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Art Therapy Training Programs and Requirements

Art therapy encourages self-expression and personal development. Art mediums, such as painting, clay sculpting and drawing, not only help patients cope with grief, trauma and illnesses, but also encourage expression for those dealing with emotional, educational or behavioral issues. Art therapists build advanced art and counseling expertise by completing master's degree programs in art therapy.

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Training Programs and Recommendations

Undergraduate and graduate degree programs in art therapy place emphasis on the creative process. Mastery of this therapeutic technique derives from completion of master's degree programs in art therapy or counseling. Graduate students learn about psychological methodologies and how to incorporate them into art-based therapies. It's most common for art therapists to complete master's degree programs in order to practice as Registered Art Therapists (ATR) or Board Certified Art Therapists (ATR-BC).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes art therapy in its occupational category of recreational therapy (www.bls.gov). Art therapy and other human service professions, including drama, dance, music and creative writing, all promote self-expression, discovery and recovery through nonverbal and verbal creative processes.

Formal Education

Degree programs in art therapy encourage students to combine their passion for art with their desire to provide therapy to those in need. Bachelor's degree programs prepare students to seek employment as community artists or art specialists with nonprofit outreach programs that serve preschoolers and disabled or senior citizens. However, master's degree programs in art therapy prepare students for professional certification.

Bachelor of Arts

Bachelor's degree programs in art therapy teach students to utilize the creative process to stimulate nonverbal communication therapy. Students complete classes in drawing, painting, clay pottery and sculpture as well as foundational psychology and counseling courses. These courses train students to decipher the content, form and verbal and emotional associations linked to the art created by patients. This understanding allows therapists to tailor additional art therapies that enable continued expressive communication and personal growth.

Master of Arts

Graduate degree programs in art therapy include courses in advanced counseling, psychology and art therapy and lead to official designations as ATR or ATR-BC. Students often create art in many of their classes and use it for art diagnosis. This program emphasizes art as an odyssey of self-discovery and self-healing. Students learn about art therapy methods and theories for children, adults and the elderly and hone analysis and diagnostic skills for art mediums, such as sketches, sculptures and paintings.

Typically, master's degree programs in art therapy last two years and require extensive fieldwork and completion of a master's thesis. Graduates often work in clinical and studio-style settings at hospitals, schools, juvenile detention centers, residential group homes, nursing homes and drug and alcohol clinics.

Job Experience

Most employers seek art therapists with master's degrees and certifications in art therapy. These professionals gain practical hands-on experience through fieldwork at clinics, hospitals and rehabilitation centers. During this supervised experience, prospective art therapists put theoretical knowledge and methods to practice while counseling diverse patients.

Licenses and Certifications

Professionals may seek voluntary registration and board certification from the American Art Therapy Association and the Art Therapy Credential Board, Inc. There are two official designations: Registered Art Therapist (ATR) and Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC). Professionals seeking ATR complete graduate education and post-graduate supervised practicums. ATRs looking for additional board certification complete written examinations. Continuing education is necessary in order to maintain registration and certification.

Additional Professional Development

According to the BLS, art therapists not only work with young and old patients, but also with patients who have emotional, physical and behavioral issues. Art therapists must be able to digest trauma, grief and other serious issues and direct art therapy treatments that aid in personal healing, growth or self-expression (www.bls.gov).

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