Things You Need to Know About Becoming an Art Therapist

If you’re becoming an art therapist – or just wonder what art therapy is – here’s your chance to get behind the scenes! This art therapy job description includes career tips, salary information, and the best and worst parts of the job.

The first thing to do is learn as much as you can about a career in art therapy, by reading books such as Handbook of Art Therapy, Second Edition by Cathy A. Malchiodi PhD. It offers a complete overview of an art therapist career, from theory and research to practical applications.

In this article, a Vancouver-based art therapist and counselor describes her work, and offers tips for aspiring art therapists.

“For the last 12 years, I’ve worked as the Assistant Coordinator of a Creative Arts Therapy Program in New Jersey,” says Laura Greenstone, a board-certified art therapist who has been a practicing for 20 years. “I work with children and adults who have experienced domestic violence. I also have a small private practice, specializing in trauma and the management of post traumatic stress symptoms.”

Here, she describes what it’s like to work as an art therapist, and offers job tips for people interested in this type of holistic health career.

Art Therapist Job Description

Art therapy is a form of expressive therapy or counseling that incorporates art materials such as paints, chalk and markers. Art therapy combines traditional psychotherapy with the creative process. For instance, an art therapist might use paints, sketches, or other artistic materials to work with adults coping with grief or children who have experienced trauma.

Art therapists believe in the healing power of creativity and art. Creating artistic works is therapeutic, and gives people the opportunity to express themselves imaginatively, authentically, and spontaneously. This self-expression can lead to personal fulfillment, emotional healing, and recovery.

How Much Does an Art Therapist Make?

This art therapist isn’t revealing what she makes! Wage and salary information can be found at the American Art Therapy Association.

The Best Part of Working in Art Therapy

“I’ve always been interested in the study of art and human behavior,” says Greenstone. “Art therapy is the perfect merging of the two. This field is both my vocation and my passion. I help people actualize their creative potential, which is extremely rewarding because the healing power of the arts is limitless.”

If you’re blessed with introverted personality traits, read Best Jobs for Introverts and Quiet People.

The Downside of Being an Art Therapist


Becoming an Art Therapist

Greenstone says the lack of occupational regulations in the United States for art therapy can be frustrating. This sometimes makes it difficult for art therapy clients to access insurance reimbursement — a predicament some life coaches also face.

“I’m also a licensed professional counselor, which makes it easier for clients to access their insurance coverage,” she says. “But, people who need art therapy do not always have it available because of lack of insurance reimbursement.”

She points out that regulation of the art therapy profession is also needed to ensure people who are offering the services are qualified to deliver it. Greenstone is fortunate that New Jersey has dedicated significant funding toward helping people who are survivors of domestic violence with creative arts therapy programming.

The Biggest Surprise About Art Therapy Jobs

“People are often surprised that art therapy is a dedicated profession that requires rigorous discipline with specific methods of training and study,” says Greenstone. “While art therapy can be used in conjunction with other professions, such as counseling psychology and social work, the depth of the work requires a knowledge of the psychology of art materials and an understanding of the power of the arts to illicit thoughts and feelings.”

Greenstone adds that people are also often surprised that art therapy is not just for children, but rather for people of all ages and abilities. Most holistic health careers include clients of all ages.

Career Tips for Art Therapists

Anyone interested in art therapy should look carefully at occupational regulations – particularly in the United States. Aspiring art therapists need to ensure they’ll be qualified to work where they want. Often the education one receives in art therapy does not qualify one to be a licensed mental health professional or work in an educational setting without specific coursework and degrees.

“If a student plans their studies carefully, they should be able to incorporate the training necessary,” says Greenstone. “There are many opportunities to learn about art therapy through regional and national conferences, as well as expanding online and distance learning venues.”

If you’re interested in a career in art therapy, talk to a few therapists. Even better: volunteer in an art therapy program or job shadow an art therapist — both are great ways to learn more about this (or any!) career profile.

Are you working your way through college or university, so you can become an art therapist? Read 10 High Paying Jobs for College Students.

If you have any questions becoming an art therapist, or art therapy as a career, please comment below. Another interesting therapy career that helps people heal is working as a hypnotherapist.

Laura Greenstone holds an undergraduate degree in art and psychology and a Masters degree in Art Therapy, specializing in Phototherapy. She is a NJ Licensed Professional Counselor, Nationally Board-Certified Art Therapist, and Certified Disaster Response Crisis Counselor.

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