into this field with my present credentials, and if not, to know what courses would be needed to attain the masters in this field. Thank you with hopes of hearing from you soon.:)

  11. Marvin says

    I wish to pursue the MA of Art Therapy, but i am think of using for PTSD. Do i need to have a MA of Psychology with a AT concentration or vis versa. I am an older student already with an MA not related. But my undergrad was in art. I have many questions and was hoping to find a bit of guidance.

  12. Ann Marie Hickey says

    Hi I have got distinction in art and crafts I Wondering if I could i do a coarse on line I live In Ireland .I done a child care coarse .I found Id like to forward it with something with art and Children.Yours Ann Marie Hickey.

  13. Vivien Beere says

    Hi everyone..I have some feedback to some of the people above..I am sorry I cant help with specific schools outside this area..its true many people have to save and to travel to study Art Therapy and it may not be possible for everyone..but keep asking ..

    First could the woman Li ? who is an HR professional in S Korea and who wrote to me please write to me again..I accidentially sent your email to my spam.I’m sorry.

    In brief a face to face 2 years Masters in Art Therapy is a good idea for your own support, learning and peace of mind if you want to work in the field. The learning process will expose you in many ways to your own biases and deeply held personal and cultural assumptions about yourself and the world. There is a huge learning that goes on in a peer group that to my mind cannot be replicated by solo study, which is not to say some distance study could be useful.You will also gain academic knowledge that will help you develop your own philosophy of practice and have the feedback of teachers as well as gain credentials.
    The closest Masters to you that I know of is at La Salle in Singapore.Whitecliffes in NZ has a Masters course that is designed for students who may not live in Auckland..classes meet for in depth seminars and workshops and followup work is done from home before the next meetings.You could check this out although there would be a lot of travel from S Korea. USA may however be equally close!Good luck!

    Cambria above..hi Cambria if you have a passion you have a passion and the work will find you.If you can’t get to a school that offers Art Therapy yet dont worry too much.Psychology is a good major especially as you are keeping up your arts practise through the minor. Depending on your school they may still work with whats called the scientist practitioner model which assumes scientific objectivity rather than with newer ideas about collaboration and co transference and the observer inflencing the field thats being observed, which is much more common amongst Art Therapists.So you may have to hold the tension between the paradigms for a while, but that being said Clinical Psychologists often have a great depth of knowledge and sound assessment and treatment skills which can marry well with Art Therapy if you have the interest and stamina..at least you would always have a well paid job and when more senior might well be able to work in the way that suits you best. Good luck!

    Claudia above .I just think its fanatastic that you are a Clinical Social Worker working in a mental health clinic and using your arts background and what you have learned ,and no doubt discovered yourself, about Art Therapy techniques and tradtions to the benefit of your clients and community!I do not know if your setting allows for Art Psychotherapy per se which many Art Therapists do feel requires specific training or whether you are doing more psychoeducational work augmented with the power of the image..there could be a big discussion here!
    I wonder if it would be worth your while seeking out some open minded Art Therapists and doing co supervision to support your work and to explore similarities and differences in modality personal style and possibly focus? Perhaps then you could work up a conference presentation about a research question in your own work…?
    good luck!

    Karen above
    I do not know here you live but I suggest you seek the advice and support of an Art Therapist in your area.Maybe there’s something already happening you could assist with.If not ask an Art Therapist for some (paid) mentoring and then just contact your local childrens ward, hospice or cancer out patients facility, aged care facility or anywhere you are interested in (excluding mental health, rape crisis and head injury to start with because these are especially complex) Offer to run say three free art expression groups.Maybe 2-3 hours each in a public hall or hospital ward..Dont call your sessions Art Therapy since you are not a qualified Art Therapist.Make art around some very general themes and give people space to talk in a confidential place. Children dont need to say much ususally. Tell adults you hope one day to study formally but in the mean time you want to share your love of art making, and knowing that with physical illness it is often hard for people to find real times for other aspects of themselves you thought you’d offer this space…Have the names of suitable staff members (who agree to this) or external professionals with whom people can talk more later if needed..And then for yourself journal and make art around your reponses to your experiencs in your (small) group and discuss with your mentor. Good luck!

    Sylvia above.it may be a matter of re connecting with your art making and journalling about the process.Your own heart will tell you if Art Therapy is the right field for you to pursue and from there any extra study requirements will become plain once you contact colleges in your area, or those that you like the sound of elsewhere..
    Art Therapy is generally “the path less travelled” and the “will I be acceptable/any good at it” questions can only ultimately be answered by your own sense of deepening committment, This is assisted by reflection on feedback from teachers, colleagues and clients and then the witnessing of miracles in your clients lives.Good luck

    Marvin above..hi..PTSD? your own recovery or to assist others? If the former doing your own in depth process with an Art Therapist could be a good idea.Then when you train formally you could do some papers and research activities in this rapidly developing area of Art Therapy practise. Good luck

    Anne Marie above
    Congratulations on your distinction in arts and crafts.I wonder if Art Teaching or Special Ed might be a useful qualification and field of experience for you that could later lead on to Art Therapy or Child Psychotherapy or Child and Family work.? Why dont’ you discuss this with Irish Art Therapists? Good luck

    To Sandy above Hi Sandy it sounds to me like your daughter is totally on track.
    You don’t have to be a “Brilliant artist” to be an Art Therapist but you do need in depth experience with the process of making art that is meaningful for you.Skillwise she may eventually need lots of beginners skills in various art techniques and expertise in one or two areas..we keep on learning and learning in this trade!Psychology is also needed as you will have read above and ultimately a love of people and the patience to “hold” complexity and chaos visually emotionally and conceptually whilst in the priviledged position of assisting others with their healing and growth.
    Just keep on loving and supporting her! Vivien

  14. Moon says

    Hello, my name is Moon and I am 24. First of all thank you for this informative article. I studied physiotherapy degree and is going to be a physiotherapist soon. However, during my studying, I realised that health is not only related to the physical condition but mind is very important as well. And then i was introduced to art therapy while I was doing my research paper. I found it very familiar to me, as I always enjoy art and I feel my soul being healed every time I express myself with drawings. I have a sense of healing people with physical and mental disabilities and I believe art therapy is one of the best way to heal their souls.

    I would like to know how can I get into this filed? If I want to study a master degree of art therapy, do I need a MA psychology degree or other requirements?

    Thank you very much!

  15. Ian Cook says

    I am about to enter my senior year with a biology major, but I have considered a career in art therapy for a while. I already know biology is not necessary and I need certain psychology and art courses. Should I take undergrad courses at another school before taking a graduate program?

  16. says

    I am very interested in being an art therapist but not the best at the drawing side of art but I am still very creative. Is that a big problem ??
    Also what are the main classes I should be taking to improve my skills in becoming an Art therapist?

  17. vita says

    i am really interested in becoming an art therapist the only thing i am trying to figure out how to study it in Israel, was wondering if this might help me out.
    couldn’t find anything anywhere i looked and its counted in the middle east if you might have any info on it please let me know.
    thank you

  18. says

    Hello, This site seems really interesting.
    We were wondering if you would be interested in ading our Art Therapy programsto your listings in Europe: Metàfora hs been working extensively in the field of rt therapy training in Spain since 1999. We run a Masters program in Spanish (ww.master-arteterapia.org) and a Postgraduate Diploma in English (www.postgraduate-diploma-art-therapy.org)

  19. sophie says

    Hi, I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and I want to be an art therapist. I am 29 and have yet to study a degree as my condition has held me back. Now that I know what is wrong with me I’m hoping to improve and still study this. I was wondering if anyone has any advice as I feel nervous andand wonder if I can gradually get better during an arts degree after I’ve had more therapy, then could I still be accepted to do this if I can get well by the time I do a masters. Will my slight lack of previous focus and experience mean I have less of a chance? So far I have a foundation inperforming musicianship and half a foundation in art and an a level in fine art and photography..sophie

  20. Oneal says

    I just graduated with baccalaureate in natural science, but I want to pursue a career in art therapy. Would it be a good idea to take the required courses at Moraine then transfer to Illinois state for a psychology baccalaureate or just transfer the credits I already have to Illinois state and start there?

  21. Amy says

    I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Art and Counseling and Masters in Art Education. I’ve worked as a counselor in a psychiatric setting and I have been teaching art in Elementary Schools for the past 11 years. I’d like to think there is a way to combine this education and experience to a certification in Art Therapy. I’m in the US.

  22. Monica says

    hi, my name is Monica and i am 20. your article was very informative and encouraging. i did my BA in Psychology, literature and Performing arts and in school one of my major subjects in Arts was Fine Arts. i always enjoyed art and its effects on me. thats what is encouraging me to take this up as a career. i love helping people and believe if i could add my passion of art in it then i would enjoy working in this field.

    My aunt is staying in Houston, Texas and i would like to know if there is any institutes or universities near that area.

    thank you so much :)

  23. Brianna Carroll says

    If someone could please give me some info on this, I would definitely appreciate it. I’m beginning my Junior year as a Psychology student minoring in art and mental health services. I didn’t know until about a week ago that there is an actual certification process for art therapists. I eventually wanted to go into private practice after I get my LPC from grad school. I mainly want to do counseling but also art therapy as an alternative form of therapy for select children that do not seem to be benefitting from traditional counseling (I want do pediatric counseling). I have not ever really considered doing art therapy as a full time job just because I want to be an LPC, but also using AT as when needed like I was saying.

    So what my concern is, is that I’m wondering can you not practice art therapy privately without a license? Per se if I were to include it in what I offer/programs when I do go into private practice, would that be illegal or something? Or frowned upon? If I can find a university that would let me have a concentrated area of AT while I pursue my LPC then I would definitely do that just to have a basic understanding of the structuring. But how does that work when you are trying to offer it to someone since you technically don’t have any credentials to be an art therapist?

    I hope this makes sense, and if it does PLEASE PLEASE someone help. This is what I have wanted to do my whole life and I am such a plan-in-advance type person. I feel thrown for a loop and a little distressed at the thought of something messing up my life goals. Thanks so much. bdc4b@mtmail.mtsu.edu

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