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By submitting this request for more information, you are giving your express written consent for Lindenwood University and its partners to contact you regarding our educational programs and services using email, telephone or text - including our use of automated technology for calls and periodic texts to the wireless number you provide. Message and data rates may apply. This consent is not required to purchase good or services and you may always email us directly, including to opt out, at [email protected].

Home Blog Heal the World One Client at a Time by Becoming an Art Therapist

Heal the World One Client at a Time by Becoming an Art Therapist

March 11, 2023

Contributing Author: Alley Bardon

7 mins read

On a scale of one to ten, where would you rank the importance of creativity? If this trait is one that's always been important to you, one you've always been passionate about, a career in art therapy could be waiting. Art therapists use guided expressive art sessions to aid healing in patients dealing with feelings, emotions, or memories so overwhelming they can't voice them. They help patients use techniques such as painting, drawing, or writing poetry to unlock self-expression and promote overall feelings of wellness. 

Many people who struggle with mental illness have been helped with the assistance of art therapy. And if you've always been a helper or a person who is always willing to listen to a friend, being an art therapist could feel quite rewarding. 

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a form of mental health treatment that combines art with psychology. According to the American Art Therapy Association, this form of psychotherapy improves cognitive function, nurtures self-expression, and self-esteem, and helps patients resolve stress and internal conflict. Treatment is facilitated by an art therapist, who is someone with at least a master's degree in art therapy. 

Does a career as an art therapist sound intriguing? If you're naturally creative, have strong skills at listening and communicating, and enjoy helping others, you’ll likely find the role of the art therapist to be immensely fulfilling. Earning a bachelor's degree in pre-art therapy is a perfect place to begin your journey. 

Where Does Art Therapy Happen?

Art therapy can take place nearly anywhere, including in the comfort of the patient's home. However, many art therapists work in psychiatric facilities, clinics, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, or private practices. This treatment is all about helping patients process feelings and emotions that they're unable to express verbally. Therefore, art therapy can happen anywhere people are struggling with trauma, abuse, neglect, fear, grief, or pain, and the feelings that accompany them. It may happen in a workshop or in a small group setting. It may happen one-on-one in a therapist's private office or the recreational center of a veteran's hospital. If you choose to become an art therapist, you may spend your days in any number of environments, surrounded by tools that encourage the creative process. You may find yourself working with adults, teens, children, the elderly, or any combination of them all. 

Benefits of Art Therapy

The benefits of art therapy are numerous because it's a customized type of treatment. Artistic expression is different for everyone, and while one client may find healing through working with clay, another may find painting to be more helpful. Patients who've been successfully treated using art therapy experience many benefits, including: 

  • Reduction in pain 
  • Reduced feelings of anxiety and depression 
  • Increased feelings of mental and emotional wellness
  • Improved sense of self-worth

Art therapy has proven helpful for patients who are struggling with terminal diseases, such as cancer, and for patients who suffer from post-traumatic stress. It can be grounding, as well, in that it helps clients focus on the present instead of things that have happened in the past. And as the client engages in the creation of art, they have time to slow down, enjoy the process, and be mindful and in the moment, which is why art therapy is a perfect tool for boosting self-awareness. 

Art Therapy for Mental Health and Trauma

Trauma can be a result of many different variables. Being mugged can cause someone to suffer trauma, just as being in a bad car accident can have the same effect. Witnessing a terrorist attack, surviving a childhood filled with abuse, or being stuck in a violent relationship are all events that can trigger trauma. Often, trauma is difficult to talk about, even to a therapist. However, through art therapy, there's no need for patients to discuss how they feel about the traumatic events that plague them. Instead, they can engage in artistic expression to bring about relief.  

An example would be encouraging a patient to free paint on a canvas. They can paint anything they want, and as they concentrate on the act of painting, intrusive thoughts are quieted, stress floats away, and they begin living in the present, at least temporarily. Afterward, the art therapist will talk with the client about what they painted and why they painted it. Through simple exercises like these, people who are struggling with negative feelings not only find a moment of reprieve, but they often uncover deeper meanings to the art they've created -- all because a trained art therapist knows what questions to ask and how to guide the conversation. 

Creative Expression and Different Art Mediums

Which art media are best for art therapy? It's really up to the therapist and the client. Usually, the art therapist will make several different media available, allowing the patient to choose which one they'd most enjoy using. Common media used for art therapy include: 

  • Drawing utensils such as colored pencils, charcoals, chalk, markers, or crayons 
  • Three-dimensional media such as clay or dough 
  • Painting media, including acrylic, watercolor, or oil paints
  • Paper for origami or collage work

Digital art is also becoming more commonplace as an aid to art therapy. The key is to allow the patient to choose a medium with which they're comfortable, so they can find peace and enjoyment in the act of creating. 

Which Age Groups Can Benefit from Art Therapy?

Anyone who is old enough to use the materials can benefit from art therapy. This usually applies to children ages three and up, as well as to adults of all ages. The pediatric art therapist may place limits on the medium that's being used because some younger children may not have the motor skills to use materials such as oil or acrylic paints. In these instances, colored pencils, crayons, and chalk may be more appropriate. But if a child is old enough to finger paint or play with dough safely, they may be candidates for this unique form of treatment. 

Effectiveness of Art Therapy

Art therapy has proven its effectiveness through the years. It's been in practice at least since the 1940s when the British artist Adrian Hill first coined the phrase "art therapy." During this time, several people of note made significant contributions to helping art therapy earn the recognition it deserved, including Margaret Naumburg, often considered the "mother of art therapy." Naumburg firmly believed that creative expression was just as important a form of communication as verbalization. She chronicled these findings in several books written between 1947 and 1966. 

Today, art therapy is an accepted form of treatment for a variety of ailments, including depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, aging, and relationship problems. It has been instrumental in helping millions of people heal from mental and emotional trauma while boosting their self-awareness. It's a form of expressive art which, combined with psychotherapy administered by a professionally trained and licensed art therapist, helps people work through experiences that they find too difficult to verbalize. 

How to Become an Art Therapist

In most instances, becoming a practicing art therapist requires a master's degree in art therapy. However, there may be some employers who desire a doctoral degree. A master's degree is equivalent to an additional six years of college beyond the high school level, but it's a commitment that will pay off over the life of your career. According to O-Net, this occupation is expected to grow at a much faster than average rate over the next decade. 

In most states, you'll also need a license to practice art therapy. A license can be obtained from your local Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists or its equivalent. To qualify, you must provide proof of your degree as well as proof that you've completed the required hours of post-graduate work under the direct supervision of a licensed professional therapist. You must also score a passing grade on the Art Therapy Credentials Board Exam, or ATCBE. You may be required to pass a state law test before earning your license, as well. 

The requirements to become licensed vary state-by-state, so you must adhere to the requirements of the state in which you plan to practice. 

Earn a Pre-Art Therapy Degree Online

A Bachelor's Degree in Art Therapy can be used to pursue entry-level jobs in the human service fields in such settings as social service agencies, nursing homes, residential treatment centers, and more. You will be better prepared to provide support for individuals experiencing stress or loss.

Contact the admissions office at Lindenwood University today to request more information or to apply for enrollment. 

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