Art Therapy degree, woo idea?
September 17, 2019 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone here gotten a degree in art therapy, and if so, how did that work out for you?

I am looking into this field because it appears to combine a helping profession with art. However, I do not know anyone who is an art therapist and googling the subject, or even looking at graduate program requirements, produces vague results or seems to assume you know about the field already. My understanding from what I've learned so far is that art therapists, well, help people make art, and then they sit down and interpret it together. I'm wondering what else a person can do with this degree. What kind of job prospects are available - or, is it more like getting an MFA - something where realistically graduates end up doing something else?

I am interested in hearing from anyone who has gotten a degree in this field. What did the program focus on? What did you do with the degree afterwards? Are there alternatives which are similar but would make more sense to pursue?
posted by Armed Only With Hubris to Education (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No first-hand knowledge, but a friend worked with an art therapist at the hospice where a family member was looked after, and highly valued the experience.
posted by kate4914 at 2:48 PM on September 17, 2019

I have a friend with an BFA and a post-graduate Art Therapy degree. She is working as a children’s programmer in a public library as there are very few jobs as an Art Therapist in our area.
posted by saucysault at 3:29 PM on September 17, 2019

I have a friend with an Master's in Art Therapy and she runs her own successful practice.
posted by thebots at 3:42 PM on September 17, 2019

I was in grad school with someone who had a masters in art therapy, and she had a successful private practice working with children.

My spouse oversees the therapy department at a private school for children with severe special needs. I believe the art teacher for the school has a degree in art therapy.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:10 PM on September 17, 2019

I have overseen art therapy from the art side as an undergraduate educational track which was nine credits shy of a double major in psych (so I just encouraged students to double major); it requires a Master of Arts afterward. This was at a small university that I was at for six years, so I only had one student graduate with that concentration and then finish the MA so far. That MA program they attended had the option of going for an extra year to get a MA in counseling, too, and I recommended that for career flexibility as well which the student did do. That student is employed as an art therapist.

The other undergraduate student I oversaw in this track did an internship with a local art therapist employed at a second chance high school where the students had all been removed from public school for behavioral problems. It was challenging but didn't scare that other student away from pursuing the MA, as they started that graduate coursework this year.

There are not a lot of jobs open in art therapy, but I also don't think there is a huge mismatch in the number of people training for those jobs. Here is a Bureau of Labor Statistics article I've referenced in the past. I do think that art therapy is a career path that might need you to live or relocate to where the demand for it is, which is typically near/in cities.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:23 PM on September 17, 2019

I know two people with master's degrees in art therapy. They both started with BFAs in visual art then decided to go for the masters later and IIRC, the masters focused more on counseling than on art. One works as an art therapist, primarily with kids, within a larger therapeutic organization. The other no longer works as an art therapist but as a career counselor in a college setting. They are also both very much practicing artists who exhibit regularly.
posted by mygothlaundry at 4:28 PM on September 17, 2019

My next-door neighbor is an awesome woman who has a full-time job as an art therapist for children at a local prominent children's hospital. Not sure what she makes doing it, but they seem to be relatively OK.
posted by SoberHighland at 4:38 PM on September 17, 2019

A good friend of mine got her undergrad degree in studio art and then a masters degree in some type of counseling or therapy. She is now an art therapist specializing in patients with eating disorders. She’s worked in both inpatient and outpatient settings. I think it is an amazing profession.
posted by sallybrown at 4:51 PM on September 17, 2019

I'm pretty sure that at Drexel (in Philly where I live) students in their Art Therapy program also receive all the necessary training to become LPCs (Licensed Professional Counselors which is the license that "regular" mental health therapists in PA typically get). I'm not sure if all Art Therapy programs do that, but it would mean that you have all the necessary training to get a job either as a "regular" therapist or an art therapist.

Also, I don't think it's "woo" at all. I am just starting out in a career as a therapist and I used the arts in my internship sessions all the time. Creative expression is closely tied to emotion and I found arts activities really useful and helpful when doing therapy with clients (while not being art therapy, per se).
posted by bearette at 6:20 PM on September 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

My kids worked with three different art therapists for different issues and I LOVED THEM SO MUCH, they were amazing people who helped hugely break through and work in creative ways with kids struggling in different ways. I recommend art therapy as the first stop for kids who aren't clearly with a diagnosable issue (more likely home issues) to friends and family because it's such a good resource for kids who don't have the vocabulary yet to do traditional types of therapy. The art therapists who worked with my kids - one was attached to a hospital working with inpatient trauma cases, one was working with ongoing clinical cases and she did art therapy as well as regular therapy, and another specialised only in art therapy and ran adult art therapy classes too. There's a big variety in what you can end up in. I have met a LOT of therapists and the art therapists seemed some of the most happy of the therapists I've met. Also, at least in my neck of the wood, they run quite a lot of private practices with children.

I think I actually have a bunch of art therapist textbooks somewhere on my HDD if you want me to email you some - we had some shared with us for research work to use as resources for a therapy outreach program with traumatised youth and they were really interesting to read.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:08 PM on September 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

I emphasize what bearette says about the importance of doing a program that double certifies students in traditional talk therapy. That greatly expands job prospects, as many insurance plans cover sessions with therapists that hold traditional licenses while few cover therapy with art therapists.
posted by mortaddams at 7:40 PM on September 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have a friend with a BA in Studio Art, and went back and is now a licensed therapist/art therapist. She's a successful art therapist (children mainly, I think) at part of a larger practice last I knew, although she may have gone into solo practice.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:07 AM on September 18, 2019

My niece is an Art Therapist. One observation I have from talking with her is that it is probably a career who suits those with a love of and passion for being a therapist - rather than those who are, at heart, artists that are looking for an additional income stream. As with many other jobs in the mental health world, Art Therapists have to be un-daunted by working with people who may be deeply traumatised, mentally ill and potentially violent; the job can be stressful and draining as well as rewarding . Don't let the "art" part of the job title fool you into thinking that it is a "woo" job at all.
posted by rongorongo at 2:25 AM on September 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

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