How to become an art therapist

A career in art therapy offers an opportunity both to be professionally connected with making art and at the same time to make a positive difference to people’s lives.

What to expect

The relationship between the therapist and the client is of central importance, but art therapy differs from other psychological therapies in that it is a three-way process between the client, the therapist and the image or artefact. It offers the opportunity for expression and communication and can be particularly helpful to people who find it hard to express their thoughts and feelings verbally.

Qualities needed

The art therapist’s work is sometimes challenging and calls for skill and sensitivity. It follows that those who wish to pursue a career in art therapy should be mature, flexible people.

Legal requirements

To practice as an art therapist in the UK, it is a legal requirement to complete a Masters level training course approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). The HCPC maintains the public register of qualified art therapists / art psychotherapists.

Training courses

Applicants for art therapy training are normally graduates in art and design, but qualified teachers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals with a commitment to the practice of the visual arts are also considered.

The training course, which combines theoretical and experiential work, is for a postgraduate master’s degree,  completed over two years full time or three years part time.

There are 11 approved traditional master’s courses in the UK:

Degree apprenticeship

Teesside University has launched a degree apprenticeship in art therapy.

To apply for the degree apprenticeship, you can ask for funding through your current employer, or look for vacancies on the government’s find an apprenticeship webpage.

Is there any support with funding?

Due to the large number of successful graduates in art therapy each year, there is currently no specific funding body that will give grants to those wishing to undertake the MA/MSc in Art Therapy.

Our introductory courses

We run introductory courses for people who are considering training as an art therapist. They offer an excellent insight into a career in art therapy.

Upcoming courses

Finding work experience

Because art therapy is practised in confidential and sensitive settings it is often difficult to accommodate people who are wishing to get experience of working as an art therapy assistant or wish to observe art therapy in action.

We recommend that you approach the art therapy departments of local NHS trusts, prisons and special hospitals, special needs schools and hospices in your area to see if they can offer you any experience.

Where do art therapists work?

Art therapists are employed in many different settings. These include:

  • child, adolescent, adult and older aged psychiatry
  • secure hospitals
  • departments dealing with head injuries and stroke victims
  • departments dealing with disabilities which include learning, deafness, physical and mental impairment, autism and speech difficulties
  • palliative care and bereavement projects
  • forensic services
  • psychotherapy departments
  • drug and alcohol projects
  • trauma units
  • education
  • mental health projects including drop in centres.

Employers include the NHS, private hospitals and organisations, the prison service, social services, education services, charities and mental health projects.

Career prospects

Much depends on the particular client group you decide to work with and the area in which you can live in. The south of England and in particular the London area employs the greatest number of art therapists, and also the cities and surrounding areas where the art therapy training courses are run. However, this does not mean that there is not employment to be found elsewhere.

You will also find related jobs, although not advertised specifically as art therapy posts, will be open to art therapists. For instance, social services ‘continuing needs’ jobs, often give job specifications for ‘Officers’, which would be quite suitable for an art therapist, if the job requires group work and individual work.