Art Therapy Certification for Careers in the United States and Abroad

Art therapy is an expanding field that is gaining more acceptance as a form of psychotherapy. With roots in both psychology and art, it is now governed by its own national and international associations. Professional art therapists are master’s level practitioners who don’t necessarily need certification to practice in the field. However, new art therapists may be required to obtain a state license. To become a Board Certified art therapist in the United States, one must be certified through the Art Therapy Credentials Board. Many other countries have their own certification processes as well. Certification has its advantages and can allow for more career opportunities, as well as providing a clear structure of principles and ethics to guide the practice. Read some of our articles about art therapy education (such as requirements and career advice) for more info.

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Art Therapy Certification in the United States

A U.S. based art therapist can begin with the entry level credentials through the Art Therapy Credentials Board. The first tier is a registered art therapist, or ATR. This requires the successful completion of a graduate-level education in art therapy from an accredited university, practicum and internship experience, and documented, supervised post-graduate clinical experience. Once recognized as an ATR, individuals can apply for Board Certification, or an ATR-BC. For certification, the registered art therapist must pass a nationwide exam that focuses on the theories and clinical skills associated with art therapy. Art therapists outside of the United States who wish to apply for Board Certification must complete an equivalency review for each of their courses. The review must be conducted by an Art Therapy Credentials Board-approved reviewing organization. Art therapists who possess skills and training in supervision have the option of applying to become an Art Therapy Certified Supervisor, of ATCS.

Obtaining certification requires dedication and a substantial amount of coursework and clinical experience. While certification is not always required to become a professional art therapist, the minimum requirement is a master’s degree in art therapy or counseling and related fields with a focus on art therapy. The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) states that while attending a master’s program, individuals must study and complete studio art in a variety of mediums to demonstrate artistic competency. An Online college may suffice for this, but check and see if the art therapy college or program of your choice is credentialed. Students must also take a minimum of 48 graduate semester credits, including courses in psychology and abnormal psychology, and successfully participate in supervised practicums and internships.

Upon graduation, students are required to complete 1,000 hours of direct client contact in order to apply for an ATR, or registered art therapist certification. Upon obtaining an ATR, the Art Therapy Credentials Board allows individuals to apply for Board Certification. Board Certification is contingent on passing an examination. Exams are held once per year at the Art Therapy Credentials Board’s annual conference and simultaneously in four other U.S. cities. However, options exist to accommodate special circumstances. Licensing varies by state and some art therapists are licensed but not nationally certified. In some states individuals can become licensed as art therapists, creative arts therapistr mental health counselors. Individuals contact their state licensing board for the specific criteria.

Additional Resources for Future Art Therapists

You might find the following links useful if you are interested in becoming an art therapist or are working towards being one soon:

International Art Therapy Certification

Since art therapy is a relatively new field, many countries don’t regulate the practice. Art therapists must contact their country’s governmental or regulatory boards that monitor mental health practices to find out about the certification process. Global associations, such as the International Association for Art, Creativity and Therapy (http://www.igkgt-iaact.com/), exist to serve as a way to guide and structure the field of art therapy on a worldwide basis. Various countries have associations and boards to certify art therapists, such as The Art Therapists Society of Thailand, The Hong Kong Association of Art Therapists, The Swedish National Association for Art Therapists, The European Consortium for Arts Therapies Educators, and The British Association of Art Therapists. India and most countries in Africa do not require certification, but do have organizations to promote art therapy and allow professionals to connect with one another.

As art therapy garners more attention, the number of worldwide certification programs will likely increase. While one doesn’t need a certification to become a professional art therapist in the United States, state licensure is often required. A national certification from the Art Therapy Credentials Board can result in more art therapist job opportunities and allow one to work nationwide. Continuing education courses are abundant, making it convenient to maintain this certification. A Board Certification reinforces to employers that an individual has completed all of the steps in order to practice effective art therapy.

**This is a user-contributed article by Justin Birch.

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for the nice article. I am a Dutch Art Therapist I sometimes practice abroad. Now still as volunteer since getting my diploma accredited is not easy. Even though it fits the high standards set in the Netherlands, other country’s have different subjects and therefore do not easy acknowledge a Dutch/foreign degree. I hope that it will work through international association, Art Therapist should unite :D

  2. says

    As a way to protect and maintain the standards and ethics of the art therapy profession, you need to have the ATR or ATR-BC in order to call yourself an art therapist (in the US, anyway). This is important because there are so many nuances to the work. Someone who does not have the proper education or credentialing may not have all the resources needed to keep clients safe.

  3. says

    Hi–thanks so much for the great article. I am wondering about certificate programs which can lead already licensed therapists to become certified as art therapists. As a licensed professional counselor in the state of Virgina, I have already completed a master’s degree, had the required internship and residency, supervision and been granted license to practice as a clinician. I use a lot of expressive art-based techniques (also movement and yoga based) but I would love to pursue a certification in art therapy without going through another master’s program. Are there options for people like me?

  4. Leslie says

    Saint Mary of-the-Woods College has a distance learning program for a Masters in Art Therapy that has received the necessary nod from the AATA as an approved program.

