“Art therapy is the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma, or challenges in living, and by people who seek personal development.  Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others, cope with symptoms, stress, and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.

Art therapists are professionals trained in both art and therapy.  They are knowledgeable about human development, psychological theories, clinical practice, spiritual, multicultural and artistic traditions, and the healing potential of art.  They use art in treatment, assessment and research, and provide consultations to allied professionals.  Art therapists work with people of all ages:  individuals, couples, families, groups, and communities.  They provide services, individually and as part of clinical teams, in settings that include mental health, rehabilitation, medical and forensic institutions; community outreach programs; wellness centers; schools; nursing homes; corporate structures; open studios and independent practices.”

What is Art Therapy?

There continues to be more research showing how creative process and making art is inherently therapeutic.  It helps with cognition, it aides in release and insight to emotions, and it is somatic, using the body to create.

Art therapy is a discipline intentionally using creative process with a variety of materials as a way to gain insight, integrate memory and the mind-body connection, learn new ways of being, and heal.  It is most often used with psychotherapy and together help to treat a variety of mental health issues from trauma, anxiety, depression to issues with relationship and life transitions.

Art therapy can be used with young children, adolescents, adults and the elderly.  A person does not need to have any artistic skill to engage in this kind of therapy as it is not about what the art product looks like, it is focused more on the process, meaning and feeling of the art making.

Where Do Art Therapists Work?

Art Therapists work in a variety of settings as primary or adjunct therapists. Locations can be hospitals, private practice, mental health agencies, school systems, and community art studios.

What Media Do Art Therapists Use?

Art Therapists use a wide variety of media like clay, sculpture materials, craft supplies, paint, chalk, and pencils.  They are trained to also help teach people how to use media as part of the process and know how to use certain media as a way to enhance the therapeutic process for an individuals needs.  The final product is always viewed in non-judgmental ways and clients have visual progress of therapy in their artwork.

Who Do Art Therapists Work With…  Kids?  Adults?  Elderly?  Disabled?

People of all abilities and ages can benefit from art therapy.  Clients do not require special art training or talent.  The creative process can provide individuals with an alternative way to communicate feelings that may be too difficult to be put into words or that words alone cannot describe.

What Are the Professional Standards in Art Therapy?

The professional standards for training involve Master's Degree level work in art therapy or another related field with 24 semester hours of additional art therapy training.

Master’s level art therapy training usually lasts two to three years and includes most of the curriculum a counseling psychology program would cover, as well as a curriculum concerning the utilization of art materials in the therapeutic process.  Students typically fulfill one or two practicum internships and have supervision with an art therapist, as well as with other supervisors in social services, educational, and mental health settings. Ethically art therapists go by the same standards, which any counseling professional would adhere to.

How Can I Become an Art Therapist?

There are a variety of master level training programs in art therapy.

In the United States there are approximately thirty Masters level programs and 5 Doctoral.  The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) sets educational and credentialing standards for art therapy training programs and practicing professionals.  Programs that are accredited have been approved by AATA.  In addition, many of these programs offer a Post-Master's Certification in Art Therapy after completing an M.A. in a related field.

I'm Thinking About Becoming an Art Therapist

Besides searching on the internet and reading books or articles, the best starting point is to talk with an art therapist and explore what they like about their work, how they became an art therapist, and starting to ask yourself what the appeal is for you.

This website is an excellent starting point:

Suggested Art Therapy Readings

Easy to read:

Barber, V (2002)  Explore Yourself Through Art: Creative Projects to Help You Achieve Personal Insight & Growth & Promote Problem Solving.  Plume.

Advanced readings:

Allen, P. (2005)   Art Is a Spiritual Path   Boston: Shambhala.

Allen, P. (1995)   Art Is a Way of Knowing   Boston: Shambhala.

Hagood, M. (2000)   Use of Art in Counseling Child and Adult Survivors of Sexual Abuse   Philadelphia:  Jessica Kingsley Publications.

Linesch, D. (1990)   Adolescent Art Therapy   Taylor & Francis.

Shirley, S. (2001)   Group Process Made Visible: Group Art Therapy   Philadelphia:  Brunner-Routledge.

Wadeson, H. (2000)   Art Therapy Practice: Innovative Approaches With Diverse Populations   New York: John Wiley.

The American Art Therapy Association, Inc. (AATA) is a national association dedicated to the belief that the creative process involved in the making of art is healing and life enhancing.

Founded in 1969 AATA is a not-for-profit organization of approximately 4,750 professionals and students that has established standards for art therapy education, ethics, and practice.  AATA committees actively work on professional and educational development, national conferences, regional symposia, publications, governmental affairs, public awareness, research, and other activities that enhance the practice of art therapy.

Art Therapy Credentials Board


The Art Therapy Credentials Board, Inc. (ATCB), an independent organization, grants postgraduate registration (ATR) after reviewing documentation of completion of graduate education and postgraduate supervised experience.

The Registered Art Therapist who successfully completes the written examination administered by the ATCB is qualified as Board Certified (ATR-BC), a credential requiring maintenance through continuing education credits (CEUs).

American Art Therapy Association


Highlights on What Art Therapy is