Art Therapy

As health care facilities search for innovative ways to promote overall wellness, art therapy is increasing in its popularity and demand. This field may be a match for those who possess creativity and a desire to help others.

Art therapists guide patients to wellness through artistic creation. Art therapy is most commonly associated with visual arts (for instance, painting and drawing), but it also includes dance, music, creative writing and theatre. Any activity that demands free expression and playful exploration of personal issues qualifies as art therapy. Art therapists, then, must be willing to experiment with different modes of creation. Although many therapists have a creative specialty, it is important to fit the therapeutic modality to the individual patient. In fact, many experienced therapists claim that the opportunity to work with different media is one of the great joys of practice.

Art therapists must minimally hold a bachelor's degree in art therapy; some states require a master's degree. Additionally, some states may require art therapy licensure candidates to complete an apprenticeship and/or pass an examination.

Art therapists who have completed the requisite education and testing will likely find themselves in demand. Typically employers of art therapists include health care institutions, schools and other organizations.

Entry-level art therapists typically earn at least $25 000, annually, while more experienced therapists may earn in excess of $60 000, each year.

Art Therapy Job Search 

Currently, the job market for art therapists is excellent. Therapists who participate in certification programs often find their first job through networking connections made during training. Thus, obtaining certification not only bolsters potential salary offers but also job prospects.

Art therapists seeking employment should look to the human resources departments of hospitals as well as other in- and out-patient health care facilities for therapy job opportunities. Newspaper, periodical and Web-based classified advertisements may present additional employment opportunities for art therapists. Other employment resources include career centers administered by city and state governments as well as colleges and universities, private-sector employment agencies and professional association Web sites. Therapy professionals have the opportunity to make and cultivate many relationships with like professionals in the region in which they attend school. These relationships may be found in professors, internship supervisors and others with whom they have come in contact. All of the individuals may be used as resources when engaging in an employment search.

Additionally, volunteering is another excellent way to garner employment. Not only do volunteer opportunities provide potential therapists with applicable experience, they also allow volunteers to network with like professionals. Moreover, volunteering is one way in which potential art therapists may exhibit their skills to potential employers.

Is Art Therapy Right for You?

Art therapists are in one of the most promising professions in health care; they are in high demand and advancement opportunities abound. That being said, art therapy is a challenging line of work that requires a great deal of skill and education. In addition to their degree, successful art therapists possess creativity and a willingness to explore new art forms. Art therapists must also be flexible to meet the needs of their diverse clientele. Patience is essential for these individuals, as progress may be slow. Some patients may require a great deal of therapy before acknowledging or articulating concerns. Still others will never reach this milestone, and effective art therapists will remain positive in both the peaks and valleys of practice.

A wealth of resources is available to potential and practicing art therapists. Most hospitals, schools and health care facilities are serviced by therapist unions, which work to improve conditions for members. The American Art Therapy Association is committed to advancing the interests of art therapists by providing information on continuing education and professional practice. This organization also offers voluntary certification to therapists who hold a degree from an accredited school, have completed an internship and have practiced for a designated amount of time. The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ACTB) also certifies therapists who have a degree, pass a written examination and meet continuing education requirements. The ATCB certification promotes therapists who stay abreast of field developments and practice at an advanced level. One or both of the above mentioned certifications are often mandatory for employees of public school systems.

Art Therapy in Action

Art therapy is an ideal professional for people who enjoy artistic expression and have a desire to help others. The daily lives of art therapists revolve around artistic exploration.

This exploration commences with the first client meetings, in which art therapists ascertain what they believe to be the appropriate therapeutic medium for their clients. Some clients will have a personal history of working in a particular medium, which eases the therapy job of the art therapist. However, many clients may have little to no artistic experience and may not know where or how to begin. In these cases, art therapists have the privilege of helping patients establish their therapeutic goals while trying their hands at a new form of expression: art.

Once a therapeutic regimen is designed, art therapists work with clients, singly or as part of a group, to realize their therapeutic goals. To do this, creativity is employed to explore past and present feelings, issues and individual identity. During this process, art therapists guide patients to explore both the issues and their art at a comfortable pace. Meanwhile, art therapists interpret the patients' progress, document it and revise the therapeutic regimen to accommodate goal attainment.

Art therapists typically work normal hours and are not required to work "call." Depending upon the therapists' employers, art therapists may report to doctors, other therapists and/or a school official. Regardless of their chain of command, art therapists should be comfortable communicating with various and diverse members of a health care team.

Last Updated: 04/28/2014

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