How To Become an Art Therapist (With Skills and Career Guide)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 5 September 2022

Published 13 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Art therapists are professionals who conduct art therapy sessions and provide comprehensive psychological assessments for their patients, thereby improving their mental or physical state of health. It's necessary to have professional knowledge in both art and psychology fields, and certain soft skills to be a successful art therapist. Learning more about the requirements and how to become an art therapist could help you begin your career. In this article, we describe the role of an art therapist, the steps required to become an art therapist and its career prospects.

What does an art therapist do?

An art therapist guides patients through art therapy sessions, assesses their emotional conditions, provides emotional support and advice, generates progress reports and works with other medical experts to improve their patients' treatment plans.

Art therapists can work in a variety of fields, such as education, healthcare or social work. This involves workplaces such as hospitals, schools, community centres, hospitals, mental health institutes, crisis centres and research institutes.

Related: How to Become a Therapist: Types, Salaries and FAQs

How to become an art therapist

For job-seekers interested in understanding how to become an art therapist, it's important to understand the educational requirements. It is typically mandatory to obtain a master's degree from approved educational institutes to qualify as a professional art therapist. With a master's degree, graduates can seek further professional growth by joining art therapy organisations or community groups. Students looking to apply to these programmes have to obtain an undergraduate degree in related disciplines such as arts, psychology or education beforehand.

Here are the steps you can take to help you begin your career as an art therapist:

1. Pursue a graduate diploma

The Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) offers a Graduates Diploma programme in Expressive Arts Therapy (GDXAT). This programme consists of a 30 credit units curriculum that delves into the following core modules:

  • Asian and western theories of creativity

  • Techniques of counselling and therapy in an Asian context, core skills and methodologies

  • Play in expressive arts therapy, in theory and practice

  • Mind and bodywork in expressive arts therapy

  • Art making in expressive arts therapy

  • Narrative and storytelling

This programme serves as the foundation for graduates looking to further their art therapy studies in a master's programme. After completing it, graduates can register as International Expressive Arts Therapists with the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA). It is a non-profit organisation that supports art therapy practitioners with multichannel processes that facilitate personal and professional growth.

Related: 37 Art Therapist Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

2. Get a master's degree

You can further your studies in the art therapy sector by enrolling in a master's programme in art therapy at LaSalle Singapore. Being one of the first schools in the Southeast Asian region to offer art therapy master's programmes, LaSalle's Master's in Art Therapy is accredited by ANZACATA, an international non-profit professional organisation that represents art therapists in Australia, New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific region.

The curriculum comprises intensive hands-on training and a wide range of psychotherapeutic theories and practices. Students also attend periodical clinical attachments that are supervised by the school. Further discussions regarding clinical work take place afterwards in groups and individual settings in the classroom. Lastly, students are to partake in their final research project. In this last module, the school evaluates the growth of art therapy students in their task to seek resources from senior researchers and attain differing perspectives to create well-thought arguments.

3. Become a member of art therapy organisations

After graduation, students are advised to join relevant art therapy organisations both locally and internationally to expand their professional connections and stay abreast with the latest industry developments. One of the more prominent organisations in Singapore is the Art Therapist Association of Singapore (ATAS), a non-profit professional organisation that signifies art therapy as a rising profession, thereby aiding in the sector's development strategies. The main roles of ATAS include:

  • Offering professional development for members and non-members

  • Hosting talks and workshops for art therapists

  • Working closely with government bodies and ministries like the Ministry of Health, Education and Finance to promote art therapy programmes

  • Serving as the point of contact between art therapists and relevant disciplines or organisations

  • Sharing the latest updates and changes in the art therapy industry with members

Apart from ATAS, graduates can seek global opportunities by joining reputable overseas organisations, which include IEATA and ANZACATA.

Related: Why Is Networking Important and How To Start Networking

4. Join non-profit art therapy organisations and groups

Another way to gain more experience is to join volunteer groups or non-profit organisations that offer counselling and social work. You can gain experience from working with different community groups and expand connections as well, which is useful for your resume or portfolio. In roles where artwork plays a key part of your job, showcasing clients' artwork and testimonials can make a stronger impact on your portfolio and impress employers with your professional skills.

Related: What To Include in a Resume: 7 Important Components

What are the skills required to become an art therapist?

Other than educational qualifications, a good art therapist possesses the necessary soft skills to excel in this position:

Artistic skills and creativity

Having a good understanding of artistic concepts and skills helps you guide patients through therapy sessions in a professional manner. Being creative and open to new artistic techniques is useful to make the sessions engaging and interesting. Art therapists use their creativity and knowledge of various art techniques to cater to patients with different artistic abilities or talents.

Related: Painting Resume Skills: Definition and Examples

Empathy

Having empathy is critical in this line of work when dealing with patients suffering from various mental or physical issues. Therefore, adopting a mindful and patient mindset helps art therapists understand patients better and obtain their trust, which strengthens the relationship between art therapists and their patients. This helps in providing more personalised and effective art therapy sessions for the clients.

Read more: Empathic Skills: Definition and Examples (With Tips)

Communication skills

Being an art therapist requires good communication skills with both patients and industry professionals. This is vital when communicating advice to patients during therapy sessions and being able to listen to their concerns. With industry professionals, this is useful in networking situations and when seeking advice or knowledge from them.

Related: How To Improve Communication Skills (With Definition and Examples)

Observation skills

When conducting art therapy sessions, it's important to observe and assess the behaviour of the patient. Art therapists identify a patient's problems through observation and create new strategies for upcoming therapy sessions. They may also revise existing strategies based on the patient's progress.

Active listening

Practising active listening skills is important for an art therapist, as they have to be alert to their patients' requirements and absorb critical information mentioned by them that may be useful in helping the art therapist evaluate a patient's psychological or physical state.

This is especially important during therapy, where the majority of conversations take place between the art therapist and the patient. Doing so also helps the patient feel understood and respected when actions have been taken to address the patients' problems whenever mentioned.

How long does it take to be an art therapist?

For LaSalle's Master's programme in art therapy, it takes two years to complete this degree. This is the same for most master's programmes located abroad too. Clinical attachments are part of the master's programme, hence the duration is included in the two years as mentioned. For additional internships or attachments, it depends on the graduate's contract with their employer, which can span between six months to a year or more.

What is the average salary of an art therapist?

According to Salary Expert, the average salary of an art therapist is about $53,693, with entry-level art therapists getting an average of $39,589 per year and senior art therapists getting a higher average of $65,799 per year.

Salaries for art therapists are also estimated to increase by 25% in five years, which means potentially earning an average of $66,911 per year. For other related roles, the average salaries per annum are as follows:

  • Therapist: $42,500

  • Special Education Teacher: $48,129

  • Social Worker: $50,206

  • Researcher: $57,228

  • Psychologist : $61,806

Related: What Does a Psychotherapist Do? (With Definition and Skills)

How can patients benefit from art therapy?

Art therapy suits patients of all ages including children, adults and the elderly. They can help patients with the following conditions:

  • Patients who are coping with psychological trauma or frightening, upsetting events in their lives

  • Patients with dementia or memory conditions

  • People looking to increase their self-esteem and confidence

  • Mental health patients suffering from anxiety, stress, depression or other mental issues

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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