  5. Denise says

    I thank the writer for this information, and just at the right time. Many of my classmates have questions regarding the certification process. Many have expressed that there is not enough information available as to the process. Kind of like a what to do next type of situation. I will pass the article on to my fellow classmates. Once again Thanks.

  6. says

    I find the topic of art therapy to be extremely interesting and consistent with my experience and interest which is expressive writing. I suspect the two strategies, writing and art, yield similar results because they both engage our brains in a non-linear fashion, facilitating reflective thinking, which I believe is the key to improving our emotional intelligence. I have had significant success in helping people improve their effectiveness through expressive writing and applaud the achievements in the other expressive arts.

  7. Ndame Ndame epse Abang Claudine Juniore says

    thank you for this opportunity you give me to express myself.i am a Camerounian who study five years psychomotricity in my Country,so now i want to have Art therapist certificate,because i use Africa dance to work with my mentals patients.please can i follow courses online with your struture to get my certificate,and developped in this new field. i am so happy that at last we can have certificate as Art therapist.i ask you to give me this opportinity to helped Africa with this.hope you consider my request,because i helped so many people improving their state and behaviour.i believe they is hope and the raison to be happy.

  8. Haigo says

    Hi there !I am from Lebanon! I’m so grateful to this site ! it’s awesome to find art therapy “center” on line . I am an artist and I did a version of art therapy as part of my thesis program that I did with cancer children at my local hospital .I saw the transformation and the change from negative energy to positive ..it has been 2 years for me that Im searching for a site that can provide me online coarses in art therapy but there is none .Being an art therapist is my vocation and my passionate dream ! kindly ask you all if you know any online programs that provide art therapy coarses ,the universe will be grateful to you and you’ll get miracles ! I have 2 B.A’s one in psychology and another in Education and as well an M.A in clinical psychology ! waiting your genuine reply .keep shining you all !

  9. Ndame Ndame epse Abang Claudine Juniore says

    Hi friends i thought that you will respond to my request,please can i have detail in how to take courses on line.because my thesis is Africa danse as therapy,so please i need your help to stand my courses urgently.Also we created an Association call ROPHE were we want to developped art therapy,we want to believe that you will contact us to build together this larger new area of therapy in Africa.thanks our e-mail;rophefoundation@yahoo.fr

  10. says

    Hello,
    I really liked this blog because it fully explains all the work of going into art therapy. Art therapy is a new occupation out there and i’m hoping to be able to find a job in art therapy. The thing I was confused about is where to find a hospital that will accept a art therapist and how the salaries are going to be. Anyways, I like this blog and its very easy to read helps me understand the process.

  11. seoungja kim says

    I’m korean. Now is learned to English in ELS Dominican University. I want to online stydy, about Art therapy method..
    My job is korean art therapist and teacher to art therapy.
    I want up gread….

  12. Joyce says

    Hi, everyone!

    I read your comments tonight, I am not able to sleep tonight since my mind has pretty a lots of stuffs.

    I have been wrestling with my mind of choosing which university I should attend on-campus or online. I think that I’d prefer online program but, I dont know about the requirements in California. If its not available, then I can attend oncampus. One main problem is – JFKU or Norte Dame University. I want to complete the certification without walking through a second master program. I don’t mind to be a registered art therapist for my own small business.

    Any ideas? Thank you!

  13. Sarah Jordheim says

    Thank you so much for this wonderful site providing a source to connect with fellow arr therapists. I completed the certification program which included required hours of internship and wrote an extensive paper (thesis). However, to my dismay, I learned after the fact that my master’s degree earned prior to the AT program, was not accepted towards earning my Art Therapy degree. I would be required to complete a second masters program. Now I live in Michigan and consider myself to be a certified art therapist. Could you help me to find employment without my master’s degree in art therapy……and with my certification and other valuable credentials? Thank you.

  14. Jennifer says

    Approximately five years ago, I realized that my career as a graphic designer did not fit me, in some areas. As fate would have it, I was offered a teaching position at an elementary charter school, where I’ve been ever since — teaching all subjects, grades K-8. I’ve enjoyed working with at-risk children, but this experience soon brought me to the realization that my true passion is to merge these two interests into one, via art therapy.

    My concern, however, is that I am now an official “AARP”er. This makes me think my new career choice (albeit my heart’s passion) may be alot to pursue at my age. I’d like to get an idea of how long it might take me to reach certification while working full- or part-time? Any advice or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

  15. says

    Hello! I am a student in Early Childhood/Childhood education, and I have so many interests it’s difficult to streamline them into one career path. I have an interest in the arts, sciences, music, etc. and I am a dabbler in everything else. When I first started college, I had applied for a nursing program, but I felt like his path was not really tapping into any of my abilities. (Except that I adored the biology classes :D) After switching into education, however, a whole new world of possibilities have come up and I am extremely curious about every one of them!!! Just a half hour ago, my math teacher was reviewing my project for her (an original illustrated story) and asked if I was looking into art therapy. I had never thought of this before!!!

