Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Art Therapists

Art Therapy OutlookArt therapy allows individuals to visually communicate thoughts and feelings that are too painful to put into words.  Through the use of art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork – drawings, paintings, sculpture, and other forms of artwork – art therapy helps clients of all ages manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, reduce anxiety, increase self-esteem, reconcile emotional conflicts, and improve overall well being.

Art therapists are trained to use both formal and informal assessment when developing individualized treatment plans, and typically make choices about a particular form of art used in therapy, based primarily on which medium their client(s) feel most comfortable. As well as directing the creative process, art therapists generally also become active participants in the creation of art.

Art therapy is used in a variety of situations, including: children with disabilities, adults suffering from chronic stress or depression, people who have sustained a brain injury, and people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event.

Important Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

Art Therapy is a form of psychotherapy, which requires knowledge of the visual arts, as well as human development, counseling, and psychological theories and techniques.

Generally, art therapists are trained in the theories of art therapy, psychotherapy, counseling, ethics and standards of practice, assessment and evaluation, as well as in individual, group, and family art therapy methods and techniques, human and creative development, research methods, and multicultural issues.

There are a number of skills and abilities that are needed to compete and excel as an art therapist, including:


  • Psychotherapy – Often dubbed “talk therapy”, psychotherapy requires knowledge in the use of psychological methods aimed to help individuals change and overcome unwanted behaviors. Psychotherapy’s intent is to increase an individual's well being and mental health, resolve damaging behaviors, addictions, beliefs, and emotions, as well as help improve relationships and social functioning.
  • Counseling – Knowledge of interpersonal communication, and relationships, human behavior, prevention and crisis intervention for treatment and rehabilitation, and to enhance clients’ physical, mental, and emotional health.
  • Assessment & Evaluation – Knowledge of statistics and analytical methods as they relate to the systematic collection of data as a way to monitor the success or failure of a treatment plan or program. This knowledge can be used to determine if a particular treatment plan has met desired outcomes, or to determine if therapies must be revised.
  • Ethics & Standards of Practice – Knowledge of the confidential relationship(s) between client and therapist, as well as cultural, individual and role differences including those based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status.
  • Research methods –  Knowledge needed to conduct scientific research and teach students and other professionals the latest therapeutic methods of art therapy.
  • Art Appreciation – Broad knowledge of art techniques and forms, with an ability to encourage participation, creativity, and imagination.; excellent observational and listening skills.


  • Artistic Ability and Creativity – the ability to personally create art, and direct the creative process through thoughtful encouragement, in an effort to improve communications, allow expression of feelings, improve coordination, and increase cognitive and social function.
  • Critical thinking skills – The ability to actively conceptualize, analyze, apply, and/or evaluate information gathered from observation, experience, reasoning, or communication.
  • Interpersonal skills – The capacity to empathize with and teach clients with various communication or behavioral deficits, learning disorders, emotional problems, mental retardation, and physical disabilities.
  • Organizational skills – The ability to juggle multiple tasks, prioritize projects and focus on desired outcomes. Time management, setting reasonable goals, and systematically working to ensure positive outcomes and results.
  • Superior Communication skills – The ability to effectively listen and communicate, whether verbally, non-verbally, written, or visually through art media.

Job Outlook and Employment Projections for Art Therapists

Although art therapy as a mental health treatment option has seen substantial growth in the past decade, the number of actual “art therapy” jobs is comparatively small compared to the number of “counseling jobs” where individuals can use their art therapy training and credentials.  In fact, demand for art therapy jobs has been in decline since the beginning of 2009.

A career as an art therapist can be both mentally stimulating and financially rewarding.  At present, the average salary for art therapists is $57,000 per year, according to job postings on SimplyHired.com. Most art therapists are employed by hospitals, the government, or schools, with those employed less than 1-year earning less than $35,000, and those with 20 or more years experience, earning an average of $65,000 per year.  Art therapists in private practice can potentially earn between $75 and $150 per hour.

Of course, geographic location, previous experience, a history of volunteer or intern positions, and certification or licensing will all play a part in determining overall annual salary. As with most jobs, the amount of salary will also depend on level of education. In order to earn as much as possible, individuals must hold a master’s degree, if not a doctoral degree.

Art therapists usually work full time, between 30 and 40 hours per week, and in a variety of settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Psychiatric facilities
  • Schools and colleges
  • Clinical research facilities
  • Detention and rehabilitation centers
  • Crisis centers
  • Senior centers
  • Assistive living facilities
  • Governmental agencies
  • Private practice
  • Mental health agencies
  • Homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters
  • Correctional facilities

Learn more about becoming an art therapist.

How To Increase Your Job Prospects

Art therapy is a mental health profession. The practice of art therapy requires an educational background in basic psychology, psychological and behavioral disorders, human development, counseling, therapeutic techniques and art. The minimum educational standards established by American Art Therapy Association require all entry-level art therapists to have, at minimum, a master's degree from a college or university recognized by a regional accrediting body approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). 

To widen career choices and increase your job prospects in the competitive field of recreational therapy (the field in which art therapy falls), individuals should plan to earn a master’s degree or a doctoral degree in the field of art therapy, or a closely related field like psychology or counseling with an emphasis in art therapy.  There are no “art therapy schools” per say, but there are universities and colleges that provide master’s degrees in art therapy, or at the very least, coursework in art therapy at the bachelor’s or master’s degree levels.

There are a variety of master’s degree titles that are offered across the US, including:

  • Art Education
  • Art Therapy
  • Art Therapy and Counseling
  • Art Therapy and Creativity Development
  • Art Therapy and Special Education
  • Creative Arts Therapies 

There are also certifications from the Art Therapy Credentials Board, to become a registered art therapist or a board-certified art therapist. Art therapists who want to enter private practice should attain a PhD with state licensure.

Having artistic talent is also imperative for any art therapist. Gaining as much talent, experience, and knowledge about the various forms of art, such as pottery, painting, and drawing, will get you headed on the path to landing your dream job and earning a higher salary.  Understanding and developing strengths in the behavioral sciences and psychology, as well as interning or volunteering in a related field will also help increase job prospects. 

Additional Resources