Art Therapy Degree Programs

Colored pencils and markers in cans.
Photo by Angry Julie Monday, Creative Commons License.

Art Therapy is a psychology subspecialty that uses therapeutic art-making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of people going through trauma, illness or mental health issues. Obtaining an art therapy degree allows you to conduct a form of expressive therapy that uses the creative process to not only help patients make art, but to work through personal difficulties as well.

Professionals in this area, though highly specialized, understand the specific benefits of art therapy in the grand scheme of a patient’s rehabilitation or treatment. The brain often uses art to make sense of personal issues and traumas that may be going on in his or her life. By unlocking the freedom to create and express, an art therapist helps a subject learn more about their issues and work through them in a non-threatening manner.

What Does an Art Therapist Do?

Art therapists do not place limitations on their patients. They understand that the creative process can be a very complex one and that the process itself is probably the most important part of successful treatment. By giving their patients the tools to create and the guidance to express themselves through art, therapists in this field are able to help their patients come to a greater understanding of their issues.

Observation, assessment and evaluation are all important parts of the art therapist’s job. Pursuing an art therapy degree won’t necessarily turn you into a Picasso or Michaelangelo, but it will give you a deep understanding of the creative process and, more importantly, how to help patients unlock creativity to deal with the problems they experience.

Careers in Art Therapy

An art therapist can find extensive career support through the American Art Therapy Association’s Career Center. In addition to working directly with patients in clinics and hospitals around the country, you may also serve as a laboratory assistant. To excel in this career field you should be comfortable working with children and adults that have developmental disabilities.

Many of these jobs are available to candidates with just a psychology master’s degree as long as there is some degree of art specialization. Attaining a PhD, however, will greatly improve your chances of landing a higher-paying job. Art therapists generally find work in metropolitan areas and earn in the low to mid $70,000 range annually.


Obtaining an Art Therapy Degree

Many states require those seeking an art therapy degree to complete supervised field training in addition to coursework. It may be difficult finding this specific major in the standard course catalog, though larger universities tend to have a more diverse field from which to choose. Art therapy internships may require you to work in a supervised role as a lab assistant, where research and patient interaction are the norm.

Useful Art Therapy Resources