    I am interested in art therapy, but do you have any ideas about how I can consider combining it with a teaching career? I am working on my bachelor degree now, but I would like to obtain a masters degree at some point. I just want to figure out how to make all my interests and abilities count, and if that means deviating from a ‘normal’ educational path I wouldn’t mind hearing about it!

    Are there levels of certification that suits someone would rather just apply this set of knowledge to education rather than make it a specific career?
    In the interest of art therapy clients, would it be more beneficial to them to have someone with a masters degree, or can a ‘lay’ therapist have enough education at a basic level to make the same impact?

    I’ve been told by many teachers that in order to be a good teacher, you have to BE good at everything. Even if I’m not there yet, I am INTERESTED in virtually everything. I would love to hear from anyone who has any advice for a college student who has too any ideas in one’s head and not enough advisement in option exploration. :D

  16. says

    I would like to pursue this field, but do you know if undergraduate degrees are available online? Will any university suffice for a psychology degree? Is the master’s degree and where it’s from the more important part?

  17. jennifer says

    HI! I have a MSW and an LCSW, I have used art therapy in my work for many years. I would love to get certified. Is it possible to get certified in California without having to do another masters program? Any referrals would be great.

  18. Wanda says

    Nicole Speropolous on January 23, 2012 6:33 am

    As a way to protect and maintain the standards and ethics of the art therapy profession, you need to have the ATR or ATR-BC in order to call yourself an art therapist (in the US, anyway). This is important because there are so many nuances to the work. Someone who does not have the proper education or credentialing may not have all the resources needed to keep clients safe.

    You do not have to hold an ATR or ATR-BC in order to call yourself an art therapist in all of the US. Unfortunately the people that are trying to standardize Art as therapy would like you to believe this to be true. Art Therapy has been taking shape as a credited therapy, however many states at the present time do not require any ATR or ATR-BC.
    It all depends on the position you will be holding.

  19. says

    Wanda, this is an issue of ethics. The only way to know if someone has the training needed to be an art therapist is if they are credentialed through the national board (this has nothing to do with state requirements). I don’t think any states require an ATR or ATR-BC but some require a LCAT or LPAT.
    AATA, as well as ATCB, helps to maintain the integrity of the field by setting ethical standards. It is irresponsible to clients and to the field to practice as an “art therapist” without the proper training, experience and supervision. Standards are in place to protect people. This is true for art as therapy and art in therapy. If we do not maintain these standards then anyone with a paintbrush could call themselves an art therapist.
    Also many states are moving in the direction of having state licenses for art therapists. Its only a matter of time. One may use art as part of recreational therapy within an agency which is different from doing art therapy. Rec therapy is a bachelor’s level position that focuses more on the production and mastery of making art.
    Anyone interested in becoming an art therapist needs to look at the AATA website for educational requirements and standards of the profession: arttherapy.org
    and ATCB for certification requirements: atcb.org

  20. Heidi says

    I love your blog! I have a BS degree in Art Education, and would like to become certified as an Art Therapist. Can you please let me know how I can do this? I live in Virginia and am an Art Volunteer for hospice patients. Thanks!

  21. says

    Although art therapy professional organizations (AATA and ATCB) believe it is essential for art therapists in the US to have master’s level education in art therapy and subsequent national certification, whether or not a person “can” call him or herself an art therapist actually depends on state law. Some states have “title protection” that stipulates that only those who meet certain standards may use the title “art therapist.” The state’s standards may involve having a state-granted license to practice art therapy, which may or may not require having the national ATR or ATR-BC credential. Most if not all states that specifically grant licensure to art therapists (rather than specialty track counselors, etc.) require the license applicant to take the ATCB’s national certification exam.
    You can learn more by going to (yourstate.gov) and looking for a link to your mental/behavioral health licensing board. Usually title protection and licensure regulations are posted or downloadable.

  22. says

    I have an MFA in Studio Art with close to 20 years as a professional artist and close to 10 as an art instructor. I would like to evolve into the Art Therapy field at this time of my career and would like some information/guidance. Thanks again and your blog is very interesting!

  23. Kim Sun Hyoung says

    Hello! I am child educator in Korea.
    I love art and want to have master’s degree in Art
    Therapy.

  24. Mona Lynn says

    I have complete aprox 72 credit hrs while seeking an RN/LPN degree. The time came when I could no longer go so I have not finished. My hubs being disabled, I had to go to work. After 9 mos. I am rethinking this avenue and fell Art Therapy would be a better fit. I am multifaceted in artistic abilities, which landed me my first Care position 14 years ago. I have always been the go to person for people seeking counseling (since high school and Im 54 now) lol… More than anything I want to help people identify, analyze, and heal from their inner injuries. I want to thank you for giving this information free. You will be Blessed surely! Talley Forth!!!

  25. Sara says

    Hi I am currently an undergraduate student in the US but am interested in pursuing a career in art therapy. I would like to study about for my masters degree in art therapy, but am unsure if the courses will qualify as a degree in the US. Any help or suggestions are appreciated. Thanks!

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