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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 What is Art Therapy? How to Paint the World in a Brighter Light by Becoming an Art Therapist

What is Art Therapy? How to Paint the World in a Brighter Light by Becoming an Art Therapist

April 24, 2023

Contributing Author: Alley Bardon

6 mins read

Expressive art therapies have been a staple of mental health care for decades and include art therapy, music therapy, and dance therapy. The professionals who guide these sessions are called art therapists. Art therapists have helped countless people feel better emotionally by harnessing the power of the creative process. Intrigued? You can learn more about becoming an art therapist by reading this article and enrolling in the Online Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Art Therapy at Lindenwood University

What is Art Therapy?

Like other forms of mental health therapy, art therapy helps people redirect negative feelings in more positive directions. If you're a creative person, you'll intuitively understand how some of this works: As clients engage in the creative process, whether painting, sculpting, drawing, or creating other artwork, they become more relaxed. Their focus shifts toward the act and process of creating and away from fear and worry. As this happens, the art therapist guides them gently through therapy, often helping to unlock memories and experiences that are causing distress. 

What Does an Art Therapist Do?

As an art therapist, you'll work with clients struggling to maintain their mental wellness. For example, they may suffer from disorders such as anxiety or depression, or they've lived through a traumatic event and are experiencing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. An art therapist can help clients work through feelings such as grief, hopelessness, and low self-worth, using the creative process as a tool. 

What Skills are Needed to Become an Art Therapist?

To succeed as an art therapist, it helps to be someone who appreciates expressive arts therapies. Art therapy is closely related to music therapy and dance therapy in that it involves using the creative process as a tool to promote wellness. Therefore, if you're someone who has always enjoyed sculpting, sketching, creative movement, listening to music, or writing songs or poetry, you already have an innate understanding of how art can contribute to feelings of well-being.  

In addition to being a creative person, you must also have a deep-seated desire to help others. You'll need skills in active listening and psychotherapy, as well as an advanced understanding of psychology and how the human mind functions. Empathy is a desirable skill, as is the ability to put others at ease. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the following skills as necessary to be successful in the field of art therapy:

  • Excellent skills in communication and listening
  • Passion for helping others
  • Patience
  • Interest in human behavior
  • Creativity

These, in combination with your academic degree, certifications, and license will put you in a solid position to find fulfilling work as an art therapist.

The Importance of Creativity, Empathy, and Communication

Why are soft skills so important for an art therapist? The field of psychotherapy relies on communication and the ability to develop a rapport with your clients, one that makes them feel safe and promotes sharing. Your relationship must be open and honest, and communication must flow in both directions for the session to be successful. For these reasons, it takes a certain type of personality to become a therapist. 

Creativity is a must because it gives you insight into the artistic process and will help you to better understand what's happening inside your client's mind as they paint, color, or draw. 

Training and Certification Requirements for Art Therapists

To work as an art therapist, you must have specific credentials. This means you must be able to meet your state's certification and licensing requirements, which vary by state. However, the Art Therapy Credentials Board, or ATCB, oversees the certification of art therapists at the national level. There are four tiers: 

  • Provisional Art Therapist -- Works under the close supervision of a qualified supervisor 
  • Registered Art Therapist -- Has completed a graduate-level degree and supervised, post-graduate experience or internship 
  • Board-Certified Art Therapist – The highest level of certification, has met all the educational and training requirements and passed the national exam 
  • Art Therapy Certified Supervisor -- Board-certified art therapist who has completed the required hours of clinical experience required by their state

In addition to becoming certified, you must obtain a license to practice in sixteen states. You should check with your state's art therapy association to learn more about the requirements to obtain a license in your state. 

Where Do Art Therapists Work?

Art therapists may work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, substance abuse recovery facilities, veteran's care facilities, or private practices. They may work with children and adults of all ages, from clients as young as three years old to the elderly and all ages in between. 

What Does an Art Therapist's Career Path Look Like?

To work as an art therapist, you'll need at least a master’s degree. This equates to roughly six additional years of schooling beyond the high school level. While this may sound like a big commitment, by breaking it down into more manageable goals, such as earning your Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Art Therapy first, the path to becoming an art therapist may be more attainable than you realize. The rewards may make all your hard work and dedication worth it - after all, art therapists spend their days immersed in the creative process. They're experts in psychotherapy that have helped millions of people heal from emotional wounds that other forms of therapy could not. In fact, according to the American Art Therapy Association, this form of treatment is useful for multiple applications, including: 

  • Improving cognitive function 
  • Improving self-esteem 
  • Fostering a keen sense of self-awareness 
  • Cultivating emotional resilience 
  • Enhancing social skills
  • Resolving conflict
  • Reducing stress
  • Adapting to change

There are many reasons why someone might seek art therapy. As a professional in the field, you'll be positioned to promote emotional healing and overall mental wellness in those who come to you for help. 

Exploring Ethical Considerations in the Practice of Art Therapy

Just like all health care providers, art therapists are bound by ethical regulations. These include the responsibility to cause no harm, treat clients fairly, put the client's interests ahead of their own, and understand that clients have the right to make decisions regarding their own health care. They must work to promote well-being, be honest, act with integrity, and be supportive of the creative process and the client's right to self-expression. 

The American Art Therapy Association outlines these responsibilities in more detail, but you'll cover them in your coursework, as well. 

Achieve Your Art Therapy Career Goals by Studying Pre-Art Therapy

If you've decided to pursue a rewarding career as an art therapist, we invite you to explore the online bachelor’s degree in pre-art therapy offered by Lindenwood University. In our Online Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Art Therapy, you'll learn the skills needed to be successful in the field. Additionally, our program will prepare you for entrance into a graduate degree program to earn your master's in art therapy. 

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.

Learn more by completing the request info form or contacting the admissions office today. 

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