The 20 Best Schools For A Master’s in Art Therapy Online Degree in 2022

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Art Therapy is defined as a type of therapy with elements of human services and mental health integrated into a holistic approach toward the enrichment of the lives of individuals, families and groups.

The process uses diverse methods, including active art-making, human experiences, and applied psychological theory. When used by licensed art therapists, it’s crucial to improve cognitive functions, emotional awareness and resilience, and personal confidence that translates to enhanced social skills. 

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Every individual, even those who don’t consider themselves creative individuals or artists, can engage in art therapy as a client! Art therapy encourages a feeling of being in control over your thought processes and emotions while also allowing for greater self-expression.

Through drawing, painting and sculpting, among other active art-making activities, an art therapist can encourage unfiltered responses from an individual to promote overall well-being, 

And art therapy sessions can also be conducted online! Apparently, virtual art therapy sessions encouraged patients to be more open about their experiences and emotions since they felt more comfortable at home. Art therapists used more verbal coaching, too.


Overview:
Earning a master’s in art therapy degree is the first step toward becoming a licensed art therapist, a career that brings numerous rewards, from gainful employment to meaningful contributions to individual and group health. You can pursue it with an online education while also enjoying a great work-life-studies balance! 


Types of Master’s in Art Therapy Degrees 

The two master’s in art therapy degrees are built on applying the principles, processes and practices of creative arts and psychology in achieving goals. But their specific emphasis is different!

A Master of Arts (MA) in Art Therapy is based on an interdisciplinary approach with a stronger emphasis on art therapy’s creative expressions and processes. A Master of Science (MS) in Art Therapy has a more technical emphasis with more principles and practices culled from psychotherapy, psychology and research. 

The MA in Art Therapy programs are more numerous among these two types. Among the best MS in Art Therapy, degree programs are offered at Syracuse University (hybrid), Florida State University, and Holy Family University


20 Best Online Master’s in Art Therapy Degree Programs  

Edinboro University 

Edinboro University

Edinboro offered the first CAAHEP-accredited art therapy program in the country, and its online Master of Arts in Counseling-Art Therapy has become among the best.

With academic excellence as its foundation, the program has a 63-semester curriculum that includes core courses, art therapy courses and electives. The coursework includes counseling and consultation theories and practice, psychopathology and interventions, and clinical and group art therapy. 

In addition to an advanced research project, the program requires the completion of 112 hours of supervised practicum and 600 hours of internship.

These hands-on experiences are completed in three semesters, usually in each student’s chosen specialization and local sites. Students must also pass comprehensive examinations and submit a culminating project, usually a master’s thesis, to earn the degree. 

Once they secure their license, students gain the knowledge and skills to become empowered and competent art therapists. Graduates can apply for Pennsylvania’s Licensed Professional Counselor credential and the national ATR-P credential. 


Edgewood College

Edgewood College

The hybrid Master of Arts in Art Therapy program at Edgewood College provides access to its students into its studio facilities, too. The curriculum consists of 8-week and 16-week courses, meaning students can register for 2-3 courses or up to 15 credits every semester.

Students must attend two in-person, in-clinic residencies or the equivalent of 700 hours of supervised practicum and clinical internship. These hands-on experiences feature weekly supervision and participation in supervision groups under the guidance of a licensed art therapy supervisor. 

This is a two-year program, but students can work with their academic advisor to extend their stay; the maximum time to completion is seven years from the first matriculation. Students thrive in a cohort-based learning environment where class size is limited to eight students only.

The 60-credit program includes didactic coursework that interweaves art, psychology, and art therapy into a cohesive knowledge base and a capstone research project. 

Graduates are eligible to apply for the ATR-P credential, which the ATR-BC credential can follow after gaining post-graduate training hours and passing a national certification exam. 


Antioch University 

Antioch University

Students in Antioch’s Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with Concentration in Art Therapy program receive intensive professional education and clinical training in art therapy and mental health counseling. Antioch’s emphasis on social justice means its learning environment integrates social responsibility, cultural diversity and ethics, aside from the art and psychology coursework.

