How to Become an Art Therapist

Thinking about becoming an art therapist? A career in art therapy requires qualifications in a field such as psychology or counselling, as well as artistic skills. Art therapists work in a variety of places and with a diverse range of clients. In this article we’ll go over the role of an art therapist, useful personality traits, salary expectations and the basic requirements to become an art therapist.

What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a type of therapy which uses art- rather than talking- as its main tool. That’s really the only difference between art therapy and other types of therapy, such as CBT. An art therapist’s role is to help their client express their emotions through art, then interpret their art so they can get a better understanding of their complex or subconscious emotions. This is because we can express feelings we aren’t aware of through art. Further, some clients find it easier to express themselves through art instead of talking.

Another benefit of art therapy is that painting, drawing or sculpting can be therapeutic in and of itself. Art therapy can even improve a client’s self esteem, communication skills and confidence.

Who do art therapists work with?

Art therapy is beneficial for people with anything from stress to eating disorders, low self esteem, chronic pain, depression, terminal illnesses, and PTSD or other mental illnesses stemming from a trauma or history of abuse.

People who have difficulty talking about traumatic events or who lack communication skills might benefit a lot from art therapy compared to talking therapies. Children respond very well to art therapy. This is perhaps because young children may find it challenging to verbally express emotions or describe complex or disturbing events. Drawing and painting is much easier and less intimidating for young children than talking to a stranger, especially if they distrust adults, as some young abuse victims do.

Where do art therapists work?

Art therapists often work in the same institutions as traditional therapists. They may work in teams alongside psychiatrists, psychologists, care workers and social workers. Places where art therapists work include: 

  • Hospitals
  • Detention centres and prisons
  • Care homes
  • Children’s homes
  • Mental health care settings
  • Rehabilitation centres
  • Schools
  • Private practices/offices/studios (self employed art therapists)


The qualifications and accreditation you’ll need depend on the location you want to work in.

  • Some countries don’t treat art therapy as a true profession, and therefore it’s unregulated, so you won’t need any qualifications. However states like the United States and the United Kingdom have standards set by the American Art Therapy Association and the British Association of Art Therapists, respectively.
  • If you’re looking to practice in the USA, you’ll need to be accredited by the Art Therapy Certifications Board, and some states require a counselling qualification. 
  • In countries where art therapy is regulated, you’ll probably need a Master’s Degree in art therapy, as well as an undergraduate degree in counselling or psychology.
  • If you’re in the UK, you’ll need a post-graduate Diploma in Art Therapy or Art Psychotherapy.
  • You should also be trained in art. You can take art classes during your degree or summer breaks, or do art as a minor subject during your undergraduate degree.

Obviously, just like all other mental health occupations, it helps if you are caring, have good communication skills, and are a great listener. You should enjoy working with people- if you’re shy, this might not be the career for you.


Art therapists’ salaries are variable. Basically, how much you’ll make depends on your education, experience, talent, and location. If you’re self employed, it also depends on your marketing. This table shows average salary expectations for art therapists in the UK and US.



Salary (from)

Salary (to)

Entry (NHS band 6)




Experienced (NHS band 7)




Principal art therapist (band 8a)
















As you can see, being an art therapist is little different from the career of any other mental health professional. It can be a demanding job, and depending on your location, it can take years to qualify as an art therapist.  But if you like art and helping people, this could be the job for you.

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