Art Therapy Job Description

by Laurie Brenner

Art therapists are dedicated to using art to enhance patients' lives and help them heal. Classified under the heading of recreational therapists by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), art therapists use multiple art mediums in therapy to help their patients overcome mental and emotional trauma as well as improve their outlook on life. Considered a mental health profession by the American Art Therapy Association, these therapists use the creative process to help patients explore their feelings and develop self-awareness.

Education and Certification

The American Art Therapy Association (AATA) recommends that therapists obtain a master's degree from an accredited school to get an entry-level position as an art therapist. Its website provides a list of colleges and universities that offer accredited master's programs. Coursework includes counseling, psychotherapy and art therapy. Other classes students pursue for a master's degree include ethics and standards of art therapy practice, and multicultural diversity, along with internship opportunities in community, clinical and wellness settings. After graduation, you can obtain professional certification through AATA to add professional credibility to your resume.


To create treatment plans and programs for clients, an art therapist reviews patient medical records and tests, observes and interacts with patients, and meets with medical staff and the patient's family members. Her observations, combined with input from the medical staff, give her the information to evaluate the patient's medical needs. After assessment, she develops an art therapy plan that could help her patient reduce anxiety, improve physical and mental functions as well as socialize better with others.

Program Creation

One of the aspects of working as an art therapist is working with other health care professionals to establish an art program and therapy that can be used for an individual or for a classroom setting. These programs are tailored to help patients evaluate their feelings, improve motor functions for stroke patients or cope with depression.

Encourage Clients

Art therapy isn't as much about the results as it is the process. Through the use of arts therapy, one side of the body that is paralyzed by stroke can gain movement and help to build patient self-confidence. For abused children, art therapy can help them express and resolve their feelings. The art therapist's goal is to encourage her clients and help them become healthier in mind, body and spirit through the creative process.


Art therapists work with patients from all backgrounds and ages. Self-expression through art with some timely counseling can help patients resolve emotional conflicts and restore a sense of well-being. Art therapists might use visual arts such as painting, drawing and sculpture, along with counseling to promote patient rehabilitation.

Salary and Job Outlook

The BLS reports that all recreational therapists, including art therapists, earned a median salary of $39,410 in May 2010. Those in the top 10 percent earned $62,670 and might be found working in private practice or in a community or clinical setting. The outlook for art therapists remains high through to 2020, with 17 percent growth expected.

About the Author

As a native Californian, artist, businessperson, contractor, journalist and published author, Laurie Reeves began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. In 2003, she and her husband moved into the home she designed, they built and decorated. Reeves graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images