Art Therapy in Diverse Settings, Techniques and Practices in Art Therapy, and Developmental and Treatment Models in Art Therapy is among the courses. 

This is designed as a full-time program with a start date in the fall term. Students progress through the program as a cohort and complete it in 3.5 years. While the 66-credit program has online coursework, students must attend two separate week-long, in-person clinical residencies.  

The practicum component consists of 100 hours of service, or about 7-10 hours per week for a minimum of one semester, in a clinical setting. The three internship semesters satisfy the 700-hour requirement for licensure., and these can be spent in the same practicum site or other sites. 


Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

SMWC’s Master of Arts in Art Therapy with an Emphasis in Counseling program trains students to become a positive influence in people’s lives through holistic healing. Due to the college’s Roman Catholic and liberal arts roots, its program of study has a strong emphasis on ethics and professional competence and personal empathy. 

As a cohort, students complete their online courses, communicate with their professors and interact with their peers through Brightspace, a learning management system.

The three-year program also has three annual on-campus residences scheduled at the start of every semester and lasts between four and six days. During these on-campus residencies, professional seminars, student-faculty in-person interactions, and group art workshops. 

There are also three supervised clinical experiences. These are the 100-hour supervised practicum during the second year, the first 300-hour internship in the third year, and the second 300-hour internship during the final fall semester. 


Pratt Institute

Pratt Institute

The low-residency Master of Professional Studies in Art Therapy and Creativity Development program at Pratt Institute has a 2.5-year time-to-completion inclusive of didactic courses and the internship requirements. Before becoming interns, students attend their online and in-person classes in the spring and summer. The in-person classes are conducted on Pratt’s Brooklyn campus. 

Students engage in practicum/internship during the fall and spring terms, taking 1-2 online courses every term. The internship period is spread over 30 weeks of about 16 hours per week, equivalent to 480 hours.

The internships serve distinct client populations, too, meaning students benefit from the diversity of clinical experiences. The practicum experience consists of the leadership of art therapy or expressive movement creativity groups. 

Graduates are eligible to apply for New York State licensure. The program has American Art Therapy Association approval. 


Lesley University

Lesley University

Lesley’s Master of Arts Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Art Therapy‘s low-residency program consists of online didactic coursework, a 3-week summer residency every year, and community-based supervised field experiences.

The intensive curriculum and rigorous coursework are the same as in the on-campus program, too, having a 3-year time-to-completion for full-time students. Note that residents of Arkansas, Kentucky, and Nevada, among other states, are currently not accepted into the program. 

Students earn 60 credits consisting of art therapy, core, and elective courses (48 credits) and a 12-credit field experience. The latter includes a supervised internship and clinical practicum. To meet the timeline, students take 6-9 credits every semester for nine consecutive semesters, including the summer term. 

The program of study trains students to become competent and compassionate art therapists who promote healing and well-being through art activities. Their hands-on experiences start early in the program and consist of more than 1,100 hours in community-based clinical settings. 


Prescott College

Prescott College

Prescott’s Expressive Arts Therapy program complies with the standards set by the CAAHEP and the AATA, meaning its graduates are eligible to apply for art therapy registration.

The Expressive Arts Therapy Association also accepts its graduates for registration in addition to state licensure. The 30-hour online program features courses in History and Theory of Expressive Art Therapy and  Applications of Expressive Art Therapy. 

Students acquire the specific skill sets that enable them to provide expressive art therapy services to individuals and groups. Their training includes the interdisciplinary applications of visual art with music and dance, poetry and performance, and other forms of creative arts.

Nonetheless, their main goal is similar to those in art therapy programs – to promote healing, well-being, and wellness through therapy. 

Their hands-on training includes a supervised practicum and internship, too. Students must attend two Summer Institutes and residency colloquia and submit an approved capstone project. 


