How to become an Art Therapist. Read through our comprehensive job guide to learn more about this career.
What does an Art Therapist do?
Art therapists use art as a way of helping people to express difficult thoughts and feelings through creative activities.
As an art therapist, you would not teach art and your clients would not need any artistic skills. Instead, you would encourage them to experiment with art techniques and materials like paint, paper and clay. This would be with the aim of helping clients to:
- gain greater awareness of their feelings
- express themselves
- work through their emotions
- come to terms with difficult times in their lives
- move on in a positive way.
You could hold group or one-to-one sessions with clients which may include children or adults with learning disabilities, emotional or behavioural problems, speech and language difficulties, mental health problems, and those recovering from addiction, injury or illness.
You would work closely with other healthcare professionals such as psychologists, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists and psychiatrists.
Your typical working hours would be between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, although some jobs may involve evening or weekend sessions. Part-time and freelance work is common.
You could work in a variety of settings such as schools, hospitals, prisons and day centres, depending on your client group. You may need to travel to different locations for work.
How much does an Art Therapist earn?
Salary and pay information:
- Art therapists can earn between £26,500 and £37,200 a year.
- With experience this can rise to around £49,600.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
To work as an art therapist you need to complete a postgraduate diploma (or Masters) approved by the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT). Once you have qualified, you need to register with the Health Professions Council (HPC).
BAAT and HPC-approved postgraduate diplomas and Masters in Art Therapy or Art Psychotherapy are usually two years full-time or three years part-time. To get on to a course you will usually need a degree in art and design, or to be a qualified art teacher. You may also be considered if you have a degree in another subject such as psychology or social work. Check with course providers for exact entry details.
See the BAAT and HPC websites for details of approved courses.
Many course providers (and employers) will also want you to have relevant paid or voluntary experience, for example, working within the community on arts projects, in youth work, healthcare or with people with disabilities or mental health issues. For advice on voluntary opportunities, you could contact the voluntary services coordinator at your local NHS Trust, or Volunteering England.
- NHS Choices
- Volunteering England
With some NHS Trusts, you could start out as an assistant therapist. For this role, you may not need any qualifications, but relevant paid or voluntary experience would be useful (check NHS Jobs for vacancies).
- NHS Jobs
For a flavour of this type of work, you could take an introductory course in art therapy or another creative therapy offered by some colleges.
Training and Development
Once you are on an approved course, you will cover subjects such as psychology, child development, family dynamics, psychiatry and the history and theory of art therapy. You will take part in practical training and clinical placements, and you will undergo personal therapy yourself.
As a registered art therapist, you will have regular supervision sessions with another therapist who also a registered supervisor. You will also be expected to keep your professional knowledge and skills up to date by taking short courses and workshops such as those offered by the BAAT.
Skills and Knowledge
- experience of working in the arts
- a non-judgemental attitude
- the ability to relate to people from all backgrounds
- a strong interest or background in psychology
- creativity, intuition and imagination
- the ability to handle sensitive and difficult issues
- empathy and the ability to gain clients’ trust
- strong communication and listening skills
- a flexible and adaptable approach
- the confidence to work with people one-to-one and in groups
- patience and commitment
- emotional strength.
You will find most opportunities in the NHS – visit the NHS Jobs website for vacancies. You could also find work with local authorities, voluntary organisations, the Prison Service, or in private practice.
- NHS Jobs
Many jobs are part-time or temporary, and often depend on organisations gaining funding for particular projects. This could mean that you combine work as an art therapist with another job role, or have more than one employer within art therapy.
With experience, you may go on to train as a therapy supervisor, lead a team of therapists or manage an arts therapy unit.