What does an Art Therapist do?

Sonal Panse

Art therapy is also termed as creative therapy or expressive therapy. It is concerned with promoting psychological and physical well-being in patients. An art therapist is someone with professional training and certification in art therapy.

Art therapists help people communicate feelings through art.
Art therapists help people communicate feelings through art.

A bachelor's degree and a master's degree in a therapy related subject are the required qualifications for this field. It helps to have a formal art training or an art teaching background. Some practical experience in social service, or some supervised clinical experience is also usually necessary.

Art therapy can help children express emotions that might be difficult for them to articulate verbally.
Art therapy can help children express emotions that might be difficult for them to articulate verbally.

In the USA, many states require art therapists to obtain a registration (ATR) from an independent credentialing board like the Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc (ATCB). The board also conducts a written exam and awards a Board Certification (BC) to successful participants. Art therapists must maintain this certification through continuing education.

The job involves working with people with emotional problems, people suffering from trauma and people with disabilities. Art therapists also work with people undergoing medical treatment, people undergoing rehabilitation and terminally ill people. The therapists may work with children, teenagers, older individuals, couples, families, groups and communities.

Art therapists work in consultation with doctors, nurses, health specialists and other therapists. Art therapists are usually employed in hospitals, hospices, schools and other public organizations. Some art therapists carry out independent consultancy work.

The ATCB has set down certain ethical standards for the profession. Art therapists can only take on cases that they are fully qualified to treat. They cannot take a case that is already being handled by another therapist without that therapist's knowledge and permission.

An art therapist cannot refuse to treat patients on any discriminatory grounds. The therapist must explain the process and benefits of the therapy to the patient in clear terms. When counseling patients, art therapists must be non-judgmental, flexible and mentally strong. Professional discretion is essential.

To start with, an art therapist will assess a patient to determine if art therapy is the appropriate form of treatment for him or her. The therapist may then select a suitable form of art therapy or let the patient pick one of his or her own choice. The art therapist makes the necessary art materials available to the patient.

The patient is then encouraged to work on the artwork. The art therapist may provide guidance, but does not tell the patient what to do. Once the artwork is complete, the therapist may discuss it with the patient.

By encouraging creative and productive work, art therapists help people to gain personal insights, develop self-esteem and develop better communication skills. Creative therapy can serve as a relief outlet for patients coping with painful treatments and psychological traumas. Undergoing expressive therapy can boost emotional resilience and give people a sense of control over their lives.

Art therapy can take on many forms.
Art therapy can take on many forms.

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Discussion Comments


Subway11- I would love to find art therapist training and get an art therapist certification. I know that the American Art Therapy Association offers information on membership along with the individual state licensing requirements.

It also has a career center in order to find a job and offers you the latest information regarding the industry.

The art therapist salary ranges from $35,000 to $50,000. However, this figure can be higher if you live in a large metropolitan city.


An art therapist career is very rewarding. Often an art therapist job description will involve working with a variety of people with different forms of art media.

The people that a certified art therapist would work with might be an elderly patient with dementia.

This is especially rewarding because often when people get older all they really have are their memories, but once their memories are robbed from them they really have little else.

This form of expression can offer someone with dementia a fresh release from their circumstances that creates joyful memories. Art therapist jobs make a difference in people’s lives because often their patients have difficulty expressing themselves because of illness or traumatic events.

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