Albertus Magnus College

Albertus Magnus College

Albertus Magnus College’s Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling features a student-centered learning approach where students receive one-on-one mentoring and other exceptional student support services.

The intensive coursework establishes a robust foundation in art therapy, emphasizing its positive impact on clients’ overall wellness. Ethics, social awareness and cultural sensitivity are emphasized alongside the technical skills that every effective art therapist possesses. 

Students must complete the 60-credit coursework, including its didactic coursework, practicum and internship components, to meet the educational requirements for licensure.

In Connecticut, art therapists are registered Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC). The coursework includes theoretical foundations and practical applications in art therapy, including materials, media, and techniques. 

Full-time students attend eight semesters or two years. Admissions are selective, with under 20 students admitted per year. The program starts during the fall term with a July 1 deadline for applications. 


Ottawa University

Ottawa University

The Master of Arts in Counseling online program at Ottawa University consists of 39 credit hours of online classes and nine hours of practicum/internship experiences.

The required courses, such as Social/Cultural Concerns in Counseling and Counseling Theories, establish students’ counseling foundations to pursue their specializations. 

The Expressive Arts Therapy concentration teaches students the effective identification, application and evaluation of artistic methods and media for therapeutic purposes. Students learn the best practices in psychotherapy and counseling as integrated into expressive arts that assist clients in their healing through self-expression and self-discovery.

The expressive arts therapy courses include Applications and Integration of Expressive Arts, Clinical Issues in Expressive Arts, and Principles, Techniques, and Practice in Expressive Arts Therapy.  

The 900-hour internship covers seven semesters and is designed for students’ best possible hands-on experiences in preparation for their professional practice. Courses are conducted in accelerated 8-week terms. 


Adler Graduate School

Adler Graduate School

Adler’s Master of Arts in Counseling – Art Therapy program features an integrated curriculum emphasizing hands-on experiences in diverse clinical and community settings.

Students complete between 67 and 70 credit hours depending on their preferred licensure track – either the Art Therapy and Marriage, Couples, and Family Counseling concentration or the Art Therapy and Clinical Mental Health Counseling specialization. 

Both tracks consist of foundational and theoretical courses, counseling and art therapy coursework, and practicum and internship components.

The 700-hour complements the 100-hour supervised practicum supervised internship experience, of which a minimum of 350 hours are in direct art therapy services. Interns learn assessment, collaboration, and leadership skills and participate in treatment plan development, individual and family sessions, and advocacy.  

Graduates are eligible for licensures in Minnesota, such as licensed professional clinical counselors and licensed marriage and family therapists. 


West Liberty University

West Liberty University

Earn your Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling degree from WLU and become eligible for professional certifications, such as the ATR and ATR-BC. The degree also meets the educational requirements for state licensure as an LPC and as a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist (REAT) under the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association (IEATA) standards. 

The 60-credit curriculum consists of didactic coursework (51 credits), a 3-credit supervised practicum, and a 6-credit supervised internship. The equivalent hours are 100 hours for the practicum and 700 hours for the internship, meeting the professional certification and licensure requirements. 

Students must attend the on-campus residency that lasts between three and five years, although its completion may be achieved remotely under certain conditions.

The low-residency format includes 100% online summer classes conducted via synchronous Zoom meetings in the evening. In-state and out-of-state students pay the same per-credit-hour rate. 


Drexel University

Drexel-University-8

The 90-quarter credit Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling program meets the educational requirements for Pennsylvania’s LPC credential and the ATR-BC registration. The rigorous curriculum covers diverse art therapy and psychotherapy topics, from theoretical foundations to practical applications. The coursework includes ethics of care, counseling micro-skills, and prevention initiatives. 

Students participate in at least two supervised practicum and internship experiences in diverse settings, such as psychiatric hospitals, shelters and schools.

A culminating project is a graduation requirement disseminated via an online community platform. Students may choose between an accelerated (i.e., two years or seven quarters) or decelerated (i.e., three years or 11 quarters) program of study. 

While it’s a high-residency program where students must attend on-campus classes during the three regular quarters, the summer term coursework is done completely online.  


Hofstra University

Hofstra University

With the exceptional Master of Arts in Creative Arts Therapy Counseling degree in your possession, you can start a successful career as a licensed creative arts therapist! Board certification is also possible with additional training and success in the certification exam.

Full-time students have two years to complete the program, while part-time students earn the degree in three years. Financial aid is available even for online students. 

Students earn the degree by completing the academic and practicum requirements of the 60-credit hour curriculum. Hofstra offers a wide variety of electives that enable students to broaden their horizons while also focusing on specialization.

Dance therapy, music therapy and sand tray therapy skills are acquired alongside the traditional art therapy techniques. Internships start as early as the first year and in diverse institutions in the Big Apple. 

Applicants must submit an art portfolio showcasing their art skills and meet the prerequisite number of credit hours in studio art and psychology. 


Seton Hill University

Seton Hill University

The hybrid format of Seton Hill’s Master of Arts in Art Therapy with a Specialization in Counseling program is among the most convenient learning schedules. Students conduct most of their studies online but attend on-campus classes for two to three nights every week, a schedule that lasts for five semesters.

Then, they enter their internship year with on-site, hands-on experiences in art therapy, including direct patient interactions. Students complete 700 hours of supervised practicum and internship experiences. 

The three-year program consists of eight semesters and a 63-credit curriculum. Of the eight semesters, three semesters are devoted to internships.

Most students can maintain satisfactory academic progress even with a part-time or full-time job during the didactic phase of the program. But the level of commitment in time and energy during the internship period means students are well-advised to focus more on their studies. 

Graduates are eligible for the ATR-BC and Pennsylvania LPC credentials. 


Southwestern College & New Earth Institute

Southwestern College & New Earth Institute

Southwestern College’s Master of Arts in Art Therapy/Counseling program promises vibrant exploration and art therapy experiences in rehabilitation, community and clinical settings! Visual arts, such as drawing and painting, become more effective when it’s in the hands of a trained art therapist, and Southwestern offers excellent training in this area. 

The low-residency program consists of online classes and a four-day residency at the Santa Fe campus. The on-campus residency occurs halfway through the program, so students have time to prepare. Students earn 90 quarter units, or about 60-semester units, in courses like studio art, history of art therapy, and assessment and techniques of art therapy. 

Southwestern College has its practicum site, the Tierra Nueva Counseling Center, but online students may choose to complete their practicum requirements at a local site in their state. The internship can also take place in the student’s choice of state. The program’s completion rate ranges from 2.5 years to 3.5 years. 

Students may also choose a concentration – Consciousness in Action or School Counseling – and add certificates to their degree. The certificate programs are in Applied Interpersonal Neurobiology, Trauma, Grief and Renewal, and Abuse and Recovery.


Cedar Crest College

Cedar Crest College

The low-residency Master of Arts in Art Therapy program trains students for a successful career as art therapists through a program of study that emphasizes both passions for the arts and compassion for patients. Students may complete the 60-credit program in three years and maintain their personal and work responsibilities. 

Students tackle their coursework online but must attend a two-week, in-person summer residency in late July or early August. Here, professors guide students in the principles and practices of art therapy and provide social interactions that can result in networking opportunities. 

Applicants must submit an art portfolio with 12-16 works of art in different media and official transcripts for a bachelor’s degree, proof of prerequisite coursework completion, and a personal essay. A resume and letters of recommendation must also be in the packet. 


California Institute of Integral Studies

California Institute of Integral Studies

The hybrid Master of Arts in Expressive Arts Therapy program uses an interdisciplinary approach that integrates visual and expressive arts, from painting and poetry to dance, music and drama, for therapeutic purposes. Academic excellence is as important as hands-on learning in the program, and, thus, students engage in experiential learning opportunities through group work, volunteering and supervised practicum.

The year-long supervised practicum includes direct patient interactions and involves the integration of lessons learned during the first two years in the program. 

Full-time students finish the program in three years, but CIIS also offers a part-time option with a 5.5-year time-to-completion. All students benefit from the vibrant engagements with their peers and professors and the collaborative projects throughout the program. 


Syracuse University

Syracuse University

Syracuse offers a hybrid Master of Science in Art Therapy program that integrates a vibrant virtual learning environment and two on-campus residencies. The 60-credit program trains students for successful careers in art therapy through contemporary learning materials, hands-on experiences, and even insights into the tools of the trade. 

Students thrive due to the one-on-one mentoring made possible through small class sizes, usually just 12 students in each cohort. The small cohort size also promotes productive collaborations and effective support among students. Internship placements are also made in their communities, meaning the local culture shapes their experiences. 

Graduates qualify for professional licensure and other credentials in art therapy, including the License in Creative Arts Therapy (LCAT). 


Wayne State University

Wayne State University

The CACREP-accredited Master of Arts in Counseling – Art Therapy Concentration program offers students online classes and on-campus experiences. Students earn 68 credits in coursework that combines professional preparation in counseling, psychology and art therapy.

This three-year program with nine semesters, and graduates qualify for the LPC credential after meeting other licensure requirements. 

Wayne also offers a Master of Education with a Major in Art Education and Concentration in Art Therapy with a 48-credit curriculum. Offered in its College of Education, it’s a combination of art education and art therapy, although graduates are neither awarded teaching certificates nor eligible for LPC registration. The time to completion is between two and three years. 


Naropa University

Naropa University

The Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling Transpersonal Art Therapy Concentration program is unique in that it’s founded on studio art, mindfulness meditation, and transpersonal theory. But it’s also a program with a contemporary clinical foundation that prepares students for professional competency in art therapy.

Students become involved in intensive studies that combine the visual arts with counseling skills, psychology and behavioral sciences.

The program’s 63-credit curriculum consists of didactic coursework with 190 hours of hands-on experience in studio art. Graduates are eligible for licensure in Colorado and practice clinical mental health counseling. 


What Art Therapists Do 

Art therapists use the principles and practices of art and psychology to achieve their clients’ goals. On the one hand, they assess every client’s unique needs and use their assessments in designing a customized art therapy program. No two clients, whether individuals or groups have the same art therapy program for this reason. 

Using their professional understanding of how art, including its techniques and media, influences people, art therapists work with their clients in their creative activities. A client, for example, can be asked to draw elements of their past that they want to change and the future they envision for themselves. Making art is therapeutic. It involves discussions that enable clients to express themselves in ways that non-art activities can’t. 

Art therapists may use one medium or use a combination of many media depending on a client’s capabilities and needs. Clay sculpting is considered more suitable for people with concentration challenges, while painting enables individuals to release their emotions through colors, patterns and strokes. 

On the other hand, art therapists use their knowledge of psychology in understanding clients and in helping clients understand themselves, including their trauma, motivations and aspirations. The art therapist and the client work together in achieving the latter’s goals, such as coping with trauma or handling life’s stressors better. 

Art therapists engage clients in discussions about their artworks, usually through personal reflections. Clients explore the meanings and implications of their artworks to process their emotions, experiences, and thought processes. In many cases, they cannot put these elements into words but can express them through art. 

But art therapists aren’t magicians either since clients may not be willing and ready to talk! But when they are ready, art therapists use applied psychology in finding effective ways of addressing their issues. These ways may include developing coping skills for dealing with everyday stressors or strategies for changing behavior in the face of trauma-related triggers. 

Art therapists, however, can only diagnose, treat and provide advice on client cases in which their education, training and experience warrant. Their profession doesn’t cover the diagnosis of mental health issues and prescription of medications, among other duties that psychologists and psychiatrists are most qualified to perform. But art therapists work with these healthcare professionals when professionally appropriate in the best interest of their clients. 

The specific roles and responsibilities of art therapists include: 

  • Assess the unique needs of their clients through observations and discussions as well as medical records, when applicable, and work with other healthcare professionals and the clients’ families in the assessment 
  • Develop treatment plans including the applicable media and techniques, duration and number of sessions, and goals according to the clients’ needs and interests 
  • Create and implement art-related interventions that meet each client’s goals 
  • Engage patients in art-related therapeutic activities, such as drawing, painting, and sculpting 
  • Assist clients in coping with stress, depression and anxiety as well as in learning social skills 
  • Monitor and evaluate each client’s progress, including its documentation and analysis 
  • Evaluate the interventions and activities for effectiveness and implement the appropriate changes 

Art therapists also perform administrative functions with their practice, such as marketing their business, ordering supplies, and billing clients. 

Children, adolescents, adults, groups and families benefit from art therapy. Its principles and practices are useful in the assessment, treatment and management of a wide range of issues, including: 

  • Mental health issues like anxiety, depression and nervous breakdown 
  • Mental illnesses like schizophrenia 
  • Addictions including substance abuse 
  • Domestic violence and abuse 
  • Family and personal relationship issues 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder, personal trauma, and loss 
  • Physical, neurological and cognitive disorders (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease and dementia) 
  • Social, mental and psychosocial challenges related to illness, injuries and disabilities 

Being an art therapist has several rewards, foremost of which is the satisfaction and fulfillment of witnessing clients’ transformation!

You will see how clients become more empowered and centered, calmer and happier, as they slowly but steadily gain a new perspective of themselves and the world. You will also benefit because your life skills become enhanced, and your personal growth becomes evident, thanks to your interactions with clients and their families. Plus, art is fun! 

But there are a few – and minor – disadvantages of being an art therapist. You will inevitably come across clients whose personal struggles and traumatic past experiences will shake your being to its core.

You may also encounter aggressive clients, which can result in unsafe situations. Your work may not also be well-known in comparison with, say, occupational and physical therapists. 

Steps in Becoming a Licensed Art Therapist 

While there’s no specific bachelor’s degree to become a licensed art therapist, you may want to consider a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in Art Therapy. This way, you have a strong foundation in art therapy that will prove useful when pursuing a Master’s in Art Therapy. Edinboro University, Carlow University, Shawnee State University, and Russell Sage College are among the best institutions offering the baccalaureate degree. 

The bachelor’s in art therapy degree will establish foundational skills in studio art, such as drawing and painting, working with clay and other sculpting media, and creative arts. Students also study the principles and practices of psychology as these apply to art therapy.

Most, if not all, programs have a 120-credit curriculum that includes general, required core, studio/survey art and elective courses. Students also typically participate in an internship program in their senior year designed to enable them to transform their knowledge into practical workplace-relevant skills. 

But there are also other fields of study that you can pursue in preparation for a career in art therapy. Fine work, social work, counseling and psychology are the best options. You may be able to earn a minor in one of these fields of study alongside your bachelor’s in art therapy degree, thus, expanding your knowledge and career options.

For the period between earning your bachelor’s degree and pursuing your master’s degree, you should consider gaining work experience in art therapy settings. By getting a feel for a licensed art therapist’s work, you’re better prepared for the rigors of graduate study and your future career. You may volunteer in organizations and with populations where art therapists work, such as in children’s wards in hospitals or with cancer patients in clinics. 

Note that there are no shadowing requirements for aspiring art therapists. But if you can gain shadowing experience, it may work in your favor during your master’s degree applications and studies. The practical skills learned while shadowing an art therapist give you a headstart in your career and look great on your resume. 

Entry-level practice as an art therapist requires a master’s degree in art therapy. Aside from the didactic coursework, students must also meet the practical experience requirements for licensure purposes. These requirements are at least 100 hours of supervised practicum experience and 600 hours of clinical internship in art therapy settings. 

During the clinical internship, graduate students are supervised by licensed art therapists in their assessment and treatment of clients. Students also receive instruction in the diverse real-world scenarios and the best ways of dealing with them. These practical elements are based on the premise that aspiring art therapists must have the technical and transferable skills for the occupation even before earning their graduate degrees. 

After earning your master’s degree, you should secure a license before you can practice art therapy in a professional capacity. Note that licensing requirements vary by state, so you must contact your state licensing board.

States that regulate art therapy and issue licenses for clinically licensed art therapists, among other related titles, include Connecticut, New Jersey and Maryland. States that regulate the practice of art therapy under other professional licenses are Texas (licensed professional counselor with art therapy special designation), New York (licensed creative arts therapist), and Wisconsin (licensed psychotherapist with art therapy registration). 

In addition to a state-issued license, art therapists also hold credentials from the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) in partnership with the American Art Therapy Association (AATS). But ATCB is an independent organization from both the Educational Programs Approval Board and AATS. The ATCB offers national-level credentials, including: 

  • Provisional Registered Art Therapist (ATR-P) is a credential suitable for individuals who have earned a master’s in art therapy degree and a professional mentoring/apprenticeship relationship with a qualified supervisor. 
  • Registered Art Therapist (ATR), a credential for individuals who have completed a master’s degree in art therapy and met supervised experience
  • Board Certification (ATR-BC) is for professionals who have passed a national examination and, thus, demonstrated their comprehensive knowledge of art therapy, including its clinical skills
  • Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS), a credential for professionals who provide clinical supervision to aspiring art therapists 

Beyond the professional credentials and licenses, the best art therapists possess the following traits: 

  • Compassion because art therapists deal with individuals and groups with underlying physical and mental health issues. Kindness in words and deeds combined with empathy is a must! 
  • Active listening skills are a must, too, because art therapists must carefully listen to their client’s concerns and issues. This is crucial in developing an appropriate course of treatment for every client. 
  • Communication skills, both written and verbal, are vital because art therapists talk to clients and their families and make written plans and reports.
  • Patience and persistence are equally important because there will be clients whose personality and personal issues require more time and attention to address. 
  • Resourcefulness is an art therapist means finding creative ways to create plans and adapt activities as a client’s needs change with treatment. 

What to Expect in a Master’s in Art Therapy Program 

While curriculum and learning outcomes differ between master’s in art therapy programs, these are based on the assumption that active and focused art activities encourage reflections and facilitate learning. The interdisciplinary coursework emphasizes creative arts and applied psychology through courses in: 

  • Studio art in psychotherapy and counseling  
  • Materials, media and processes in the arts 
  • Theory and practice in art therapy for all ages and populations 
  • Ethics and leadership in art therapy 
  • Fieldwork and research 
  • Use of art therapy in group psychopathology and psychotherapy
  • Group dynamics in art therapy 
  • Assessment tools and techniques 
  • History including social and cultural foundations of art therapy 
  • Professional identity 
  • Trauma theory and practice, including counseling and treatment 
  • Issues in art therapy

Many programs also offer specializations within the art therapy profession, such as Expressive Arts Therapy, Sculpture Therapy, and Photography & Phototherapy. Specializations may also be in specific populations, such as Art Therapy with Children, or unorthodox topics like thanatology (I.e., the study of death and its various perspectives). 

As previously mentioned, supervised practicum and internship are required for graduate students to earn the art therapy degree and meet the licensing requirements. The programs usually facilitate these with affiliate organizations, such as clinics, hospitals and nursing homes, but graduate students may also have to look for internship opportunities. 

During your time in a master’s program, you’re well-advised to build a professional-level art therapy portfolio alongside your didactic coursework, practicum and internship.

Your portfolio can include both your works of art and case studies, a combination that demonstrates your exceptional art and psychology skills. You may start building it as early as in your baccalaureate days to become a large – and impressive – body of work that shows your personal and professional growth. 

