How to Become an Art Therapist

Art Therapist Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $48,940
Avg. Pay / hour $23.53
Education 1-2 Years
Job Outlook 7%

Art Therapists are certified professionals in the mental health field who use their knowledge and passion for art and therapy to help their patients cope with physical, emotional or mental disorders.

Using a variety of artistic activities and projects, an Art Therapist will guide their patients through their individual coping process to help them heal at the emotional and self-esteem level.

Individuals who want to become an Art Therapist can use their therapeutic background and artistic skills to help their patients heal on a more holistic level.

Their skills can help treat the depression, stress and anxiety involved with a physical or mental diagnosis.

Education Requirements to Become an Art Therapist

Individuals who want to become an Art Therapist need a combination of innate skills, certification and educational background in order to join this profession.

An Art Therapist must first attain their bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.

Individuals can acquire a bachelor’s in Art or Recreational Therapy or a similar field and take specialized courses in Psychology and Studio Art to prepare them for the Masters Art Therapy program.

Individuals must then apply to a Master’s program in Art Therapy.

The American Art Therapy Association recommends that individuals create a portfolio of art to present their artistic abilities.

In addition, the Association recommends that individuals have 18 credit hours of studio art classes as well as 12 credit hours of Psychology courses in order to apply for Art Therapy Master programs.

You may visit the American Art Therapy Association website to learn more detailed information regarding this profession, how to become a member and learn more information about the recommended Art Therapy programs in the nation.

During the course of their Art Therapy Master’s degree, individuals will focus on classes in psychology, psychotherapy, human development, patient assessment, ethics as well as many different topics in Art Therapy.

In addition, individuals must also seek certification in order to become an Art Therapist.

Art Therapists must meet registration requirements to become a Registered Art Therapist (ATR).

In addition, individuals may also register for the advanced ATR-BC which indicates that an Art Therapist has been board certified.

For more information on the distinction, visit the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) website.

Art Therapist Job Description

Art Therapists use their background in the visual arts, psychotherapy, human development counseling and their patient’s creative process to help them overcome emotional, physical and mental problems associated with the diagnosis of an illness, disease or disorder.

Art Therapists may work with patients with the following disorders:

  • Anxiety/Depression or other mental problems
  • Mental Illness
  • Substance abuse problems
  • Difficulties related to a disability or illness
  • Trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Physical, cognitive or neurological disorders
  • Individuals have social or other problems related to a medical illness or diagnosis

In conjunction with other medical professionals and sometimes working as part of a health care team, Art Therapists work to develop a plan and strategy that will enhance a patient’s emotional, physical and mental well-being.

Some common types of art used in Art Therapy can include, sketching, painting, sculpting and sometimes music.

Art Therapist Salary and Career Path

The median annual income for Recreational Therapists, including Art Therapists, was approximately $42,280 in 2012.

The exact salary will depend on work experience and the industry an Art Therapist works in.

For example, the industry paying the highest wage for this profession is the Federal Executive Branch that pays a median annual income of approximately $65,240 while the lowest paying industry are Residential Care Facilities that pay an average wage of $36,930 per year.

Positions and job opportunities for Recreation Therapists, including Art Therapists, are expected to increase by 13 percent through the year 2022.

This average growth is attributed to the aging baby boomer generation.

This increase will make this specialized type of therapy more accessible to older patients who suffer from age related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, strokes and any other age related illness or ailment.

Art Therapists use their passion for art and therapeutic background to treat and help their patient’s overcome and accept diagnosed illnesses or disorders.

Their skills are vital in helping their patients conquer any depression or shame related to being diagnosed.

Individuals interested in becoming an Art Therapist can also look into other Recreational Therapies such as Music Therapy, Sports Therapy or Physical Therapy if interested in this line of work.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$68,770
New Hampshire$56,270
New Jersey$66,920
New Mexico$39,820
New York$59,850
North Carolina$48,430
South Carolina$47,730
West Virginia$45,250
Puerto Rico$36,380

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $71,380.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $71,380
District of Columbia - $68,770
New Jersey - $66,920
Oregon - $63,760
Connecticut - $61,640
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Recreational Therapists, OCC Code 29-1125, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an art therapist?

Art therapists use art to help their patients express and examine their emotions.

They do this through a variety of creative techniques, such as drawing, painting, coloring, and sculpting.

Art therapy can help people who experience emotional conflicts, addiction, anxiety, low self-esteem, and those who want to develop their social skills.

This is a very rewarding profession because it gives you the chance of making a real difference in other people’s lives by helping them understand and manage their emotional conflicts.

Art therapists are creative and compassionate persons.

They also need patience and good listening and communication skills.

How much does an art therapist make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t record specific data about art therapists, but the median annual wage for recreational therapists, in general, was $47,860 in May 2018.

How much an art therapist makes depends on a variety of factors, including his or her employer and level of experience.

Some earn less than $30,000 a year while others make more than $75,000 a year.

How much does it cost to become an art therapist?

In order to become an art therapist, you will first need a bachelor’s degree with a major in art, psychology or a related field.

Tuition costs vary depending on a wide range of factors.

For example, the median annual costs for psychology programs sum up to around $40,000.

After earning your bachelor’s degree you can enroll for a master’s degree in art therapy or counseling.

Master’s degree programs in counseling cost less than $9,000 at a public institution but costs vary widely depending on the college you choose.

Some states also require art therapists to be licensed.

If you want, you can also seek voluntary certification, through the Art Therapy Credentials Board; the testing application fee is $275.

What is the demand for art therapists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for recreational therapists, in general, is projected to grow by 7 percent from 2018 to 2028.

Art therapists will continue to be needed to help people understand and express their emotions and adjust to physical, cognitive or emotional limitations.

How long does it take to become an art therapist?

Art therapists typically need a bachelor’s degree in art, psychology or a related field and a master’s degree in art therapy.

Bachelor’s degree programs can be completed in around 4 years while master’s degree programs are usually 2-year long.

After earning your degree, the next step will be to apply for a state license; licensure requirements vary by state.

Art Therapy Credentials Board is offering a variety of credentials, including a Registered Art Therapist, Board Certified Art Therapist, and Art Therapy Certified Supervisor.

These type of credentials can help you find a good job in the field.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *