Art Therapy Degree Programs by Level

Art therapy is a career path suited for those with creative talent, people skills and an interest in art and psychology. Programs in art therapy are available at the bachelor's level, though master's degree options are more prevalent.

Essential Information

In a four-year bachelor's degree program, students complete general education requirements and get a foundational education in psychology and how art can be used as therapy. To enter a bachelor's program, students need a high school diploma or equivalent. Schools may prefer applicants who have completed college prep courses and demonstrate some ability with art. Many bachelor's programs allow students to gain experience through internships.

At the master's degree level, students need a bachelor's degree in art therapy or a bachelor's and relevant coursework in art, psychology and the social sciences. Most master's programs in art therapy take two years to complete. Mandatory internships provide opportunities for students to function within a team and apply art therapy concepts. A master's degree is required for professional certification in the field.

Courses at both the bachelor's and master's level are available online.


Bachelor's Degree in Art Therapy

A Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Art Therapy program synthesizes concepts from art and psychology. It explores the use of art and creativity as a means of treating mental and emotional disorders. Students also explore the field of human services. Art therapy programs at the bachelor's degree level are likely to include a set of general education courses and art courses that complement the major subject. Art therapy programs address:

  • Psychology
  • Human service professions
  • Counseling theory
  • Art history
  • Art interpretation

Master of Arts in Art Therapy

Master's degree programs in art therapy emphasize the combination of psychology and the creative process to treat illness. Students learn to help others express their inner feelings through the use of art media, and then use the artwork produced to analyze the source of internal conflict with the aim of resolving those conflicts and promoting greater self-awareness. Art therapy programs at the master's degree level are generally built around an extensive set of core courses and only two to three elective courses. Topics may include:

  • Art therapy fundamentals
  • Art analysis
  • Therapy for children and adolescents
  • Group and family therapy
  • Art therapy research methods
  • Professional ethics

Popular Career Titles

Graduates are qualified to work as art therapists and apply for certification. Art therapists find employment at community mental health centers, hospitals, shelters, nursing homes, prisons or schools. Some career titles include:

  • Art therapist
  • Recreational therapist
  • Mental health counselors

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of art therapists, who are categorized as recreational therapists, will increase 12% over the 2014 to 2024 decade (www.bls.gov). Growth is expected to come from the therapeutic needs of seniors and from the expansion of adult day care programs and nursing healthcare facilities. The BLS also states that in May 2015, recreational therapists earned a median yearly wage of $45,890, while PayScale.com reports that as of January 2016, art therapists earned a median annual salary of about $41,612.

Continuing Education Information

Individuals need to earn a master's degree in art therapy if they want to become a professional art therapist. A number of master's programs at colleges and universities across the U.S. have met the quality standards specified by the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). The Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB) provides certification for art therapists at three levels. Earning the Registered Art Therapist (ATR) designation requires completion of an approved master's degree art therapy program. ATRs who pass the ATCB's national examination become Board Certified (ATR-BC). ATR therapists in good standing who complete 100 clinical hours supervising other therapists are eligible to apply for an Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS).

Although bachelor's programs exist for art therapy majors, students must also obtain a master's in this discipline in order to become professional art therapists. Upon obtaining a master's degree, students can become art therapists, recreational therapists, or mental health counselors.


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