At the end of your master’s studies, you should have acquired the following knowledge and skills (i.e., learning outcomes): 

  • Make competent investigations into your clients’ creative thought processes and their underlying meanings
  • Apply art therapy and psychotherapeutic counseling techniques in assisting them toward the identification and resolution of their mental and emotional issues
  • Inspire your clients in making their creative self-expression promote their interests and achieve better overall well-being
  • Restore or enhance your clients’ abilities as individuals in the social and professional contexts 
  • Assist our clients in explorations of their emotions, resolution of personal conflicts with themselves and others, and improve their self-confidence and self-esteem 

These skills are in addition to the technical and transferable skills outlined above. Indeed, the job of an effective art therapist is a fine balance between being a competent professional and a friend! 

Since a master’s in art therapy is an advanced degree, you should expect rigorous coursework that will demand substantial investments in time, energy and effort. Time management skills are crucial, as are effective study habits, a strong support system, and coping skills for stress. 


Frequently Asked Questions 

What are the qualities of the best master’s in art therapy programs? 

Accreditation is the first key trait since it’s proof that the program meets contemporary academic standards set by the federal and state government and the regional accreditation agencies.

Programmatic accreditation is also key since it means the program meets the quality standards of CAAHEP – Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs with the recommendation of The Accreditation Council for Art Therapy Education (ACATE). 

Look for the following features, too, in online programs: 

  • Reliable and relevant information about the curriculum, including the courses and their prerequisites, sequencing and requirements, on the program page 
  • Wide range of student support services, including library services, tech support and writing and career services 
  • Several financial aid options, including scholarships and grants for online students (FAFSA must also be accepted) 
  • Credentials of faculty members are made available, either on the program page or upon request 
  • Tech requirements, learning formats and platform, and schedule requirements are also clearly stated or available upon request 

What’s their typical time-to-completion?

Many accelerated programs have a two-year time-to-completion that includes the didactic coursework, supervised practicum and internship components. But there are also three-year programs that allow students to take their time, particularly in the non-didactic elements.

Many programs even have longer completion times, from 3.5 to 4 years, but have time limitations for students to comply with the degree requirements. 

The number of credit hours varies, usually between 48 and 60 credit hours. Transfer of credits is allowed in many programs, too, with terms and conditions like graduate-level coursework with a minimum GPA. 

What are their common admission requirements? 

Master’s in art therapy programs are considered within healthcare professions and, thus, require a relevant bachelor’s degree. The baccalaureate degree may be in art therapy, studio art, art education, psychology, or behavioral and social sciences but a typical master’s program requires credits in art therapy-related courses. These include drawing, 2D and 3D design, painting, and sculpture. 

Other admission requirements include:

  • Complete and accurate application fee with application fee 
  • Official academic transcripts with minimum GPA (These can be for undergraduate and graduate work) 
  • Current resume 
  • Personal statement with a minimum number of words and addressing specific questions provided by the school 
  • Letters of recommendation 
  • Art portfolio 

What’s the typical work environment for licensed art therapists?

Working a nine-to-five job, or full-time work ranging between 30 and 40 hours a week, is common for art therapists. You may be employed in various settings or establish your practice where you can choose your clients, schedule and place of work. 

The typical workplaces include: 

  • Medical and psychiatric hospitals, clinics and other in-patient healthcare settings 
  • Day treatment facilities and outpatient agencies 
  • Halfway houses 
  • Residential treatment centers 
  • Shelters for victims of domestic abuse and violence 
  • Nursing facilities and elder care homes 
  • Correctional facilities 
  • Schools, including colleges and universities 
  • Art studios 

What is the average annual salary of art therapists?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t have a separate classification for art therapists but estimates that all other therapists earn a median annual salary of $65,030

Key Takeaways

  • A master’s degree in art therapy is a key requirement in securing a license as a professional art therapist. 
  • Aside from a well-paying job, being an art therapist means being able to help others in addressing their mental and emotional health issues and enjoying personal growth. 
  • Art therapists use a combination of art and psychology in helping their clients achieve their goals. 

Dr. Jared Goff
Chief Editor